Images courtesy Lionsgate. Ritchman and Schlund in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, opening this Friday, Alan Ritchson and Stephanie Leigh Schlund play two of the story's fiercest bad guys. But tucked away in a hotel room on the 17th floor of the Mandarin Oriental in Miami's Brickell neighborhood, the pair are just a couple Southern kids with a playful, sibling-esque rivalry.
"It's like Christmas Eve and it's like a thousand degrees outside," says Ritchson, noting that the competition arena in the book bears a certain resemblance to South Florida. Schlund concurs. The two then engage in teasing each other about which of the two would win a real life Hunger Games held in Miami. "I would win, if it were real, if it weren't rigged like a book," says Ritchson, who then proceeds to count on his fingers who he would kill first, "She [Schlund] would be dead, Jennifer [Lawrence] would be dead... I might let Josh [Hutcherson] live, we get along."
"Josh? What, do you like pastries? Come on!" says Schlund, who was not very pleased that her own brother-from-another-mother would kill her off.
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The pair's brother-sister dynamic works ever in their favor in the film, in which they happen to portray siblings. Ritchson plays Gloss, a former victor from District 1, and Schlund plays his sister, Cashmere, also a victor who now must reenter the arena for the 75th Hunger Games Quarter Quell.
As characters from the district closest, and most loyal, to the Big Brother-seque Capitol in Panem, the actors had a unique challenge. Since Collins' protagonist is from the downtrodden District 12, the author doesn't spend too much time in the book developing her "bad guy" characters, leaving a lot of room for interpretation to Ritchson and Schlund. But the two say they were able to delve between the lines and pull out back stories for their victors.
"The thing that makes [Collins] such a great author is the fact that although there may not be a lot there, she chooses her words wisely and she kind of gives you everything you need in a very short amount of time," says Ritchson.
Ritchson goes on to explain how by using the description of the world of Panem, his character's district of origin, and the apparent internal struggles that they must suffer - especially since they competed in a Hunger Games before -- he was able to build a rich persona for Gloss. "There really was a lot to these characters...they're not just one-sided monsters," he says.
For Schlund, when thinking about Cashmere, she thought a great deal about the time in between Cashmere's first Hunger Games, and when the movie meets up with her years later. "What did they do in their lives?" she ponders. "I think that in our reaping scene, our facial expressions described more so of what has happened: Are they happy to reenter the games, are they remorseful, are they terrified, what are they actually feeling, what are they leaving behind?"
So what kind of home life did Schlund imagine her character leaving behind? "Competitive," Schlund quickly responds, exchanging a look with Ritchson that implies a shared private moment. "He gives me this face and I know what he's thinking," she laughs. "We actually hit the nail on the head when it came to playing siblings." Ritchson adds, "It doesn't take much acting, I think," saying how the two are originally from the South and that connection "helped facilitate a conversation right off the bat."
The pair are so likable in person that it's hard to imagine rooting against their characters on screen, a feeling further complicated by the depth they say they've found in Gloss and Cashmere. Schlund describes Cashmere as "resourceful," because she would do whatever it takes to succeed and survive; Ritchson explains that Gloss is "torn":
"This guy comes from District 1, he's so close to the Capitol, so his allegiance is there and there's sort of a loyalty bred into that people; but he's still a member of the districts and inherently that makes him sort of an underclass. He's forced into these games that he's already been a part of -- and you don't want to have to do this once, let alone twice -- and he's a survivor, a human being, and a lethal force. He's the epitome of somebody who is, I think, torn between these two worlds."
This story originally appeared in Miami New Times.