Are you Team Peeta? If you don’t know what that means, you soon will — Josh Hutcherson and his Hunger Games cast mates (Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth) are already feeling the effect of fan ‘shipping wars of Twilight proportions, despite the tale’s emphasis of survival over romance. This extra attention is helping boost Josh’s profile — which is already, literally, quite big in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island in IMAX 3-D. In this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, his teen adventurer is aided by his stepdad (played by Dwayne Johnson) as they discover that Jules Verne’s legendary island does exist, and that it’s the same island written about by Jonathan Swift (in Gulliver’s Travels) and Robert Louis Stevenson (in Treasure Island). The movie was shot in Hawaii, and Hutcherson was back there again doing press when Vulture got his call.
You’re calling from Hawaii?
I’m calling you while I’m looking at the ocean. It’s beautiful. As soon as I get a full free day out here, I’m going to go swimming. When we were here shooting, for about two and a half-months, Brad [Peyton, the director] and I usually went on a swim, about a half-mile out and back, or went surfing.
The Vernians in the Journey films are people who believe that the works of Jules Verne are true. Real-world Vernians, on the other hand, are people who believe in Jules Verne’s ideals, or are into steampunk. Have you met any of them?
I think we’re all kind of like that, our whole crew on set and whatnot. I sort of feel like yeah, that world doesn’t really exist, but it’s a fun fantastical place to let your mind go. The story is based on somewhat factual information, but it’s kind of fun.
Like the little elephants that you can hold in your arms. I want one!
Everyone does. [Chuckles.] When we shot that scene, we used a little dog named Bertha, and she would come running out panting, like pugs do, and we would just interact with her like she was an elephant. It was kind of cool.
Your character, Sean, is a big reader — he loves adventure stories. What do you read?
My main source of reading is scripts, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for books. I prefer fact-based books: A Brief History of Time, theoretical physics, chaos theory. That’s the best material.
So how did you first come across The Hunger Games books? What was your reaction?
I read them as soon as I found out they were being made into films. I went and got the books, and I devoured them. I read like eight hours a day! And I just fell in love with them. I love the whole world that was created, and I like the parts that are based in this reality, like how reality television is, and how our government is the one percent and we’re the 99 percent.
What’s your approach to playing Peeta?
I feel like I’m a lot like Peeta, and I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t get the part. Wouldn’t I be a bad actor if I couldn’t play myself? I think one of my biggest struggles was getting Peeta to be as strong as possible. He can come across a little soft — because he’s admitting his love for Katniss, and he’s sensitive. But he’s got a backbone. He’s got strong beliefs. He’s a people person. And we have the same sense of humor.
But you’re more of a prankster …
Well, on Journey, I had this running prank going when we were shooting in the jungle, where I would take a stick, or a twig, and poke it in someone’s ear and make them think they had bugs crawling in there. Vanessa [Hudgens] and I were messing with Luis [Guzman] for about eight minutes once, poking something in his ear, pulling it out, watching him freak out. It was so hard not to laugh. And finally he went, “I see you.” That was the best one for sure. And on Hunger Games, I took a dummy, one that the tracker-jackers were supposed to have attacked, and I put it in Jennifer’s bathroom, and when she opened the door, she peed her pants. Or so I was told — she told me later. I did not get visual confirmation on that one. I think I’m basically a 5-year-old at heart.
Did you pull any pranks on the Rock?
Usually, no one’s too big for me to try to take them down — except Dwayne. He gets a free pass. He’s huge! Have you seen his pecs? He can pop those pecs. He says it’s what every girl wants, but he might be wrong.
I have a sneaking suspicion you’re not going to need any help in that department.
[Laughs.] Somebody already asked me to marry them. I told them I can’t make that commitment right now. I love the fan support, though, because it all comes from passion.
Will you have time to do another Journey film, or to participate in The Kids Are All Right HBO show? Would you want to? Or will shooting Catching Fire and then Mockingjay take all your time?
I won’t be starting again on the next part of the Hunger Games trilogy until summer or fall, so I have a little time to do something. I’m not a big TV guy, though. I like doing movies. And at this point, they should have someone younger to play Laser. But I’d be up for another Journey. I’d have to see what kind of journey. It’d be cool to go to the moon. I don’t know how it would work technically — lunar gravity would be a challenge — but it’d be cool.
Have you heard that there are people throwing Hunger Games parties now, where they dress up as the characters? Kristen Bell had one for her 30th birthday.
That’s crazy. Hilarious. If someone invited me to one of those, I’d have to go as Katniss. That’s the only way to go.