If the plot of The Hunger Games, the first book in Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular young-adult trilogy of the same name, sounds brutal- 24 children, ages 12-18, fight to the death as “tributes” to a tyrannical government that would make Caligula blush- you should see the fandemonium around its March 23 leap to the big screen. “I read all three books in five days,” says the film’s leading man, Josh Hutcherson, 19, who plays Peeta, the handsome tribute in love with Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss. “I’ve never read a character I’ve connected with more- I am Peeta.” Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and Collins, who together wrote the script, agree. “He’s so unbelievably charming,” says Ross. “When he auditioned, Suzanne and I looked at each other. We’d both been knocked out.”
But Hutcherson is more than the sum of his charms- the puppy-dog eyes, the square jaw, or what Ross calls the “easy, winning grace” of a young Jack Lemmon (you never hear that about the Twilight brooders). At nine, when pleading with his parents failed, the Kentucky-raised Hutcherson dialed a Cincinnati talent agency he found in the phone book. “I’m persistent,” he says. Since then he’s held his own in The Kids Are All Right opposite Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, starred in the 3-D family-adventure Journey franchise (which continues with the just-released Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), and dined with Clint Eastwood and Lauren Bacall, his costar in last year’s Carmel-by-the-Sea. What does Hutcherson make of it all, 10 years after that phone call? “Like Peeta would say, it doesn’t change who I am.” He is persistent.
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