Katniss may be the Everdeen sister who must battle for her life in the arena, but the younger Prim grows up during the series, transforming from a vulnerable young girl struggling to survive in District 12 into a caretaker for her family while Katniss is away.
Thirteen-year-old actress Willow Shields is doing the same in the film adaptations as Prim, confidently carrying her poignant scenes opposite Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss. But as readers know, Prim’s expanding role in the series ultimately leads to a devastating scene in Mockingjay, which Shields admits she’s not yet sure how to handle.
In the meantime, however, Shields can be seen in the second installment, Catching Fire, tending to Gale’s (Liam Hemsworth) wounds and reassuring Katniss. The actress talked to EW about getting the part, her thoughts on Prim, and how Jennifer Lawrence coached her through the weighty role.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were 10 when you started filming The Hunger Games. Do you remember what auditioning was like?
WILLOW SHIELDS: I was in the middle of reading the first book when I got the audition, so I was becoming a big fan. I flew to L.A. and met with the director and the producers and all of that, and then they told me in the audition that I got the part.
Right on the spot? How’d you feel?
Yeah, Gary said, “You don’t have to audition anymore because you got the part.” [I was] really excited, but kind of nervous at the same time. Everyone says your nerves are over once you finish your audition, but then they come back once you’re about to film.
Well, you do have some heavy scenes to carry. How do you identify with Prim?
She’s such a great character. She’s kind of the light in the story throughout the whole series and she’s always had a kind heart, so I identify with that and try to take some of that away from these movies.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you with playing such a sweet character?
Starting in the first movie with so much acting to do, I feel like almost every one of my scenes, I had to be crying or screaming. That was kind of a little scary to not have any lighthearted scenes and stuff.
You mostly worked with Jennifer Lawrence for both films. What was that like?
Jen is incredible. I don’t think I’ll ever work with someone as fun and as great as her. I mean, I think that we’ve really become like sisters on set, and she’s so fun in every way. She makes having to film emotional scenes fun. She’s like, “I learned a couple tricks on trying to do emotional scenes,” and she would joke around between scenes which really lightens the mood, ’cause some people, if they’re filming an emotional scene, it’s like they’re kind of emotional all day because of it. But with Jen, it just turns off when we hear “cut.”
And what’s the best advice she’s given you?
On the first movie, she told me that the movie’s gonna get really big, and I just have to stay who I am and if I do stay who I am, then I’m going to be perfectly fine throughout all of it.
The movie was certainly a hit. How have you been dealing with the attention? Is it crazy, traveling all over and meeting so many fans?
It is. I recently was in St. Louis for a signing, and there was a group of about four girls who were crying and shaking, and when I see them crying, I’m like, “No, why are you crying?” But when they say like, “Your acting has inspired me” and things like that, it makes you feel good. But when all you see is them crying, it doesn’t make you feel good. [Laughs]
Looking ahead, have you been preparing yourself for what happens to Prim in Mockingjay?
I’m not thinking about it yet. I’m just trying to avoid thinking about it right now, ’cause everyone’s been all, “How are you going to feel about it?” I’m just like, “I don’t know yet.” It’s one of those scenes that I feel like it’s going to be one of those really sad days, for sure, but I mean, I think that it could be really cool to shoot. I’m not sure how to think yet.
Finally, just for trivia purposes: Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale? Team Finnick?
I’m Team Katniss! I literally have been saying that for some time, and I totally think it’s true. In the end, it’s true. It’s all about her, she’s just such a great character that in the end, it has to be Team Katniss.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens in theaters Friday.