At the age of 10, actress Willow Shields was cast in her first major film role as Primrose “Prim” Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” films. Four years later, she is still playing Prim and is gearing up for her latest appearance in “Mockingjay – Part 1,” the third of four films based on the book series by Suzanne Collins.
The series tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who lives in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem. The nation is divided into 12 districts and two “tributes” are picked every year from each district to fight to the death for survival.
The latest film picks up the story when heroine Katniss becomes a symbol of hope and revolution for her totalitarian nation. Shields plays Katniss’ younger sister, Prim, from whom she seeks advice as she fights to save her fellow tribute and love interest Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). “Mockingjay – Part 1” is set for release on Nov. 21 through Lionsgate Entertainment.
The Chronicle spoke with Shields about Prim’s evolution as a character, the soundtrack for the film and how the films reflect the books.
THE CHRONICLE: How did you initially land the role for Prim?
WILLOW SHIELDS: It was an interesting process. I was living in New Mexico and [the director] couldn’t find anyone he liked for [the first “Hunger Games” film], so they started looking everywhere and had people send in audition tapes. I taped the scene [in the first movie] where [Lawrence] and I are saying goodbye and I give her the mockingjay pin. It’s a very emotional scene. So I flew into Los Angeles for my callback and I expected to see tons of girls there. I went in, the director and producers are all there and I do the scene, and the director just tells me in the room that I got the part. It was surprising, but I feel like it was perfect. I feel like it just worked.
How has Prim’s character evolved over the course of the three films?
WS: Prim’s character has evolved a lot. Not only do you see her change the most physically in the films, but I feel a lot of changes in her character being the person who plays her. She starts off as this really young girl who’s scared of this world that she lives in. Then you see her in “Catching Fire” discovering who she is as a person and the fact that she wants to become a doctor. In “Mockingjay” she finds a lot of strength in herself that she didn’t know she had. She obviously gets that from Katniss, and she is able to help Katniss a lot in “Mockingjay,” which is an interesting dynamic to see because you see Katniss falling apart and then asking Prim for advice and help. You know [Katniss] is in a tough place when she’s asking Prim for advice and she knows that her sister is smart enough and strong enough to help her.
What is your opinion on the “Mockingjay – Part 1” soundtrack released thus far?
WS: I was stoked to find out that Lorde was curating the soundtrack. She’s one of my favorites. I got super excited when they released the music video recently because I think she’s crazy talented. Her take on the soundtrack is awesome, and I know she’s going to do an amazing job. From what I’ve heard already, it’s incredible.
How well does the film reflect the book?
WS: It reflects it very well. We went into this nervous mindset that crazy fans of the book would not fall in love with the movies. We learned very quickly that they did and they were very happy with [the outcome of the films]. The only nerves we had were for [the fans] and we wanted to fulfill our characters as best we could and make them happy. I think it went over very well, and the fans are very excited for the films. I’ve already seen “Mockingjay – Part 1,” and it sticks really close to the book.
Can you talk about connecting your work with “The Hunger Games” films and anti-hunger campaigns in the U.S.?
WS: I’m involved with a few different charities. I think it’s important to have a way to connect a huge fan base to a charity. [If you have the opportunity to connect fans with these charities] then you should do so because it’s very important to bring awareness to [these issues].
How do you think fans of the series can relate to the story behind the franchise?
WS: There are a lot of things fans can relate to and there are some that they can’t. But the big story is that Katniss is just like a lot of other people except she’s living in this world. She’s kind of lost and she’s trying to find out who she is as a person throughout all of this, and you see that. She’s uncertain of who she loves with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and then she’s always certain that she loves Prim. You also just see a lot of things that are going on in her head and there are a lot of things she talks about where you’re going, “Oh, I can relate to that.” But the story is also about one girl basically fighting to save everybody. There’s nothing you can relate to in that, but it’s just an awesome story for teenagers to read [and watch] anyway. Personally, I also think it’s amazing because it’s one of the first films that has really brought a woman to the screen, and she’s very strong. I totally respect that and I think it’s really great. That’s a wonderful story, that one woman can change the world.