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‘The Hunger Games’ is set to begin, but Jennifer Lawrence isn’t ready yet to be a worldwide star

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“I was about to cry when I got here Friday night and it was dark and scary and I couldn’t find a bathroom,” one of them, upstate New York college student Jasmin Rogers, 20, told The News. “But Katniss is such a strong female character who finds the strength to do what she believes in.”

Industry insiders are mentioning “The Hunger Games” in the same rarefied breath as the “Twilight Saga” and “Harry Potter” book-to-film franchises. Lionsgate execs are thinking the same way: The script to the sequel has already landed on Collins’ desk for approval. Filming on “Catching Fire,” based on the second book in the trilogy, is expected to begin around September.

The odds are ever in their favor, to borrow a line from the movie.

In the past 30 days, Yahoo Web trends expert Carolyn Clark says there have been twice the number of queries for everything related to the movie as there were over the same period for last year’s “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1” and four times as many as for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.”

And it isn’t just teen girls doing the browsing, either. “Even older guys are searching for ‘The Hunger Games,’ and that’s unprecedented compared to ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter,’ ” says Clark.

Director Gary Ross, a self-proclaimed older guy, stumbled on “The Hunger Games” through his two teenage children.“I think I read it in one sitting,” says Ross, “and knew I really wanted to do the movie. So I bought a plane ticket to England, where Nina Jacobson the producer was making another movie, and I sort of stalked her and said I had to do this.

“I hired a bunch of concept artists and laid out a vision of the Capitol as well. I kind of ran an art department out of my house, so I was already making the movie before I had the job.”

When Jacobson officially offered him the director’s chair, Ross’ first order of business was finding his Katniss — requiring an actress who could carry virtually every frame of the film.

Based on her Oscar-nominated performance in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” as a teenager trying to keep her family together in a cutthroat rural town, Lawrence jumped to the top of the list.

“When she came in and auditioned for me, forget it, it was the greatest audition I’ve ever seen,” says Ross. “It completely floored me. She came in and she read the scene when Katniss is saying goodbye to her sister before they take her off to the Games. And I was just knocked out by it.” More importantly, Collins gave her stamp of approval.

Once the project was announced, high-profile fans of “The Hunger Games” came out of the woodwork. Elizabeth Banks campaigned for and got the part of Effie, the heavily made-up District 12 escort who looks like a cross between a geisha and Lady Gaga.

“I read all three books, and I related more to Gale,” says the Australian-born Hemsworth, 21. “I just thought he was a very strong, noble character who stayed true to himself throughout the books. He’s a good guy that doesn’t want to give in to this evil and that’s something that I’ve always been taught.”

Hutcherson, meanwhile, was ready to fight a real-life Hunger Games to land the part of Peeta, whose sensitivity and self-deprecating humor resonated with him.

“I’ve wanted this so badly,” he says. “I’ve never in my life connected with a character more or more wanted something more than this.”

Then again, that was before the eight-week boot camp designed to turn young actors into death-dealing tributes.

Hutcherson had to pack on 15 pounds of muscle; Hemsworth, on the other hand, had to lose weight to look the part of a hungry District 12 resident scavenging for survival.

His older brother, Chris Hemsworth, the star of “Thor,” offered sage advice. “Chris texted me a month before shooting started saying, ‘It’s called “Hunger Games,” not “Eating Games,” ’ ” the younger Hemsworth says, laughing.

Then there was the summer heat that hung over the North Carolina forest set like an obstacle devised by the Gamesmakers.

“The running, the climbing and jumping and all of that is fine, but then you add 105-degree weather and it gets a lot harder,” says Lawrence.

She began training four months before the cameras started rolling. The typical day’s curriculum included running, archery, agility drills, yoga and more running. Lawrence shot some 1,500 arrows during training, estimates her archery coach, Olympian Khatuna Lorig, not counting the ones the actress fired off to stay sharp between takes.

By the end, she could have probably been dropped in the middle of a real arena and held her own.

Yet, all that exercising hasn’t prepared Lawrence for life after March 23.

Even though she fell in love with the novels before she landed the part of Katniss, the actress had second thoughts about accepting. Did she really want to become a stop on the Hollywood bus-tour circuit like “Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson?

“I’ve been fine so far. I think I’m just kind of in that dull, numb denial phase where I’m like, ‘Yeah, everything is going to be fine,’ ” says Lawrence. “The movie is going to come out; nobody is going to recognize me; my life is going to go back to normal.”

Source: NY Daily News

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