Fans of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” books will remember Haymitch Abernathy as the drunken battle-to-the-death survivor who is chosen to mentor young Katniss Everdeen as she is forced to participate in the same brutal games that Haymitch won. He’s a character who starts off as comically inept, but who darkens, develops, and is revealed to be quite capable in his own way over time. When it was announced that Woody Harrelson had been cast in the role, I opined that he was a perfect choice, seeing as he was an actor who could merge humor with danger and make it seamless. In a recent interview that the actor did with 24 Frames, he talked a little bit about his approach to the character and revealed that he too thinks that he’s the perfect actor to correctly play both the comedy and the drama inherent in this role.
Harrelson said, “It was my objective to give the character as much comedy as I could without it seeming not to fit. I tried to take a certain comedic aspect and give a sense, through that, that he’s been through a lot and is anesthetizing himself as a result of that.” I like his use of the word “anesthetizing” there. When we first meet Haymitch we see him through the eyes of Katniss, who sees him as nothing more than a pathetic lout. But he’s a character who has been though quite a bit and survived, so he couldn’t have always been such an alcoholic fool. He must have become this way for a reason. Harrelson seems to get this, and isn’t going to go too cartoonish with his performance.
When speaking about the look of the character, he continued, “I didn’t want it to feel like just because he’s an alcoholic that he would look just like any bum on the street. So there are things that go against your expectation of what a washed-up guy would look like.” Suddenly I’m getting visions of a drunken John McClane getting shook awake to kick some ass in Die Hard With a Vengeance, and that makes me very happy.
I had some issues with the “Hunger Games” books when I was reading them, but I liked them in general, and I kind of feel like they could make even better movies than books. It’s very reassuring to hear that top notch actors are coming in and taking these characters seriously. Before it’s all said and done, The Hunger Games just might become one of the biggest film franchises of all time. All of the ingredients are there.