The stakes-raising gambit that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire plays in order to surpass the original Hunger Games is this: after Katniss's rebel-tinged victory in the 74th Games, President Snow decides to make the 75th Games a Very Special Episode. It's a Quarter Quell, after all, and what better way to remind everyone that the Capitol is still very much the seat of power in Panem than to have the tributes for his annual murder tourney drawn from the pool of existing victors? Not even your champions are safe.
Some of the victors are furious: winning was supposed to guarantee them a comfortable rest of their lives. But others, notably the Career Tributes from the military-minded District Two, are eager to get back in the Arena. Fighting is what Brutus and Enobaria have been raised to do.
Matthew Lickona: Tell me about your audition — what you brought to it that got you the role.
Meta Golding: They gave me this audition, and they told me it was for The Hunger Games, but it was all super top-secret. I couldn't even tell anybody I had the audition. But I knew the casting director, and she said, "Just come in. We're going to improvise." I knew about the character — that she was this fierce warrior. And I know this is going to sound a little bit crazy, but a couple of weeks earlier, I had dreamed that I was figure skating, and I had these knives in my hands, and I had this high ponytail, and I was doing this fierce sort of figure skating dance thing. It was so startling that it woke me up, and it stayed with me.
So when I found out there was no prep for the audition, that we were just going to go for it in the room, I thought, "I'm going to bring the energy from that dream." The interesting thing is, when I walked into the room, there was the casting person, and there was a camera, and there was a table with a knife in it. So that's my story — it came from the dream.
ML: Your character is pretty savage — in the book, she had her teeth sharpened to commemorate the fact that she won her Hunger Games by tearing out someone's throat with those teeth. Did you have any misgivings about portraying her?
MG: Everybody who is a victor in the world of Panem and the Hunger Games has had to survive. I think of the Capitol as the villain. I think Enobaria is just the ultimate survivor. Just using her fierceness and her physicality and her competitiveness to win. Yes, it's vicious, but I think it's also a commentary on war and survival and the human spirit. It's in our DNA to survive.
ML: What do you hope that your character would add to a conversation that people might have after seeing the film?
MG: I think it would be great if people thought about strength, female strength. I know you said before that Enobaria was this vicious person, but she's also a very empowered, strong black woman. I think that's important. I also think the games are about survival: how you use your strength and intelligence and your alliances.
I think that's kind of why [the Hunger Games book series] is so popular, because it's kind of like high school — surviving high school — only in a much more violent way. Or even in the workplace — how do you survive in corporate America? Or in the university or whatever you are in, because we are all a part of a community. This is just a super-super-heightened and exaggerated [example]. You can make parallels with everything from high school to international politics.
Bruno Gunn: Just to elaborate on that... yes, there's a parallel between the Hunger Games and life. It's exaggerated, but life really is a game that's being played all the time. We make alliances. We use our strengths; we know what our weaknesses are.
MG: I think if people have any takeaway from seeing Enobaria, I would want it to be, first and foremost: see a strong woman who has dedicated her life to seeing the children from her District survive. Our District makes the weapons; we train the Peacekeepers. Our society raises its kids to be warriors and soldiers. I'm probably training those kids; I'm teaching them how to survive.
ML: What would you have to say to a kid to form him as a killer from the get-go?
BG: It's one of those things where, as a soldier, you say, "It's either you or the person standing across from you." It's that simple.
ML: What would you say is the chief difference between the first film and this one?
MG: The first one is kids vs. kids. It was a smaller story — even geographically. In this one, it's all victors, from 18 to 80 years old — different kinds of people. Geographically, you travel to all the different districts. Visually, it's a little bit more spectacular.
BG: Everything is on a grand scale. The tributes are all seasoned veterans. We know what winning is. We know what killing is. It's going to be an intense fight.
ML: On that note: in the book, Brutus is a Career — someone who trains all his life to be in the Games, and then volunteers. Now, after winning years earlier, it sounds like he volunteers to go back. He's just turned 40. I've just turned 40, and I'm seeing what's happening to my body. Why would Brutus want to get back in the Arena with 20-year-olds?
BG: I spent a lot of time building a backstory about who Brutus was — did he have brothers and sisters? What happened to his mom and dad? I put a chip on his shoulder, and made that part of the process. Something might have happened to one of my family members that made me eager to get back into the game. Or the fact that the District Two tribute, Cato, was one of the last people to die in the 74th Games. It could be about justice, or revenge, or trying to bring some glory back to District Two. We've been trained since birth; we've had the best of everything. It's our job to stay fit, to stay strong, to be the backbone of Panem. And to bring that warrior mentality to the Games.
ML: Why do you think this series is a hit?
BG: Because of the books, plain and simple. Suzanne Collins. It's her world, her imagination, her books. The fans love Suzanne Collins. They love her books. They're book readers; they pore over every word. It's amazing how much detail they know about the entire trilogy.
ML: Sometimes when you see these blockbuster films, it's a fine line between the theme serving the spectacle and the spectacle serving the theme. Which way do you think this one goes?
BG: I think it will explain itself once you see it. You'll know exactly what it is.