Josh Hutcherson is not accustomed to being surrounded by throngs of screaming teenage fans, seeing his face on the magazine covers at the supermarket, let alone printed on a collection of bedding.
“That’s a lot. Millions of people are going to sleep with me,” he joked, staring at his face on a special-edition “Hunger Games” pillow case. “Over the last ten years, I’ve gone through so many interesting projects and things that are very different… but this one is a whole other world as you can see.”
It’s a new world for Hutcherson all because of the blockbuster movie, “The Hunger Games,” which hits theaters nationwide Friday.
Hutcherson, 20, has many acting roles under his belt, notably starring alongside A-Listers like Annette Benning and Julianne Moore in the 2010 Oscar-nominated film, “The Kids Are Alright.” But since taking on a leading role in the first installment of ”The Hunger Games,” he’s graduated to a new level of super stardom.
“The Hunger Games,” based on Suzanne Colllins’ wildly popular novel, has become a pop culture phenomenon. Set in the post-apocalyptic world in the nation of Panem, a futuristic version of North America run by a tyrannical ruler, two children from each of the nation’s twelve district are forced to fight for their lives in the Hunger Games, a televised battle-to-the-death where only one victor is left standing.
“It’s a story about a struggle to survive and live in this very harsh kind of fantastical future,” he explained today on “Good Morning America.”
Hutcherson plays Peeta Mellark, a shy, intelligent son of the local baker from District 12 who is chosen to compete alongside a fellow District 12-er Katniss Everdeen. The story’s heroine, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a classmate who he’s quietly had a crush on for as long as he can remember. In order to survive, Peeta will have to kill Katniss and 22 others in the barbaric ritual.
In a movie where physical strength is so central to the story, co-stars Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, who plays Katniss’ best friend Gale, had to train religiously before filming started to get into shape.
Hutcherson also had to buff up, but had to gain 15 pounds — all muscle, he says — for the role.
“It wasn’t like a fun, go to McDonald’s and Taco Bell and enjoy that kind of food. I had to eat chicken and fish and all the very intense, protein-type food. I also had to work out with an ex-Navy Seal trainer, who’s like this crazy guy that makes me do awful things to my body but I guess it worked for the part. All for the better,” he said.
“Liam [Hemsworth] had to lose 50 pounds and dye his hair brown. I had to gain 50 pounds and dye my hair blonde. We should have just switched roles. It would have been a lot easier on our bodies that’s for sure,” he joked.
All three bonded on the set. Hutcherson and Lawrence both hail from Kentucky and introduced Hemsworth, who’s Australian, to the American delicacy of the White Castle hamburger. The young stars reveled working with acting great Stanley Tucci, who plays the “Hunger Games” TV host and announcer Caesar Flickman, fun-loving Woody Harrelson, who plays Peeta and Katniss’ wild and crazy mentor Haymitch Abernathy, and rocker Lenny Kravitz, who stars as stylist Cinna.
“The whole cast from Jennifer Lawrence to the guy who played Peacekeeper No. 11 is so great,” Hutcherson said. “Every single person on the whole shoot was so great and very talented and I think perfectly cast.”
As much as he is enjoying the spotlight, the Kentucky native is determined to not let it all get to his head.
“The best advice I’ve ever gotten is from my family. I’ve been raised with the belief in being true to yourself and not letting things change you. And this is obviously incredible, but if you listen to all the good things or all the bad things, you’re going to start changing. I’m just going to keep being me no matter what.”
“The Hunger Games” opens Friday in theaters nationwide. Monday, the villain of the movie, Donald Sutherland, will be live on “GMA.”