I had the pleasure of interviewing Wes Chatham, who plays Castor, one of two brothers who join Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in her attempt to bring down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the upcoming 4th and final film “The Hunger Games: Mockingly – Part 2.”
I interviewed Chatham at the Atlanta History Center’s Swan House, which in the movie is the home of President Snow. Chatham sat behind the desk that is used by President Snow in the film series. The house is going to be the part of a “Storm the Capital” day. The event will be held on Sunday, November 22 from 1 pm to 8 pm to celebrate the Swan House’s continuing role as the palace of President Snow.
Hi Wes, you are from Georgia, and you went to the Gift Center in Lawrenceville, GA. While you were at the Gift Center, you discovered your passion for arts.
Wes Chatham: I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a part of storytelling. I was obsessed with films, obsessed television and also books. I remember a mom coming to my elementary school and reading us “Little House on the Prairie.” I know I was into storytelling, but I didn’t know that it would translate into acting, but I knew I wanted to be a part of storytelling. I got into a bit of trouble in high school and went to an alternative school called the Gift Center. The education at the school was wonderful. The classes were smaller, and there were more teachers in each class. The English teacher was wonderful, and one of the projects we had was to teach us about playwriting and how plays tell stories. We got to pitch ideas for plays and then vote on which one should be produced, and I was lucky that my idea got picked. So we spent a semester writing and producing a play, and a professional theater group would help us put it on. I enjoyed the camaraderie of making the play, and I think making films is a collaborative art. I love every aspect of making a film.
Since this film was primarily shot in Atlanta, are there going to be any landmarks that we will recognize in the film, other than the Swan House?
Wes: No, and I think there is a particular reason why. Panem and the rest of the districts have a specific look. So a lot of the scenes shot in Atlanta will not be recognizable, and they did that on purpose. They even traveled around Europe to find locations that had a timeless look to them. Giving the scenes, another worldly look to it. They were very conscious of choosing those types of locations. There is an abandoned Firestone plant here that they made a district out of, and you might recognize it but most of the time you won’t.
There were scenes that were clearly not Atlanta. There is a scene in the film where you guys go into a plaza surrounded by a tall building.
Wes: Yeah, that was Paris. It was a government housing project. It was nice and really interesting to see what the architecture was trying to reflect at the time it was built. A lot of the places we shot in Paris and Berlin were unlike anything I had ever seen before. We shot in some old barracks in Berlin that used to house the Nazi soldiers and then was taken over by the occupying forces. The amount of history there was unbelievable. There was a mural in the barracks that was full of the Nazi symbols, and that was eerie.
I was interested in your military background with your work in crash and salvage. Did that experience help you in the battle scenes in the movie?
Wes: The military served me more than I ever served it. It prepared me for this life in so many different ways. One of the ways is the weapon’s training and the practical military training. Another was just the discipline and the ability to work together to achieve something. To not make everything about you and put it more on the importance of what the group is trying to achieve. That’s an idea that is hard for actors to learn. The level of discipline and maturity has served me well as an actor.
How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be part of such an important series?
Wes: I remember I was in Vegas with my wife for the Mayweather fight. I got a call early in the morning. I had gotten to know the casting director of the film, Debbie Zane, and I was close to a few things that she was casting. She always told me “The right thing is going to come along.” So when she and the director, Francis Lawrence, were casting for the brothers Castor and Pollux, she knew Elden Henson and me well. So she told Francis that we would work well together and have an interesting dynamic. So they pulled the trigger, and I got that call in Vegas. I couldn’t compute it because usually everything you get as an actor to have to fight and crawl for. So when you get the call to be a part of this huge franchise, you think, who do I have to meet and audition for. And they said no, you have the part. It’s still hard to process to this day.
What’s it like working with Jennifer Lawrence? I hear she is quite the cut-up on the set.
Wes: She is a major cut-up on the set. Thank God for her too, because it this was a war movie. Part one was about Katniss’s lowest point and the psychological trauma that she is dealing with. Part two is strictly a war film, so we had nine months of shooting dark depressing things to deal with, and shooting in dark, depressing places. So if you didn’t have the ability to laugh, you would be in trouble, and Jen is very entertaining. She is really funny and being the star; she sets the tone, making sure that everyone else is having a good time. She is seriously talented. I’ve worked with people who have their moment of popularity, their good at their job, but she is the real deal. I think that one day she could be Meryl Streep good.
Did you identify with this role and mesh with it? Because there is very little humor in this film, it’s pretty dark and depressing.
Wes: I think what makes this film interesting is that it focuses on the very real complexities of war and what psychological and physical tolls that takes on you. The film experiences that and doesn’t turn away from it. Sometimes in film, they have that comic release but this film doesn’t have that. The nature of war is grayer than black and white. The right and wrong is very hard to determine. The filmmaking that point, so it deliberately takes out those tension releasers. I think it had a great effect on this last film.
Do you spend a lot of time developing back stories for your character?
Wes, Yes. The way that I work in my preparation for a role, I have to have a very specific idea of where I am coming from and where I am going. What is motivating me and what made me who I am. Why am I behaving the way I am behaving, and what do I want to achieve? Elden, who plays my brother and I connected right away. We became very close. When we started filming, I was the only one married but when we finished the film, we were all married and had kids. We all became extremely close making this film. We went through the experiences of the wife being pregnant and then having a kid. Elden and I worked very hard at creating a history, working on the back story, creating a relationship, so that when you see them up on the screen, you see and feel that relationship of brothers, and that you believe it. We don’t say a lot on the screen running from bullets and mutts, so you have to see it in our presence.
Working with such big actors such as Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrison, did you take anything away from the experience that will help you grow as an actor?
Wes: Yeah, I think in every experience, there is something that you take away. Sometimes it’s what not to be or not to take away. But this one I took away a lot. These people you are working with are there for a reason, and you see that reason when you work with them every day. Being around that caliber of talent raises your game. When somebody is so good and so present in a scene, it makes you believe that you are telling the truth. It pulls you in and makes you better because of it. It makes you rise to their level.
Are fans of the books going to be happy with how this film series ends?
Wes: Yes, I think so because I am happy with it. Any time you create this type of tension, like we have with Katniss and Snow, there is an itch that needs to be scratched, and there is a payoff that needs to happen. And to do it in a creative way that you didn’t see coming, makes it satisfying for the conclusion. I think this movie answers all those questions. It’s a satisfying conclusion that lives up to the ending in the book.
Did you read the books?
Wes: I did read the books. I remember when they first came out, and my wife was reading the books. I asked her what she was reading, and she said it’s this story about these kids who have to kill each other for food. And I was like, what the heck is that? So it always stuck in my memory. And then the movies came out, and I saw them. When I got the job, and I went and read the books to prepare for the role.
What was your thought process by reading the books because some actors won’t do that, they don’t want to be influenced by the books?
Wes: I think that in this case, it was very valuable to read the books because the films are very loyal to the books.
Thank you so much and hope the film is a big hit.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” opens on Friday at a theatre near you.
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