In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss’ young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

The Hunger Games is based on Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, the first in a trilogy that has sold over 16 million copies in print in the United States alone. Directed by Gary Ross, the film pairs Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence with Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth in the key young adult roles. The likes of Woody Harrelson, Amandia Stenberg, Alexander Ludwig, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci co-star. ‘The Hunger Games is released in cinemas March 23rd. Look out for a more in-depth interview with Josh Hutcherson for the film next week.

What appealed to you about Peeta?

Josh Hutcherson: For me, Peeta is an amazing character. I fell in love with him right away. What’s crazy is that I’ve never seen a character that’s so much of who I am as a person. I just feel like his self-deprecating humour, his outlook on life, how he doesn’t want things to change him – that’s really part of who I am as a person. Being in this movie business from a young age, from nine years old, there’s a lot of times where you could let things change you, let people have a big affect on you. You have to make sure you stay true to who you are and what your value system is, that was really important to me from a young age, and I think that’s something that really attracted to me about Peeta because that’s how he is as well. He’s very much like myself. He’s outgoing, very much a peoples person, he has a way of being able to talk to anybody he meets.

What was the process like of getting this role?

Josh Hutcherson: It was very nerve-wracking. It was at the point where I was so obsessed with getting the part, anytime I was going to say a word that began with ’H’ I would say “Hunger Games,” like, “I’m so Hunger Games to be here….HAPPY to be here, sorry, it‘s in my head.” (Laughs) It was a long process, a lot of talks with agents and stuff like that, then going in and meeting Gary Ross – I also got to meet Suzanne Collins in the meeting for the first time, which was very exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. But I had a great read through with them and I came back to do a test screening a few weeks later and that went great. I kind of hit it off with Jennifer Lawrence and really got to see the chemistry between the two of us. When I got the call, it still didn’t really hit me until I walked on set the first day, with how big it is.

Peeta pretty much falls for Katniss when he first sees her?

Josh Hutcherson: Yeah. Katniss is the love of Peeta’s life. She’s from District 12 as well. She’s a hunter, she’s a survivor. Her father got killed in the mines when she was younger, and her mum kind of lost it so she’s been raising her family basically. She’s very much a fighter, and my character Peeta has been in love with her since the day he first saw her (laughs). Peeta’s strategy, his goal during the Hunger Games, it’s to do everything he can to make sure Katniss survives. For him, his ability to talk with people and manipulate them, but not like in a conniving way, in a way to protect Katniss – that’s his strength.

The bread-throwing scene is a key moment between Peeta and Katniss….

Josh Hutcherson: Definitely. It was great for me to shoot the scene where Peeta throws the bread to Katniss, actually we shot it at the very beginning of the movie, which was great, because that is something that is a very big driving force in the whole movie – and the book especially. Because Katniss keeps on thinking how Peeta helped her that one time and she kind of feels this need to repay him in some way. This feeling that she can trust him.

How was working alongside Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss?

Josh Hutcherson: Jennifer Lawrence, the talented and beautiful. She’s incredible, to me Katniss is all about being a young, powerful woman who can take care of herself and others around her. Jennifer encapsulates that perfectly. She has this total sense of hardness and independence about her, but then she has this vulnerability that’s really beautiful and really genuine.

What was your first experience of reading The Hunger Games book?

Josh Hutcherson: I first read The Hunger Games when I found out it was being made into a movie. I was actually working on Red Dawn, a couple years ago, and Connor Cruise told me about it. He said that they’re making this awesome book series into a movie and I’ve got to check it out. My mum read it and said it was amazing and said I had to read it, so I read it and I just couldn’t put it down. I was reading and reading and reading, I wanted to see what would happen next. For me it was very captivating.