THE CASTING OF JOSH Hutcherson as Peeta may have initially elicited mixed reviews from hardcore fans of the book, but Suzanne Collins was immediately convinced he was perfect for the part. “Three lines into [his audition] I knew he’d be fantastic,” she told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. “Josh totally captured Peeta’s temperament, his sense of humor and his facility for language.” Hutcherson, 19, had to bulk up and have his hair bleached blond, but he knew he’d ultimately prove any doubters wrong. “I had confidence,” he says. “When I read the books, I felt a superstrong connection with Peeta. There was a lot of me in him, and vice versa. Plus the director, the studio and everyone was behind me.” Hutcherson opened up about playing Peeta to PEOPLE staff writer Blaine Zuckerman.
How hard was it to prep for this role?
Eating was the hardest part. I had to gain 15 lbs., and I enjoy working out and I play a lot of sports, but the eating was really tough. I had to eat two chicken breasts and two handfuls of broccoli five times a day. By the last meal I couldn’t even look at the chicken anymore.
How did the hair transformation go?
It was a little terrifying because at first they tried to do it without bleaching, but it turned orange and then this weird green. Finally they bleached it out and it worked.
What was your favorite thing about working with Jennifer Lawrence?
Her ability to have fun up until the very second they call “action” is very entertaining. It occasionally makes it harder because you’ll be like, laugh, laugh, laugh-okay-now I have to fight for my life. She also always says what she thinks. A lot of people are too worried they’re going to offend someone, so I found that really admirable.
Which scene turned out to be the most intense to film?
The fight between me, Katniss and Cato. We shot it over the course of three nights. It was really hot and humid, and we were giving it our all. We worked all night until the sun came up.
Did you have a favorite costume?
Probably what I wear in the scene where I toss Katniss the bread. It was inspired by 1930s southern workwear-the boots and heavy material are kind of my style. And in one scene in the Capitol, I wear futuristic sweatpants that were the most comfortable things ever.
Do you bake like Peeta?
I do, actually. I make cake balls. You bake a cake and then you mush the cake into a bowl and mix it with cream cheese icing, and then you put it on a stick and dip it into a candy coating. They’re delicious. I also make a French apple pie. I’m more of a grill guy-burgers and chicken-but I can mix it up in the kitchen with baking.
How did the cast spend downtime in North Carolina?
In Asheville this place called Early Girl Eatery had the best breakfast. We went there a ton. And there was a cool movie theater that serves full meals while you’re watching a movie, so that was really cool.
What was your favorite cast-bonding memory?
Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz and me sitting on a couch, waiting for the next scene to be set up and nodding our heads while listening to Bob Marley.
Any pranksters among the cast?
Definitely the tributes. I often sleep in my trailer, and they were constantly knocking on doors and running away. I also got Jennifer really good one time. There was this realistic-looking dummy of Glimmer after she gets stung by tracker jackers and she’s all swollen. I put it in the bathroom in Jennifer’s trailer. I wasn’t there for the moment she saw it, but sources say she actually peed her pants. That’s how scared she was, so it worked.
ALL ABOUT JOSH HUTCHERSON
The 19-year-old Kentucky native has been amassing a varied resume since he moved to L.A. in 2002. Starting out in TV movies and with bit parts on the big screen, Hutcherson was cast in his first major roles in 2005, in the coming-of-age film Little Manhattan and as Kristen Stewart‘s younger brother in the action comedy Zathura: A Space Adventure. In 2010 he nabbed the Breakthrough Actor in Film award as the son of a same-sex couple in the Oscar-nominated The Kids Are All Right. “He’s a remarkable young man,” said his costar Annette Bening as she presented him with the award. Hutcherson says that growing up onscreen has made him interested in every aspect of filmmaking. “You’ll see me hang out with the camera guys and stunt guys and wanting to learn about how things are done,” he says. “I’ve done that on movie sets since I was 9. At some point I want to get behind the camera and produce and do all of it.”