N.J.: When you see her in Winter’s Bone, you see elements of Katniss in her, the qualities that emerge in that performance. When you have a character you love, who exists in your imagination—we knew we had to cast the very best actress who gave the best audition. So you don’t focus on hair color, but the inner quality. Jennifer stole the part in the audition. She made us cry, the casting director cry, and she had both a fierceness and a tenderness, a fire and a vulnerability. Hair color was the least of our worries—people said, “but she’s blonde,” but what’s great is, we could change her hair color!
More: Both Lawrence and the actor playing Peeta are from Kentucky—happenstance or is there something in the bluegrass?
N.J.: Happenstance—although ironically Josh, because he came from Kentucky and made it here was somebody Jennifer pointed to as an argument to her parents that she could make it in L.A.
More: Do they both have that soft Kentucky accent?
N.J.: Not at all, no accents, but both come from kind, nice, normal families—no crazy parents!
More: I always saw Jack Nicholson as Haymitch, although he’s way too old. In the chat rooms they were all rooting for Hugh Laurie from House. How did you get to Woody Harrelson?
N.J.: Haymitch has to be in a certain age range because he has competed within the last 25 years. We knew a rough age range, and talked about a lot of different names, but what we all loved about Woody is he has so much range and complexity but he has that mischief, that troublemaker glint in his eye. The feeling was that it would be wrong to overestimate him, but it would be easy to do so. He can play the clown yet be a force to reckon with. He’s a fantastic Haymitch. I’m very happy with him, with the whole cast.
More: I think Stanley Tucci will also be great as Caesar Flickerman.
N.J.: Tucci has that charisma and he looks great with blue hair.
More: Elizabeth Banks was a surprise as Effie Trinket.
N.J.: She was very passionate about the part. She has the comedic chops but also the dramatic grounding to make it feel normal. She was inspired by Joel Grey in Cabaret.
More: What was the biggest challenge in making the movie?
N.J.: I know how much people love this book because I feel that way myself. People love it ferociously and knowing that, you want to make a movie that satisfies, lives up to their expectations and captures what makes it so special. You feel like it belongs to you and you don’t want anyone to mess up.
More: There’s a lot of pressure on the movie, a lot of expectations. How do you handle that?
N.J.: Just keep working on the movie and do everything I can to make it as good as it can be. That’s the joy of working on something you care about
More: What are you reading now?
N.J.: Buzz, by Katherine Ellison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, about her son’s ADD. On audio, I’m listening to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with my daughter and partner—and now there are only two of them left! My son is reading Stephen King’s Running Man. I reread City of Thieves and read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater; my daughter and I both readShiver, by the same author. I just read Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor—thumbs up to that, too. My daughter said, “ You have the best job ever! You get paid to read books and watch movies!”
More: What are you looking to buy now? Anything specific? N.J.: I’m mostly looking to fall in love. Now I’m spoiled. After Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Hunger Games, I expect to have that passion, engagement, the feeling that it has to be made and made well.