Fan Site Interview with Amandla Stenberg Sunday 19 August, 2012
Fame has ultimately ruined plenty of adults who have found success in Hollywood, but the child actors of The Hunger Games have shown a remarkable resilience against its tentacles. After chatting with Amandla Stenberg in a group panel with several other fan sites Saturday at Toys ‘R’ Us, I (Adam) became even more convinced that Lionsgate purposely chose grounded, mature kids, who would stay down-to-earth no matter what. Amandla was incredibly intelligent, humble, and showcased a wonderful sense of humor for a 13-year-old, leaving everyone astonished by her virtue and presence.
I had the benefit of sitting right next to her on the couch — like Haymitch and Katniss waiting for training scores. The first thing I said was, jokingly, “It’s amazing! You look and sound just like Rue,” which she laughed about and completely played along with. The extraordinary thing, though, was how true that was. We all felt like we literally hung out with Rue, which was totally surreal and — in a way — sentimental.
Throughout the interview, she “made an impression” over and over again, as Cinna would say. Not only did she have a far-beyond-her-years sense of self-awareness, but she clearly thought of others, too. At one point, she even remarked (as you’ll see) about wishing Thresh could have lived, because that would help her friend Dayo’s acting career. For me, personally, I loved the way she admitted to reading fan stuff on Tumblr, laughed about fandom inside jokes, and even recited her line, “Is it true? You know, you and him?” Her mother was there with her, and when I asked how she could have raised a daughter like this, she said, “She’s a normal kid.” Fame, fortune, obsessed fans, and any other kind of publicity is never going to get this phenomenal girl down, and you can bet on her going very far in life — measured not by her success on screen (which will probably happen), but by the scarcely matched strength of her character.
Interviewer: Do you like getting the merchandise?
Amandla: Yes! My entire bookshelf is covered in Hunger Games merchandise, and I don’t want it to seem like I’m really self-involved and “oh my god, I love The Hunger Games,” but I actually am obsessed with the series. I’m a true fan myself.
Interviewer: How many times have you read The Hunger Games?
Amandla: I’ve read it…five times? [Laughter.] I know the book inside and out.
Interviewer: Do you feel like you’re going to be a fan now, watching the next three movies?
Amandla: Definitely. I’m so excited for the next movies. I can’t wait to see them. I think Catching Fire is such a crazy book, the movie is going to be so insane…
Interviewer: How do you feel having your own action figure now?
Amandla: It’s really cool to play with the mini-version of myself! [Laughter.] All the merchandise is really cool. We just picked up, you know, the magnets you put on your fridge with the words and you scramble them around and make sentences? So, we found the Hunger Games version of it here and we bought it!
Interviewer: Have you seen the behind-the-scenes footage yet?
Amandla: I have not! I don’t have a DVD either. I saw the Tribute Diary, because they sent it to us to approve it. So I saw, you know, the press tour and all of that. That was really fun to watch since we were all filming each other with flip cams. And I also saw – they had this kind of slideshow of pictures we sent in of us on set, so that was really fun to see.
Interviewer: So, recently there was the interview [at FearNet.com] and Dayo said that you filmed the District 11 reaping?
Amandla: Oh, yes, we did! I wish that could have been put in there. Steven Soderbergh directed it, which was really exciting, and he was such a fantastic director, so I’m glad I got to work with him even though they didn’t show the actual footage. But yeah, that scene was really cool. They had the entire District 11 that you see in the mini-uprising after Rue’s death, and they had a little stage and, you know, the mentors and everything, so that was really cool.
Interviewer: Someone from our Facebook page asked: Are you looking forward to seeing Rue’s family in Catching Fire, and do you think they’ll play an important role?
Amandla: [Laughter.] I’m definitely excited to see that. That will be really fun to see. To see little Rue’s brothers and sisters will definitely be fun.
Interviewer: If you could choose one character in the books to not die who died in any of the books – besides Rue – who would you pick to save?
Amandla: I think I would probably choose Thresh. Because – well, first of all, Dayo is really awesome, and Dayo is a really great actor, so that would be good for his career. [Laughter.] And secondly, I think Thresh is such a good character, and I could see him kind of forming an alliance with Katniss and helping her in the war later on.
Interviewer: If you could be cast in Catching Fire, who would you want to play?
Amandla: [Laughter.] Probably…hm…I don’t know! I think either Finnick – probably Finnick, yeah. I would say Finnick, because Finnick is just so, like, “look at me.” [Laughter.]
Interviewer: Who do you want to play Finnick? [Laughter.]
Amandla: Um, I really have no idea! I think I’ll be happy with anyone, really.
Interviewer: Do you have any favorite memories from being on set that you hope make it in the DVD?
Amandla: Oh yeah, they were shooting 24/7, so I think a lot should be on there. My favorite memories…probably just, I don’t know, just us joking around on set. Hopefully you can see us singing and dancing and having fun. And we also had some dance parties in my trailer, so…
Interviewer: Dance parties!? Okay, what music were you playing at these dance parties?
