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Gale Hawthorne

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“This whole Hunger Games thing is bigger than any of us; it’s very odd,” said Liam Hemsworth, 23, at the premiere of the first movie. “It really is amazing to be a part of a project like this where you have such passionate fans.” But the Australian actor has been determined to stay true to his pre-Hollywood persona – the low-key surfer dude who did his fair share of blue-collar jobs like working in a bakery, at a bowling alley and laying timber flooring alongside his buddies Down Under. “I love making movies, and I want people to see my movies. There is a time and place for publicity, but to stay a sane person, you must have a personal life,” he told the Orange County Register in August. One of the biggest adjustments Hemsworth had to make after hitting it big? Dealing with paparazzi. “I have felt invaded,” he said. “When I’m in L.A., I expect to be followed by photographers because this is the Mecca of it all.”

Hemsworth has done his best to keep his eyes focused on advancing his acting career. In the past year, he had leading-man roles in the romantic drama Love and Honor, the crime flick Empire Stateopposite Dwayne Johnson, and the spy thriller Paranoia, costarring with legendary actors Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman.

But no matter how many times his name popped up on a movie marquee in 2013, his personal life always seemed to eclipse his professional one. The only thing anyone seemed to be talking about was his relationship with his 20-year-old fiancée, Miley Cyrus. The rumors swirled endlessly: They’re engaged! They’ve broken up! They’ve secretly married! On Sept. 16 reps for the couple confirmed that they had called off their engagement and officially split (at least for now). Shortly after, Hemsworth was photographed in a lip-lock with Mexican actress Eiza Gonzalez, 23, in Los Angeles.

Luckily the upcoming premiere of Catching Fire should give Hemsworth something to focus on besides his private life. “It’s just one thing after another for Gale,” said Hemsworth of the Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle, not to mention the 3rd Quarter Quell and the rebellions brewing in the Districts. “Katniss and Peeta’s relationship is now very public and kind of leaves Gale in the dark … Gale is trying to work out what’s going on. You get to see a little bit more of the fight come out of Gale.”

Sadly you also get to see Gale get pretty beaten up – thanks to the scene in Catching Fire in which he’s publicly flogged by a Peacekeeper for breaking the laws of District 12. “Getting whipped – it was interesting,” said Liam of filming the scene. “It was weird because we had a couple hundred extras on-set, and I spent a while in makeup getting my back done with all these prosthetics. I think we shot it for about three or four days. I was tied to a pole and screaming and getting whipped, and after a while it starts to wear on you a bit – just the yelling and exhaustion of it all.”

The good news about Hemsworth’s prolonged pummeling is that it means Katniss’s hunting partner gets more screen time in Catching Fire. “Gale’s story line is becoming more and more complex, and he’s definitely a part of the action more,” says Hemsworth. And that will make the author of the Hunger Games trilogy mighty happy.

“Suzanne Collins said to me once on-set, ‘You know, after the first movie, I wanted to have more of Gale in the movies. I love the character and love what you’ve done with it,'” a proud Hemsworth said on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show in August. And here’s some even better news Hemsworth has shared about the upcoming filming of Mockingjay: “In the third book,” he said, “there’s a lot more for Gale.”