chat room

Mockingjay Director Francis Lawrence on Reworking Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Part and Getting His Star to Sing

Photo: ? Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

When it came time to decide where exactly to split the third installment of The Hunger Games trilogy so that one book could be two films, director Francis Lawrence said it came down to understanding that Mockingjay had “two separate stories, and two very distinct dramatic questions.” The first one involves Katniss finally understanding that “she means something to the rest of the world” and taking on the responsibility of her role in the revolution, at least as far as the propaganda war is concerned between the Capitol and the rebel forces that rescued her from the arena at the end of Catching Fire. (“Whereas the next one is Katniss saying, ‘I’m going after President Snow,’” Lawrence said. “The quest to kill Snow is the second story.”) Lawrence chatted with Vulture about his own propaganda campaign, why his leading lady cried on set, and who replaced Philip Seymour Hoffman when the actor died before completing all of his scenes.

Aren’t movie marketing campaigns a bit like propaganda campaigns?
Sure! One of the things that I had fun with was the idea that Katniss goes out into this real situation, and it’s a really horrific event, and she gives this really emotional speech, but then you take that footage and you take it back to the edit room and you splice it up in a very certain way. You add your music, your titles, and you turn it into something meant to inspire, and then you’re sort of adding things that are actually part of the marketing campaign for The Hunger Games movies themselves. We used the same font, the same logo. And so it was fun to actually use some of the advertising in the propaganda film itself.

And vice versa. Your teaser trailers for the film were propo spots.
Yeah! It’s interesting, when we started working on the propaganda films within the movie, and the approach to them, you start looking at the idea of propaganda. There was an Austrian guy [Edward Bernays] around the era of WWI who wrote the book on propaganda, and he came up with the five approaches to it, and a lot of it is actually used in advertising. It was all the different ways of connecting to people, getting people to do something, or want something, or want to join something. And those five principles are still being used all the time. Like Michael Jordan selling shoes, right? By associating somebody very well respected with a product, it makes people want to get that product. We think of that as “Yeah, no-brainer,” but that was one of the original approaches to propaganda.

And so for a movie, the actors are the spokespeople …
Absolutely. You have to sell the movie. And ideally when you’re making a movie, you have actors who are respected so that your propaganda works! [Laughs.]

Jennifer Lawrence and Katniss are both in a position where they have to sell something — a movie, a movement — and both work a little better unscripted.
Yes. I think she definitely does. She’s good at both, but what’s kind of fun about her is that she’s an amazing actress. You give her a script, and she’s really incredible and amazing to watch. I learn something new from her every day. But what’s really interesting to see is when she’s unscripted. There’s a blunt, almost awkward honesty that comes from her that is really charming.

Jen’s the one joking until the second you start shooting. But Woody Harrelson’s the one who keeps joking, even after you’ve started?
Especially if he’s off-camera. But Jen can really, on the spot, just sort of switch from telling a joke and then turning into Katniss. I say, “Cut!” and she goes right back. She can’t help herself. She’s talking all the time, and usually saying really silly things and joking around all the time. She wanted a blooper reel, and so the editors put one together for her, but what they did, they just strung together all the moments where we called, “Action!” and you can actually see the moment where she changes from joking Jen into Katniss. [Laughs.]

When she had to sing a song in the movie, “The Hanging Tree,” was she able to switch the same way?
She could. There are very few times when Jen gets nervous about stuff she has to do on set, and the singing was that kind of a thing. I knew she didn’t love the idea of singing, but I didn’t realize how nervous she was until when we started the first take, and she was in tears. Not totally broken down, but she was unhappy. I didn’t have to talk her into it, she was going to do it, she knew it was her job, but she just wasn’t happy about it. “Oh man, I’ve got to actually sing! In front of 150 people!” She would have much rather we used somebody else’s voice. I think she said she wanted Lorde to do it! [Laughs.] But see, the thing on top of all of it is, it shouldn’t sound like a professional. It should sound like a real girl singing. So she did it. She did it all day. And she has a really cool sound to her voice. There’s kind of a raspy texture to it. So it was not terrible in the slightest. [Laughs.]

You lost Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch, when he died during a weekend break from shooting. How did it affect the scenes he had left?
It was about as horrible a thing that can happen. It was just completely tragic. It threw us all. It was a really tough, emotional time, and tough getting back into work and trying to find a groove again. There were two substantial scenes that he had left, scenes with dialogue. All the other scenes he had were appearances in scenes where he had no dialogue. We knew there was no way we were going to attempt to re-create him digitally, so we decided to rewrite the scenes and give his dialogue to other [actors]. There’s a scene in Mockingjay - Part 1 that Elizabeth Banks took over for, and there’s a scene in Mockingjay Part 2 that Woody Harrelson took over for. I don’t want to say what it is in Mockingjay 2, but in Mockingjay 1

It’s the scene where Effie misses coffee?
Yes! Anyone who knows the books knows that all that stuff is actually Plutarch’s dialogue. The interesting thing about that scene is that it works with Effie. Effie could really give the [design] book [of the Mockingjay outfit] from Cinna, because she was connected to Cinna. And she’s a fish out of water in 13, so the dialogue about how strict they are, and the jumpsuits, and the wigs — Elizabeth did some improvisation there — that all works for Effie. Effie wasn’t even in 13, but Elizabeth Banks just made Effie such an iconic character, so it felt sort of unjust to Effie to keep her to a cameo appearance at the end of Part 2, so [producer] Nina [Jacobson] and I really worked on [author] Suzanne [Collins] to allow us to put Effie in 13.

What about the decision to take out some other Capitol folk who had been in 13? Katniss’s prep team? When she discovers that 13 has imprisoned and tortured them, it gives her a reason to mistrust the rebel side. 
Really, for us, it was about bringing Effie in, and it was also about making sure we’re bringing in and spending time with characters that we’re emotionally connected with. And in the adaptation of these books, you’re losing time with some of the people, so over the course of the movies, we haven’t spent that much time with the prep team. So there’s just not the same connection.

Natalie Dormer was willing to shave her full head, but you stopped her at half?
[Laughs.] She was willing! In terms of thinking about the aesthetic of Cressida, I was thinking about her as this embedded reporter, and she was going to have this irreverent, almost-punk attitude. I actually was inspired by our costume designer on Catching Fire, who had just the side of her head shaved.

Did Game of Thrones thank you for not shaving off all her hair?
Natalie can now wear her hair down on both sides and nobody could tell, if she wanted to hide it. [Laughs.]

Mockingjay Director on Jennifer Lawrence’s Song