By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Josh Hutcherson never realized when he took on the role of Peeta Mellark in "The Hunger Games" how big an impact the post-apocalyptic survival film would have on popular culture.
The actor, 19, still finds it "mind-blowing" that the movie based on the best-selling sci-fi novels by author Suzanne Collins became a box office hit in theaters this past March, taking in $685 million worldwide.
The movie sees rebellious teen heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) fight in a televised battle-to-the-death that has been ordered by a totalitarian government. In the process, she becomes a beacon of hope for freedom. Hutcherson portrays Peeta, Katniss' fighting partner and love interest.
The DVD is set for release just after midnight on Friday, packed with bonus features and interviews, and the film sequel, "Catching Fire," is due in theaters in November 2013.
Hutcherson spoke to Reuters about the cultural impact of the franchise and creating on-screen chemistry with Lawrence.
Q: You've had a few months to consider the success of "The Hunger Games." Are you surprised at how well the movie has done?
A: "It's still mind-blowing to me. I think we all kind of knew there was a pretty big fan base for the books, but I never expected people to be this crazy about it and it to be this successful. Our main goal was to make a great movie and I think that's what we did."
Q: Which aspects of "The Hunger Games" story do you think resonate most deeply with fans of today's pop culture?
A: "The media and reality TV is a huge part of our culture now and we're seeing that extrapolated to the most extreme in the future (in the movie) ... and the idea there are movements all over the world now. People are coming together and standing up for something they believe in and I think that's what this story is all about. More than ever, people have this power and feeling they need to do right and rise up and speak out."
Q: The DVD comes packed with bonus features such as interviews, video diaries and a look at the making of the movie. Which do you think fans will enjoy the most?
A: "I'm always really curious to see how a book can turn into a movie and on the DVD there's an eight-part mini series basically going through the whole process of book to film and that's really cool. Within that you see a lot of our training and the writing process ... even though I lived it, I'm excited to see it on the DVD and see what it's like from set to finish."
Q: The "Hunger Games" books get progressively darker and more violent as Katniss' revolution rises against President Snow's oppressive regime. How do you think this will be dealt with in the upcoming films, which are rated PG-13?
A: "We didn't shy away from the violence, but at the same time, we didn't have to go graphic with it. So, I think it'll be similar in the second movie as far as the action goes. As far as the overall story going to a darker place, I think sometimes in life, it can be very dark and grim and very real, and I feel that by writing the book that way, Suzanne made it feel real for me. That's something young people are able to see ... the story is about hope and rising up against something. Even though it's dark at times, it still has this light being, Katniss, and her ability to try to start this big movement to fight."
Q: Speaking of Katniss, you and Jennifer won the MTV Movie Award for best kiss in June. It had been dominated by the stars of vampire romance "Twilight" in recent years. Feel good to win?
A: "Jennifer and I are such good friends. One of the hardest parts for us is to pretend we're in love on screen. It feels so cheesy at times because we're in love with each other in real life as really good friends and just switching that dynamic over was like, 'can we actually do this? We're so goofy and silly together, can we actually pretend that we're seriously lovers?' It's good to know that people say 'yes, you can.'"
Q: What are you most excited to explore in "Catching Fire?"
A: "Katniss and Peeta's relationship because Peeta loves Katniss and can't help himself from loving Katniss. At the same time he feels like Katniss is just playing this game for everybody else and she doesn't actually have any real feelings for Peeta. As an actor, it's hard to play that, yet also really fun and challenging. I can't wait to dive into that aspect."
(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Andre Grenon)