After destroying the games forever, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) fights for the rebellion, determined to rescue Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the clutches of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). As Katniss becomes the symbol of the rebellion, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) realizes that her safety is of the utmost importance and assigns Coronel Boggs (Mahershala Ali) to be her escort and protector. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I” opens in theatres on Thursday, Nov. 20th.
I recently sat in on a roundtable interview with Mahershala Ali.
Why don’t you tell us about the character you play?
Mahershala Ali: I play Coronel Boggs, who is commissioned to protect Katniss in and outside of District 13. He is the right hand man of President Kron, who is played by Julianne Moore. He is from District 13, born and raised. At first he is a little apprehensive about the assignment to protect Katniss. But he quickly warms to her, growing to love and respect her.
Were you a fan of the book series before you got attached to the project?
Mahershala: I was a fan of the films. I learned about “The Hunger Games” through the films. After I was up for the part I went out and grabbed the books. I read them all so I knew what was going on. “Catching Fire” was terrific and I thought they really caught the essence of the book. And I feel that we do the same with this film.
In the book, Boggs has a kid. Do we get to learn much about his backstory?
Mahershala: We don’t’ really get to learn too much about his backstory. But I am very present in the film. You know, you have to kind of streamline the story when you make a film because the books can go into much more detail that films have trouble getting across. But I’m around. Ha, ha.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
Mahershala: Because I am on “House of Cards” I couldn’t do too much. They originally asked me to lose weight for “House of Cards” to look more believable as a lobbyist and a suit. So for this film, I started working out, lifting weights to become a little bit heavier. I did it so I felt a little different for the part; because of “Cards” I couldn’t change my look too much. If I had the time I would have grown my hair or grown a beard. I had to do something, so that I felt different, so I bulked up a little. So that was the main thing I did. Other than that, I really focus on taking things moment to moment, trying to connect and find what is truthful to the scene.
How did you enjoy filming in Atlanta?
Mahershala: I had a great time. It’s a really great place with great people and terrific food. I was in Piedmont Park a lot because I stayed near there. I kind of just hopped around in my car exploring, like the Little 5 Points area. I had a great time here.
What’s it like joining a cast and crew that has already done two blockbuster films together?
Mahershala: In most cases that would be really challenging because you have these little clichés. But I couldn’t have asked to be welcomed into a better cast and an outstanding group of people. They were all
Must be really cool to see yourself on a movie poster.
Mahershala: Yeah, it’s hard not to text that to all your family and friends. It’s a really cool looking poster and they did a great job. Yeah, it’s pretty cool to see.
Does Boggs do any hand to hand combat or is all gun play?
Mahershala: I can’t tell you that! I definitely get to handle a gun. We did some tactical weapons training with an ex-Marine and a Navy Seal. We worked on some coordinated movements like a tactical team would use. We learned how to handle and fire some weapons, learning how to get comfortable with a gun.
Being on the set with Jennifer Lawrence must have been fun.
Mahershala: Yeah, we laughed a lot. We just had so much fun. We played games and pranked one another between takes. But I will say, as soon as they yelled action, everyone would get into character and was one hundred percent business. We had a great time.
Boggs has a character arch in the book. Katniss first sees him as a kind of a robot, the Presidents right hand man. But they become closer as the story progresses. What part of Boggs’s character was most intriguing?
Mahershala: I think in some way, his recognizing that there are a lot of forces pulling at Katniss and his recognition that he is her protector. Not just physically from some stray bullet but emotionally as well. We see in the film a couple of times where Boggs tries to stand in and be a buffer for her. The book labels him as a father figure and I found that intriguing to me. You get that sense in the film that he cares about Katniss and takes it very seriously that his job is to make sure that she is OK.
What was it like working with Jennifer Lawrence?
Mahershala: It was actually really easy to work with her. At first I was nervous, and I am usually not like that. My first day on set I was a little nervous. But she is so warm and friendly. She not going to put on airs, she’s not standoffish. She is really warm and a good person.
Was it fun playing this part because it’s a big shift from the one you play on “House of Cards”?
Mahershala: Yeah it was. It was a much needed shift. I get to be on “House of Cards” for seven months and to get something that different was great. You know a part that was so physical was a much needed shift and a part that I was really happy to play.
This film takes place a lot in District 13, as opposed to the first two films that were more about the games. Does it change the feel of the series?
Mahershala: Because the scenes in District 13 are mostly underground, it feels a little claustrophobic, almost like you are in a submarine. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s just that when they get above ground you really realize that they are no longer in District 13. The film is darker in tone and is more about relationships and character. You really connect to what Katniss is trying to achieve and what she wants, like getting Peeta rescued. The film is darker in tone and I think richer because of that.
When they announced that they were going to make two films out of the last book, some of the fans of the series were a little worried that there wouldn’t be enough material.
Mahershala: No there is plenty! They probably could have made three films. There is just so much story. It’s an epic series because I think everything really comes together to its completion at the end of part one. It really feels necessary to split it into two parts.
Thank you for talking with us today and much success with the film.
Mahershala: Thank you.
Interview by Michael McKinney
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” opens in theatres on Thursday, Nov. 20th.