Actor Jeffrey Wright hadn’t read The Hunger Games until director Francis Lawrence offered him the role of Beetee. When he did, he was amazed by what Suzanne Collins was able to pull off.
Wright was most impressed by Collins’ ability to write to audiences with different political views simultaneously. “It’s welcoming of the entire political spectrum,” he said during a one-on-one interview with Hypable. “Some people look at these stories and take a 1% versus the 99% perspective, which can be read something as a left-leaning perspective. I think others look at this and they view it from a more right-leaning perspective as a condemnation of government. Others may look at is as a validation of a need for strong allegiance to the second amendment. So it’s nondiscriminatory, it’s nonpartisan. The core, essential values that Katniss responds to are these universal, mythic ideas around family.”
The actor is best known for his roles in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and the James Bond series. Despite having his hand in two of pop culture’s biggest dramatic entities, he was shocked and had a “woah!” moment when his agent told him Hunger Games is “bigger than Bond.”
In the book and film series, the character of Beetee is a District 3 tribute who is reaped for the 75th annual Hunger Games. He is a very intelligent victor who’s great with electronics, and his abilities are used to break down the Quarter Quell arena.
Wright’s casting as Beetee stemmed from a missed opportunity to work with Lawrence previously. “I was asked [to play Beetee] because Francis had wanted to work with me before on a movie and we didn’t get the opportunity to do that,” he said. “He called and asked if I’d consider it. I read the script and saw the first movie. It didn’t take long for me to accept that invitation.”
The popularity of The Hunger Games was an attractive part to taking the offer (which he didn’t have to audition for) because, as he learned later, the series is deserving of its warm reception. “There’s an intelligence that runs through and a relevance that runs through it that’s extremely attractive, and that it’s grounded in interesting literature for young minds. So many kids are being further encouraged to read, and we need more of that.”
To promote Catching Fire, Wright headed out on a “Victory Tour” across several cities in the United States. It was at those events that he really dipped his feet into the passionate fandom and learned why readers love the trilogy as much as they do.
The actor – who chooses his words very carefully when being interviewed – describes the experience as “enlightening.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of the more ardent, more proactive fans who’ve set up websites and blogs and tweet about the stories,” he told us. “I’ve had the opportunity to ask them why they’re so passionate about this stuff, and there hasn’t been one consistent answer. But the consistent aspect is that it’s very personal. And not lightly considered. It’s not simply because it’s a passing fad or because there’s this massive media attention on the stories. Or that Jennifer, Josh, and Liam are cute. It’s because they can place themselves within a journey that one of these characters is on. They somehow identity and sympathize with. And some people bring their politics to it.”
We asked Wright about the departure of The Hunger Games director Gary Ross who was all but set to direct Catching Fire until he left the franchise because he thought he needed more time to shoot. We were curious if he noticed a quicker production pace to accommodate the tight schedule Ross was afraid of.
“There was never a sense that we were being rushed – at all. The sense was we were taking our time, taking as much time as needed to craft as fine a movie as we were able. I think a lot of the calmness – aside from Jennifer and Josh’s hi-jinx which keeps everything buoyant and fun – but that sense of calm was a direct result of Francis’ attitude toward the work.”
Pivoting from the question about Ross, Wright asked himself how he would applaud Catching Fire in six words and repeated the director’s name to us three times. He credits the helmer’s vision for its forthcoming success because of how large of a project this is to envision while in production.
“I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m being asked to do and what my responsibilities are. But it was only upon seeing the movie that I understood the scale and the specificity of his vision and realized his vision. And really wrangle all these top flight filmmakers from actors to cinematography to designers to crew – wrangle them all together and have them work together on their very best material that is among the very best for films like this, and do it with a sense of ease and a sense of clarity is not an easy task. It is not to be underestimated. He really is extraordinary.”
For Wright, one of the only action sequences he had to take part in was the scene where Beetee and other tributes are hanging onto the Cornucopia for dear life as it spins. “They had this whole rig. They had this carnival type rig that we were on. They cranked up the engine, and we just had to hold on for dear life. And at the end of the day, try to avoid the vomit bags. It was pretty crazy,” he told us with a laugh.
The actor didn’t have to take part in many stunts because the character is used more for his book smarts. “Beetee is more thinker than fighter. More lover than fighter. The other actors were more engaged in the physical aspects of it whereas I was allowed to be a bit more cerebral and relied upon for my capacity to think.”
Although they’re on hiatus right now to promote Catching Fire, Wright and the cast of Mockingjay started filming the two-part finale in October and will resume next month.
Catching Fire is in theaters this Friday.