Josh Hutcherson

by Heather Seidler

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A motorcycle rumbles in the not-so-far-off distance, followed shortly by Josh Hutcherson, who warmly steps into the discreet restaurant where I await him, hair slightly damp, helmet pinioned under his arm, wearing a threadbare vintage Doors T-shirt, jeans, and worn-in boots. He sits down after a handshake and a smile, a young man legitimately comfortable talking candidly from the onset. He’s genuinely curious about who I am, evident from his ability to ask me his own questions, unencumbered by the fact that I’m there to enquire about his life and form a story about it. He could be any average, unassuming young guy you meet on the street, but he’s not, a fact pointed out when our waitress excitedly exclaims, “Aren’t you the guy from Hunger Games?!”

Fame is a high stakes game. In an industry predicated on publicity, celebrity has become synonymous with tabloid invasiveness. Once upon a time, artists trusted the media—they let us in—that tenuous trust produced a body of work that defined an era, its artists, and its ideas. James Dean strolling down the Lower East Side. Frank Sinatra sitting at the bar, rimming a glass of scotch with his fingertips. A naked John Lennon spooning a fully clothed Yoko Ono. But the lines got blurred. Media let the floodgates open wide for the paparazzi, the weeklies, the gossip rags, and the other golden outhouses of our culture. The publicity machine needs its artists to bleed, to engage in assorted scandals, to have their breakdowns gobbled up by the press juggernaut and digested into clickbait. So up went the high walls of the ivory tower and all manner of controlling caveats from publicists.

“For me, overall, the relationship with media, press, social media, is very frustrating because it’s a balance of wanting the interview to be representative of you, but at the same time, not wanting to give all of yourself to the media,” Hutcherson confides while staring into the menu in his hands. “It’s absolutely insane, not just the media’s invasiveness, but social media and even fans. I have so many fan groups that hate on the people around me. Any girlfriend that I have, or friends that are around me, they get hate mail on Twitter and Instagram. You can say whatever you want about me, because I don’t read it, but my friends and family—they’re not doing anything wrong at all, and yet they’re unfairly getting dragged into this.”

Navigating the awareness of fame with the desire to be successful is particularly prescient when you are one of the acclaimed stars of the international record-breaking franchise Hunger Games. Hutcherson returns as Peeta Mellark in the franchise’s fourth and final installment, Mockingjay - Part 2, the tetralogy that steamrolled him into world-wide recognition.

Hutcherson raises an eyebrow, “I want to address a common misnomer, and that is if you chose this career, you therefore deserve to have paparazzi following you, you deserve having people try to hack your phone to get your secret information, and you deserve to have millions of people judging and hating on you, your family and your friends. I started this when I was nine years old. I was a kid in elementary school that had a dream of making movies, of being an actor, and being a filmmaker. I didn’t say that I wanted to be famous, that I wanted the world to know my name. Never my thought. All the way through my acting career, [celebrity] was a horrible negative side effect that I never once thought was going to happen to me.”

Happen it did. Privacy gone. Hutcherson can’t hold his girlfriend’s hand down the street without any number of conspiracy theories abounding about that said girlfriend is merely a diversion to cover up his secret “relationship” with co-star Jennifer Lawrence, amongst other baseless rumor-mill fabrications.

“Before signing onto Hunger Games, Jen [Lawrence] had to think about it for a few days, whether or not she wanted her life to become this, and if she should step into this. I didn’t even think about that, which was naiveté. I read the script, and because of the story and the characters, I wanted to be in it so badly. I wanted to make this movie because I wanted to tell this story and to play this character,” he explains. “I didn’t for a second think about the consequences of that, and in retrospect, I was an idiot for not thinking about it.  To be thrust in front of millions and millions of people in a potentially very successful franchise—I didn’t think about any of that, I just thought I wanted to make a cool movie. There’s no way I could have understood the magnitude of fame, because it’s something that you can’t really wrap your mind around until you’re in it.”

The digital world has certainly changed the rules of the fame game; the need for information all the time. People’s real lives versus their online lives have blended the lines of illusion and reality, all this line blurring creates a metaphorical motion sickness in our lives. [The crux of the very issue you are currently gazing upon.] The line in the sand now delineated by a hashtag; keeping us further distracted from what invisibly pushes and pulls us, what is happening below the surface. A concept Hutcherson is all too familiar with, one that he’s made a conscientious effort to deflect. “I feel like corporations feed on the insecurities of consumers. It’s like the idea of happiness and the idea of beauty, versus what you have. Even the media too; people on the cover of magazines seem like the idea of perfection. That’s really frustrating. Then, on top of that, now you have various social media portraying its own ideas of perfection. It’s a social pressure. Before, it was an economic pressure to buy these things, to have this life, and now you have to put out this image to be seen as this thing. It’s shitty, it’s unfair, it drives people further into insecurity, and it drives others further into ego. People are trying to fill the void of insecurity and unhappiness with projecting these images of how they want their life to be perceived by people, this illusionary version depicting what you want people to see. I don’t like it at all. I want people to have the freedom to be real, and the best way to do that is to be real yourself and show your flaws.”