Amandla: We were playing, you know, we had some Lil Wayne, Chris Brown…we had some Pink. You know, the classics. [Laughter.]
Interviewer: Is there a scene in The Hunger Games that you wish you could have been in?
Amandla: You know the scene where Effie comes up to Katniss and is like, “That was fantastic”? I think probably that scene because I was there on set, and it was just so fun to watch Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz and Elizabeth Banks and, you know, all the actors do the scene because they’re all so talented. So I think it would have been really fun to be a part of that.
Interviewer: How much time do you spend looking at what fans are saying on Tumblr and Twitter and places like that?
Amandla: I try not to look at it too much because I don’t want to get sucked into that, you know. But occasionally I do look at Tumblr, and I laugh so hard at the things people write. [Laughter.] And the edits they make. I saw one around Christmastime, they made, like, “Rue-dolph,” and it was me with a red nose and ears and everything. [Laughter.] So yeah, I do love seeing those kinds of things.
Interviewer: Who did you become closest with onset?
Amandla: I don’t think I could choose! That would be like choosing a sibling! [Laughter.] Because we all became really close.
Interviewer: Are you able to see a lot of the other tributes and all the other actors a lot? Are you able to hang out with everybody still?
Amandla: Yeah, we still hang out tons. We always see each other. And it can be hard because, you know, we’re all actors so we’re always going off to shoot a movie. Willow lives in New Mexico so we only see her when she comes out to L.A., but we still hang out as much as possible.
Interviewer: When you’re not shooting, what do you do to let loose?
Amandla: I play violin. And I spend way too much time on my computer. [Laughter.] And I love to read as well.
Interviewer: I was wondering if you read any other YA books and what you’re reading now.
Amandla: Yes. Nevermore just came out from the Maximum Ride series, so I just bought it and I’m obsessed with it.
Interviewer: Do you like fantasy a lot?
Amandla: I love fantasy.
Interviewer: Are you doing Suzuki method for violin?
Amandla: Yeah, pretty much. I’m on Suzuki Book Four now.
Interviewer: Are you aware of some of the inside jokes, like the whole “That is mahogany!” stuff?
Amandla: Yes! [Laughter.] I’ve seen a lot. I know all the Hunger Games jokes. I like it when they take songs and turn them into Hunger Games versions.
Interviewer: What do you think about Haymitch and Effie? Is there anything going on there, do you think? You would have to say, “Is it true about you and him?” [Laughter.]
Amandla: [as Rue] “Is it true? You know, you and him?” Effie, oh my god. I don’t know, do you think they have, like, a secret – like, the hate is fake because they have a secret relationship?
Interviewer: Some fans have speculated on this sort of thing. There are a lot of crazy fans, as you know. [Laughter.]
Interviewer: How do you think Rue would have done in the Third Quarter Quell?
Amandla: I don’t know…that’s a tough arena. I think she is pretty quick, so I guess she could, you know, make her way around the arena. I guess she’d do pretty well. She’d probably find water, and she’d eat the possum things…I don’t know what they’re called.
Interviewer: Have you ever lived or spent time in Denmark at all?
Amandla: I’ve spent time in Denmark, yeah, because my dad is from Denmark. So we always visit friends and family. I love Denmark so much. I think we have to go back soon because it’s been awhile.
Interviewer: I wonder if you’ll be really famous then! Probably!
Amandla: [Laughter.] That would be awesome. I don’t know Danish, but I got Rosetta Stone, so I’m going to do it. I said I would do it this summer, and I forgot to bring it…
Interviewer: Do you know how to say anything in Danish?
Amandla: I know “hej hej” (pronounced “hi hi”), which is…“goodbye.” [Laughter.] I know how to say “what a bunch of nonsense” because my dad says it a lot. It’s like…[insert untranscribable Danish here!].
Interviewer: If it had been reversed in the movie, what kind of send-off do you think Rue would have given to Katniss?
Amandla: Gosh, I don’t know…I think maybe she would have done the same thing, like covered her in flowers. Oh, that’s so sad! [Laughter.] Now I know how you guys feel! Yeah, I guess I – well, Rue – would do the same thing.
Interviewer: Did you have questions for Suzanne Collins about Rue or talk to her about the character?
Amandla: Yeah, I talked to her about the character because she came to set around the death scene. I asked her about Rue, and I asked her, “Is this how you imagined the scene?” And she was like, “Yes, exactly, it’s perfect.” It was just so great to hear that. And then I also talked to her about Rue in that scene, and she told me, you know, Rue’s feeling – although she didn’t want to die, of course, and she’s terrified, she tries to be brave for Katniss because she wants Katniss to have hope and go on in the Games.
Interviewer: On your way back to L.A., if you had a choice, would you rather go by Capitol train or hovercraft? [Laughter.]
Amandla: I think Capitol train is a little more lavish. The hovercraft is pretty awesome, but, you know, I really don’t need to be, like, injected… [Laughter.]