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At 12, Willow Shields has yet to leave her mark on the entertainment industry, but thanks to The Hunger Games, she’s already made an impact. Playing Primrose Everdeen, younger sister to the series’ main character Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence), she is the catalyst for virtually everything that happens in the film. Now, Shields hopes that the film will return the favor and launch a long and successful career for her as an actress.
Shields spoke to The Hollywood Reporter while at Comic-Con over the weekend, promoting the upcoming home video release for The Hunger Games. In addition to discussing the process of getting acclimated to the world within the film, she offered comparisons between her journey and Primrose’s, and made a few suggestions for whose careers she’d like to emulate as she continues her own creative journey.
The Hollywood Reporter: When you first got hired for The Hunger Games, what expectations did you have about it?
Willow Shields: We knew it was going to be pretty big because of how big the fan base for the book was, but it’s just become bigger and bigger. We never expected it to be this huge, and it’s great to be part of such a big thing.
THR: How did you look at your character, and what sort of preparation did you go through to play her?
Shields: It’s kind of hard to play a character in such a different world – it’s kind of crazy. It’s hard to become that kind of character, but for me, it’s just like you’ve got to put yourself in that place somehow. I don’t know how other people do it, but for some reason, I can just put myself into that place and just think of how she would have acted when something like this happened.
THR: Your character way is sort of responsible for what happens to Katniss. How much are you able to be aware of the impact your character has?
Shields: I actually never really thought of it. Like, I’ve thought Prim is the reason that Katniss went into the games, but I didn’t think of it as a bad thing. It’s because of me she’s going into these games, but it’s because of me she goes into the games and good things happen to her too, so I don’t know. It’s interesting to think about that, but I haven’t really done a lot of that.
THR: How did Gary Ross help you get comfortable in this sort of fantastical world?
Shields: He’s just such a fantastic director. He helped in the way that he had the sets put together in the way of his vision, and everything – costume, just everything because of his vision helped me act. And that was very helpful.
THR: How do you generally work with directors? Do they let you figure things out for yourself?
Shields: Yes. I know with Gary Ross especially, he kind of gave me pointers here and there, but he kind of let me become firm in any way that I needed, and he just let me try things and to explore what I can do with my acting. So that was very helpful.
THR: How much of a family were you and Jennifer Lawrence when you were off camera? Was the sister relationship kind of the same when you weren’t filming?
Shields: Yeah, we were both like sisters on set. We were so close. It was so hot outside that we would be drinking so much water, and if there wasn’t enough water bottles around, we’d be drinking out of the same water bottle – that’s how close me and Jennifer were.
THR: Did you participate in any of the extras on the DVD such as interviews or commentary tracks?
Shields: I’m not sure what’s going to be included, so I don’t really know. But there should be some stuff of just on set, shooting different things – maybe some video clips of us shooting scenes that were not included in the movie. There’s going to be three hours of behind the scenes [material], so I’m not sure, because I haven’t seen enough.
THR: What sorts of things are you looking to do right now?
Shields: I’m interested in a lot. Like right now, I’m just really excited for Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1 and 2. But I love playing characters like Prim – I mean, Prim is like my dream character – but after The Hunger Games, it would be fun to look and see what else I could do well. But right now, Prim is like my dream role.
THR: How much do you feel like Primrose’s journey of growing up mirrors your own? Do you have much in common with her?
Shields: Yes, definitely. I just think our personalities, and also, there’s a lot of things – we both love animals, and we’re both very caring and volunteering people. So I think there’s a lot that we have in common, and I’m really excited to grow up with the character.
THR: Is there an actor or actress whose career you would like to emulate?
Shields: I think some people who are really cool actresses are Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie. They play a wide range of characters and are amazing actresses, and they started off being a no one and becoming huge – they started off really young and acted their whole life. So those are two very inspiring actresses.
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