In “The Hunger Games” saga, everything starts with Primrose Everdeen.
When the braided 12-year-old (played by Willow Shields) is chosen to compete in a dystopian future fight-to-the-death called The Hunger Games, her older sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place as a competitor (a.k.a. Tribute) in the bloody battle royale.
In the film’s sequel, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” – which is now available with XFINITY On Demand, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray – Katniss returns home from the Games to find that the hopeless world she once knew is changing, and her role in a growing rebellion has put her in the crosshairs of a corrupt government. When Katniss is again faced with certain death, it is Primrose Everdeen who continues to give the heroine a reason to endure.
As Prim grows on screen, so does the talented actress who brings her to life. Shields, now 13, made her feature film debut in the first “Hunger Games” installment, which was adapted from the best-selling book series of the same name, and has helped bring the inspiring and heartbreaking bond between two sisters to life.
I recently caught up with Shields to talk about “Catching Fire,” her Oscar-winning movie sibling, working with animals and her famously braided hairstyles.
David Onda: “The Hunger Games” has made you a very recognizable person in public. How often do fans approach you and call you Prim?
Willow Shields: Quite a bit now, actually. Almost everywhere I go, I do get recognized, which is really fun. All of a sudden, I’ll hear someone yell, “I volunteer as Tribute!” I turn around and they’re like, “Oh my god!” It’s really fun to see fan’s reactions and talk to them about the books and the films.
Onda: We really get to see Prim grow in “Catching Fire,” and see the seeds of what she will eventually become for the Rebellion. How did it feel to really delve into the other dimensions of the character?
Shields: It was really fun, because I feel like she had more of a range of emotions in “Catching Fire,” and it was a lot of fun to portray a stronger side of Prim. That was really exciting and new.
Onda: Has taking on the role of Prim been any more difficult because you know where her story leads? Is it always in the back of your mind or do you just live in the moment?
Shields: I feel like do – I read the books, I re-read them, and I wanna connect with the character as much as possible. But at this point, after filming for a couple years, I’m so connected with the character and so connected with my cast that it does come naturally. I think it’s a lot easier now on set to get into character, because you become so close with all the cast members.
Onda: It’s pretty amazing, at your age, to work so closely with these acclaimed actors, such as Jennifer Lawrence, who is already an Oscar winner. What have you learned from her about acting or dealing with fame?
Shields: Jen has dealt with the spotlight so well, and she’s still the exact same person. She’s genuine, she’s amazing, so much fun to work with and she’s hilarious. She did give me that advice: Don’t change as you grow up in Hollywood. And I’ve witnessed how that is true. You should stay the way you are, and Jen has done that. She’s such a talented actress and it’s so great to see someone with so much talent and, also, with so much fame, still be a normal, hilarious, fun-to-be-around kind of person.
Onda: Jen and Josh Hutcherson have made no secrets about being pranksters on the “Hunger Games” set. Do you get in on the jokes, or do you have to be the mature one?
Shields: [laughs] I think we all get in on it, all of us. But when they say “action,” we’re always ready. Some people comment on that. First day of work, everyone’s goofing off so much, laughing uncontrollably, but when they say “action,” we’re ready and we’re ready to play our characters. We goof off a lot, but we’re all very mature when it comes to filming this movie and portraying our characters as well as we possibly can.
Onda: In Hollywood, they say never to work with animals, but you have to deal with Buttercup. Is he or she somewhat of a diva?
Shields: He is really fun to work with – a really chill, sweet cat. It’s really fun to work with a cat on set. A lot of us are traveling while working and we don’t have our animals with us, so it’s always fun on set to be working with an animal and connect with an animal, because you’re missing your animals at home.
Onda: Were you surprised by the fuss fans made over the color of the cat? And were there any on-set jokes about the cat change for “Catching Fire”?
Shields: No, we never really talked about it. I honestly have no idea how the change was made or why it was, but I think it’s been really fun working with the cat on the second movie. He’s a really sweet cat, fun to work with. I had a good time being able to do scenes with Buttercup.
Onda: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but YouTube is packed with instructional videos on how to braid hair like Prim. It must be flattering to know you inspire hair trends!
Shields: [laughs] Yeah! I’ve had some pretty insane hair styles. We have such amazing hair stylists on set that have created these really awesome looks for the movie. So, it’s always gonna be braids for me, and I love that. There’s always a different braid they’re doing for me. It was fun after “Catching Fire” came out, to see all the videos about how to do the bow braid or how do the wrap-around braid. It was really fun to see that people wanted to try that. It’s cool.
Onda: Have you decided whether you are Team Peeta or Team Gale yet, or is that an ongoing struggle?
Shields: I’m Team Katniss. I’ve said this from the beginning. I think she’s such a role model to young girls everywhere, and the story is about Katniss and her fight for her family. I’ve always picked Team Katniss.
Onda: And what about Team Prim? She really steps up in “Catching Fire,” and she’s there for Katniss at one of her lowest points. Your character is very much a role model as well.
Shields: I think it’s great how young girls can relate to me and look up to me. It’s really exciting, and it’s a really cool experience. I’ve had a lot of fun with that. I do like how my character has kind of stepped up and is there for Katniss now.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is now available with XFINITY On Demand, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray combo pack.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.