It doesn’t take a soothsayer to peg the new year’s It Film: The Hunger Games. Already a publishing sensation, this compelling dystopian-future trilogy by author Suzanne Collins now gets the silver-screen treatment (it opens March 23). Tweens and teens, not to mention geeks and culture vultures of all ages, have been salivating for it: Separate reader polls from both Entertainment Weekly and MTV rank the buzzarific flick as the No. 1 most-anticipated movie of 2012, ahead of more established juggernauts like Batman and Twilight sequels.
That makes its star, last year’s Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, the It Girl of 2012. But keep your eye on Hunger Games’ young star-to-be, 13-year-old Amandla Stenberg. Last year, she snagged a rave review from The New York Times for Colombiana. That was just a warm-up to the Games, where she plays a key role.
In this dark, suspenseful tale, the ruling elite of the Capitol force 24 adolescents from impoverished districts to compete as “tributes” in an annual televised death match. Stenberg plays young Rue, who, like Lawrence’s protagonist Katniss, possesses secret skills that give her a fighting chance. The two form an alliance that keeps them in the game.
We recently spoke to Stenberg, a self-described “Cali girl, born and raised,” on the phone. Considering that this young go-getter is a budding musician as well as an actor, we won’t be surprised if she’s the It Girl of the future.
When did you first read The Hunger Games?
I read the books about a year ago, when I was in seventh grade. All the kids in my class were reading them and talking about how good they were, so I thought, “Hey I should try them.” I just tore through them because they’re just so good. I fell in love with Rue right away. I love how musical she is, and how quick and smart she is.
What was your audition like?
To get prepared, my mom took some of my clothes and rolled them in the backyard to get grass stains all over them, and we put twigs in my hair. Gary Ross, the director, was very impressed. He said I had my own hair, makeup and wardrobe department.
What else did you do to convince him you could be Rue?
I just discussed how much I connected with the character. I also told them how I’ve done parkour work, so I have some tree-jumping skills.
Did you do any of the stuntwork in the movie?
I did some stuff. I didn’t have to do any of the hard-core stuff, but I got strapped in my custom harness. I flew around the room and jumped from tree to tree. I loved being in the harness because I felt like Peter Pan. We have some cool scenes where I’m up in the trees with Jennifer.
There’s a key scene in the book where Katniss sings Rue a lullaby. Some readers have been so inspired by that passage, they’ve written their own melodies and uploaded the song to YouTube. What can you tell us about that scene?
On that day [of filming], I actually had the honor of meeting Suzanne Collins, the author. That was incredible. We talked about the scene and how Rue is trying to be brave for Katniss.… It’s really so important to everyone who worked on the movie that it stays true to the books, so that the fans are really happy with it.
It’s neat that you make music, which is Rue’s favorite thing.
I come from a very musical family. My dad taught me to play guitar. I play violin and drums as well.Violin, I started in elementary school. Drums actually came when I was in a program called Rock Star, which was really awesome. We were doing a song by the Ramones, so I thought, “Why not play the drums?”
What would you like to do in the future? Acting, music or both?
I’m not sure. I love all kinds of art. I mean, I love sketching and acting and music. There are so many doors open to me, I could go in any direction.
Stenberg tries to defy the odds in The Hunger Games, beginning March 23.