I’ve been mildly obsessed with The Hunger Games for about a month now. Okay, so I finished the trilogy in record time. And I’ve seen Gary Ross’ Hunger Games movie three times. And my Facebook profile picture is currently a Peeta meme. I take it back: I’m obsessed with that series to an unhealthy degree.
Katniss and Peeta may have been the stars of the 74th annual Hunger Games, but let’s take a moment to appreciate the tributes who died in the arena. Though they were all being forced to fight to the death by The Capitol, the other tributes, especially the careers from Districts One and Two, were formidable opponents. No one (besides Rue, RIP) left more of an impression than Cato, played in the movie by the blonde and buff Alexander Ludwig.
Ludwig turned one of the book’s least fleshed-out characters into a semi-villain who you could empathize with to a certain extent. That’s why when the end credits rolled, I knew I wanted to learn more about the actor who helped make my beloved book into a successful movie. In one of the coolest journalistic moments of my life so far, he agreed to talk to CM. Just take a moment to drink that in: CM interviewed someone who was in The Hunger Games!
Making Cato Memorable
Ludwig was no Hunger Games virgin when he was cast as Cato. He had read all three books and was ready to get inside the head of one of the book’s most enigmatic characters.
“Cato…was able to justify his actions because he was raised and bred to compete in the games and was never shown an alternative,” said the 19-year-old Vancouver native. “He was as much a victim of circumstance as was every other participant. I enjoyed playing him because I was able to explore Cato’s moment of revelation and eventual demise. This was a wonderful moment for me as an actor.”
The “revelation” Ludwig alluded to was a speech Cato gave on top of the cornucopia at the end of the film while putting Peeta in a chokehold and bleeding out of a huge gash in his head. It wasn’t in the book, but it should’ve been. Cato, through tears, admits that his entire life has been wasted before regaining his resolve to win.
“Gary and I discussed this moment at great length and he was instrumental in getting me to where I needed to be emotionally,” said Ludwig. “I prepared for the scene by emotionally exploring Cato’s life and experiencing the hollowness that comes from a life that is mislead.”
You usually don’t see movie villains experience epiphanies like that. After playing more traditional hero roles in The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising and Race to Witch Mountain, how did Ludwig like stepping into the bad guy’s shoes?
“In some ways playing the villain is more fun because you get to explore a side of you that you rarely access,” he said. “I felt extremely fortunate to be part of [Cato’s] exploration of self.”
The College Games
No offense to Seeker or Witch Mountain, but The Hunger Games marks the highlight of Ludwig’s career so far both professionally and financially (so far, the film has earned over $258 million at the box office). How will this high-profile success affect his acting career?
“That is a great question that has yet to be answered!” said Ludwig, clearly not wanting to get too ahead of himself. “Hopefully it will open doors and allow me more freedom of choice.”
Ludwig recently had to make a difficult choice: he decided to take a leave from the University of Southern California – where he is a sophomore studying film, theater and entrepreneurship – until (possibly) the fall semester. Though juggling the two lives may not be in the cards at the moment, Ludwig still had nothing but good things to say about his time at USC.
“College has been one of the best experiences of my life,” he gushed. “I have grown immensely as a result of living away from home and becoming a part of the social structure.”
A Tough Act To Follow
I can only imagine what it was like being on the set of The Hunger Games, watching Katniss be paraded around The Capitol or blow up a minefield in the arena. Because I’ll never know, I’ll just live vicariously through Ludwig.
“We all got along ridiculously well,” said Ludwig. “Jen [Lawrence, Katniss] has the most quirky, adorable sense of humor, and Josh [Hutcherson, Peeta] is truly a great guy. Gary is one of the kindest directors I have ever worked with. He rarely loses his temper. We had so much fun hanging out and getting to know one another, it felt like we were one big family by the end.”
What I wouldn’t give to be best friends with Jennifer Lawrence…moving on. With The Hunger Games behind him, what’s next for the rising star?
“I am reading a ton of scripts and trying to find a project as worthy as The Hunger Games,” said Ludwig. “It’s no easy task.”
It must be nice to be 19 and have the bar set that high for future acting projects. Of course, as Ludwig says, getting to that point in an acting career isn’t easy.
“Only attempt to be a part of this industry if you are committed to giving 100 percent,” he told all aspiring actors out there. “It is a rollercoaster ride full of ups and downs, praise and criticism. It requires thick skin, as the rejection is endless.
“Having said that…I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”