Before the exacting neon lights of Hollywood went his way, 23-year-old Hutcherson was the embodiment of a big-dreaming kid living in Kentucky, looking everywhere for acting work—the familiar tale of Midwest boy looking to make good on his big-screen ambitions. It wasn’t long before he was working regularly in pilots and commercials, landing him in the deep end of Los Angeles at the famed Oakwood Apartments. He rather expeditiously broke into the big screen in 2005 with Zathura followed by Bridge to Terabithia (2007) and continued punching the Hollywood clock in Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) and The Kids Are All Right (2010). Then came The Hunger Games, which quickened everything. Suddenly, Hutcherson’s face was on billboards around the globe, his image thickened or deflated at the whim of others. Suddenly he’s being told what to wear, what to say, who to be seen with.

“Those should not be things that are told to you,” says Hutcherson. “You should have your own feeling of what you like, without outside influence whispering to you what is cool. True self-expression exists in such few forms now, because people are constantly being told what is cool, what is ‘in,’ and they follow that. It’s hard to be original now, it can be hard to be creative in expressing who you are.” I’m left to wonder how much of his own style is controlled by stylists or if his media-wary mentality has him dressing himself. “I want my style, publicly, to be the same as who I am personally because I believe in that. I’ll wear the same suit again, I’ll wear the same T-shirt again. When I do a press tour, I wear one pair of jeans for the whole two weeks, and that’s it. You don’t need to have a giant closet full of a bunch of stuff to represent who you are or to pay someone to show you what’s on trend.”

The afternoon trips along as we finish our food and switch locations to a coffee shop across the street. As we stroll along, our conversation segues back to Hunger Games and its undertones of governmental oppression and the injustices of the caste system. I ask him what he think resonates most with the film’s broad range of viewers.

“I think it all starts with a love for the characters. Katniss’ reality of family, of love, and wanting to take care of both of those things—that’s something that resonates with so many people. Then you put her in a situation that has a lot of correlations between what’s happening in our world. Separation of rich and poor, feeling oppressed, feeling taken advantage of, and it’s happening all over the world, and we can see that, so the story is very relevant,” he replies. “The gap between wealth and poverty is growing and this movie is the ultimate version of that. On top of that, it’s a comment on our obsession with media propaganda and the dangers of that. The televising of people’s very violent deaths, televised to the world, make a reality TV show. So it’s a cautionary tale about that, as well as the cautions of war and how to prevent it before you get there. I think, right now, the positive side of Twitter is people are becoming more aware of what’s happening in the world. Because of that revolution, it made the revolution in the movies more relevant to more people because they saw it happening all around them.”

Mockingjay - Part 2 marks the end of more than half a decade of Hutcherson’s life. “It’s hard to say goodbye. I’m definitely going to miss it,” he says, shuffling forward in his seat, leaning close. “This is my favorite one. This is where all the stories kind of intersect. All this buildup of the consequence of war, this buildup of the corruption, people rising up and the revolution—all comes to a point. You have all this conflict being resolved. For me, it’s definitely the most satisfying, the completion of the story feels great. It’s not necessarily the most positive movie, it’s very intense and very heavy, but that’s the story.”

He’s at an age, having done his service to a movie franchise or two, having some initial grasp on his future, in which he’ll be able to pick his own projects, to write and direct, to further cement his place in the firmament of cinema history. His recent dynamic role in the film Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014) certainly represented a step in that direction, as does the James Franco-helmed drama In Dubious Battle which he has lined-up next.

“It’s a completely different kind of character for me. He starts a lot of trouble,” he says. “It’s based on the novel by John Steinbeck. We shot it in seventeen days. It’s wild, we were doing like sixty set-ups a day.”

Hutcherson was happy to flap his wings again after the Hunger Games commitment came to a close. “I think it’s really important to constantly explore unknown territory. To not only avoid a limited shelf life but also avoid being put in a box. I’m usually portraying a likable guy. Therefore, when they’re casting for the bad guy, they don’t think of me that much. So you gotta keep changing it up so you can be thought of for any kind of role. I seek things that are unexpected and that break down conventions. As far as characters go, I like to do different things that truly challenge me, and really push me past what I’m comfortable doing. There’s a lot on the horizon right now, and it’s like I’m on the precipice of a big roller coaster ride.”

Photographer: Doug Inglish for Brydgesmackinney.com.

Stylist: Nicolas Klam for Jedroot.com.

Groomer: David Cox for art-dept.com.

Producer: Gianina Jimenez for Brydgesmackinney.com.

Photography Assistant: Brian Stevens.

Styling Assistant: Ali Miller.

Digital Tech: Maxfield Hegedus.

Grooming Notes: Kevin Murphy Anti Gravity and Super-Goo.