Since The Hunger Games first hit the big screen, Jennifer Lawrence has won an Oscar and become one of the world’s most in-demand actresses.
But to Willow Shields, she’s just her big sister.
Thirteen-year-old Shields plays Lawrence’s sister Primrose “Prim” Everdeen in The Hunger Games franchise, a role she scored when she was just a decade old.
Shields says Lawrence, who stars as heroine Katniss, has been there for her, onscreen and off, since the beginning.
“Jen has been amazing to me,” she says. “I was 10 years old when I started and then I was completely scared.
“She gave me some great advice when we were filming the first movie.
“She said to me, `Don’t ever change because of any of this – it’s not worth it. Stay who you are, throughout all of these movies’…
“I’ll remember that forever – and she’s a great example for me as someone who’s stayed the same and is totally normal and fun even after winning an Oscar.”
In the sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is releasing on DVD and Blu-ray, Shield’s Prim takes on even more responsibility when Katniss returns, victorious but battered from her time in the brutal Hunger Games. As the rumblings of revolution begin, Katniss and her fellow victor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are told they must face the arena once again.
Those who have read Suzanne Collins’ novels, on which the films are based, know that Prim’s role becomes even more crucial. With filming now underway on the two Mockingjay films that will end the four-part franchise, Shields has to remain circumspect.
However, the young actress says Catching Fire audiences saw the first glimpse of Prim being there for Katniss, and she is looking forward to showing how the teen is forced to grow up.
“It’s fun to see Prim’s transition from being so vulnerable and innocent in the first one, to coming out … because of all she’s gone through in her life, but being strong, and being there for her family,” she says.
Shields says that, in an effort to make the sisterly relationship realistic in the first film, she tried to imagine how she would feel if her twin sister Autumn were sent off to the Games.
She found filming Catching Fire was much easier.
“At this point, because I’ve been so close to Jen, we’re like sisters now, so now it comes, in my opinion, very naturally for both of us.”
The Hunger Games films are intense (and will get more so from here), but Shields says life on set is really fun.
“You put Woody (Harrelson), Jen and Josh together and it’s hard to work because they’re so much fun,” she says. “It’s hilarious.”
Australian Liam Hemsworth, who plays Katniss’s best friend Gale, is also “incredibly sweet”, Shields adds.
By the time The Hunger Games franchise is over, Shields will be 15 years old and will have been involved with the series for one-third of her life.
However, she thinks her life changed for the better the moment she was cast at Prim.
“It’s kind of crazy to think that it takes a pretty large chunk out of my childhood/teenage years, but I feel like growing up alongside people like Jen and Josh and Liam and learning from all of these people is really fun,” she says.
“It’s a rare experience, so it’s pretty great.”
* The Hunger Games: Catching Fire releases on DVD and Blu-ray on Wednesday.