'The Hunger Games' at 10: Josh Hutcherson remembers being kicked in the head and concussed by Jennifer Lawrence

For someone who hadn’t yet turned 20, Josh Hutcherson had a heckuva career going even before being cast as Peeta Mallark in the much-hyped The Hunger Games series. He had gone to space in Jon Favreau’s Zathura (2005), crisscrossed the country with Robin Williams in RV (2006), Journeyed to the Center of Earth with Brendan Fraser and co-starred in the four-time Oscar-nominated drama The Kids Are All Right with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.

The Hunger Games — which opened in theaters 10 years ago, on March 23, 2012 — propelled Hutcherson to even starrier new heights, as the young actor drew the adulation of a rabid fanbase over the course of four movies between 2012 and 2015. It also placed him in close company with a celebrated ensemble led by his fellow Kentucky native Jennifer Lawrence, who headlined the YA series while she simultaneously began racking up multiple Oscar nominations.

In a 2020 interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above), Hutcherson recalls the first time he met Lawrence — pre-Panem, as both attended the SAG Awards for their respective films The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone in early 2011.

“She came over to me and she told me this story about how when she was about 10 years old, she had seen in a local newspaper in Kentucky that this young actor had gone out to California … to become an actor, and that was me,” Hutcherson says (watch above). “And she showed that to her parents and was like, ‘Look, I want to do this, too. This kid [is] doing it.’ So it’s crazy that we ended up doing these movies together.”

Hutcherson and Lawrence became very close over the course of filming the series, even if it was an occasionally painful relationship for the former. Only weeks into the shooting of 2012’s The Hunger Games, Lawrence accidentally kicked Hutcherson in the head while trying to show off her legwork, knocking him out with a mild concussion.

“She was being a real show-off, thinking that she was Jackie Chan or something,” Hutcherson snickered. “[She was] throwing these air kicks and was like, ‘Josh, I can kick over your head!’ And then crack! She clipped me in the temple. … I don’t really remember, because I got knocked out.”

When Hutcherson came to again, “She was crying. She felt terrible. I woke up with her [crying], laying over me.”

Hutcherson, who has since gone on to star in Hulu’s Future Man and appeared in films like Tragedy Girls and The Disaster Artist, has called working in The Hunger Games a “double-edged sword.”

“The biggest positives were, number one, the experience. The experience of getting to work with such incredible actors for such a long period of time and seeing how they work, from Jen to [Philip Seymour Hoffman] to [Woody Harrelson] to Donald Sutherland, the list is pretty mind-blowing, Mahershala Ali, who went on to stratospheric levels later.”

The other end of that sword: Hutcherson’s concerns that he’d be boxed in to a certain type of role of playing the gentle and sweet-natured “bread boy” Peeta Mallark for so long.

“You can become boxed in as an actor, professionally. And that’s tough, and people can only see you as that character and it’s hard for them to imagine you in something else. And that’s difficult, and that takes time and years of overcoming it.”

Hutcherson points to the career of Robert Pattinson, the Twilight heartthrob who’s drawn critical acclaim for indie films like Good Time and The Lighthouse and is now making more big tentpoles like Tenet and The Batman as “a great example of someone who was attached in some way to a huge, huge project and known as one character and now he’s killing it, doing incredible work as an actor and you don’t see him as that anymore.”

The impressive breadth of Hutcherson’s still-young career says he won’t be boxed in, either.

— Story originally published Sept. 15, 2020.

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