Khatuna Lorig has a cornucopia of accomplishments to be proud of: she’s mastered the sport of archery, competed in five Olympic Games, and won a silver and a bronze medal. But despite all of this, the achievement most likely to garner squeals of delight from strangers is the fact that she is responsible for teaching Jennifer Lawrence how to shoot a bow and arrow in The Hunger Games.
Lorig, an archer from Georgia (the country) who competed for three different countries at four different Olympic Games, was making the transition from medal winner to archery coach when she was asked to teach the then-21-year-old rising starlet the sport she’s spent her whole life perfecting. She jumped at the opportunity, as any coach would. The thing is: Lorig had no idea who the actress was, what The Hunger Games were, or that she was about to become part of one of the biggest pop-culture phenomena of the century.
“One day I googled and I was shocked,” she tells The Daily Beast.
Nonetheless, anyone who’s seen Catching Fire in theaters this past weekend—judging by the film’s $307.7 million opening haul, a lot of you did—can personally attest that Lorig hit the bull’s eye with her training. A scene in which Lawrence’s Katniss trains to compete in the arena has her taking a cavalcade of holographic enemies by wielding her bow and arrow rapidly. To say that Lawrence handles the weapon convincingly would be an understatement as egregious as “Catching Fire did just alright at the box office this weekend.”
Every Hunger Games fan knows that Katniss’s bow and arrow is as essential to her identity as her side braid and fearless spunk, so with Catching Fire scorching the box office we called up the woman who gave taught Lawrence how to use the unwieldy tools as expertly as Katniss would. With her eastern European accent and unabashed love for Jennifer Lawrence that rivals, well, every single person who has ever seen Jennifer Lawrence speak, Lorig recounts how she turned the girl who would be the Girl on Fire into an archery prodigy.
How did this whole thing come about, the move from Olympian to movie consultant?
I got a phone call from one of my friends saying that someone was looking for a coach for a young actress in L.A. I live in L.A. and I’ve been starting a coaching career, a new career, so I said why not, I’d coach her. I didn’t know her. I did not know who she was or what the movie would be.
When you found out that it was The Hunger Games you were consulting on, how’d you react? Were you familiar with the books beforehand?
I actually had no clue. I asked [Jennifer Lawrence], “What kind of movie are you getting ready for?” She was so bubbly and excited. “Oh it’s the books! You haven’t read them yet? You need to read The Hunger Games. They’re crazy great books.” So I said OK, I’d read them. She had a great personality and I was just curious, so one day I googled her and I was shocked at how big of a star she was.
What did you think of the books after you read them?
You know what? I started reading them and couldn’t stop. I had a competition in Tokyo, the World Cup, that year and between my time picking up the arrows from the target and coming back to shoot another round in the competition I would keep reading this book. I wasn’t stopping. They were so good.
So you had no idea when you were asked to do this that you were becoming a part of what would become this massive blockbuster?
I never imagined the movies would be so big! Nobody told me. Nobody warned me. Maybe that was the plan. But as the coach, I was just doing my job teaching a girl how to shoot arrows and look good on the camera. Look as professional as can be. Because Katniss was a hunter, and she knew everything about the bow. She needed to look like she was a professional.
What was Jennifer like the first time you met her?
The first time I met her was in Van Nuys in California. She came out there and said, “How you doing? Hi, I’m Jennifer!” She actually knew more about me than I knew about her. She was talking about me being an Olympian, saying, “Oh my god.” And I was like, “Oh, it’s no big deal.” (Laughs.) That was the first three days…before I found out she was a huge star. Then we started kidding each other. “You’re a movie star, oh my gosh!” She was so friendly. She has such a great personality, which you get from TV. She’d be like, “You’re a four-time Olympian!” I’d be like, “You’re a movie star, are you kidding me!” Like who is more impressive.
What skill level did she have when she started?
She had zero skill level. She never even had held a bow before. We had to start from zero. I was so worried about making sure she looked like a professional. I worked hard to make sure she knew how to stand and everything. Then I read the books and started to understand more about what she needed to learn to be more like Katniss.
Was she a quick study?
She was very determined. When she started practicing, we had her on a 15- or 20-pound bow, which is pretty heavy for a beginner. She did a pretty good job at first, but she did get a little bit hurt by smacking her bow arm with the string. Sometimes if you stand incorrectly, this happens. If you’re standing correctly, you won’t get smacked with the string, but she wasn’t. So she got smacked and got a big bruise that she was very proud of.
Does it hurt when that happens?
Oh yes. It hurts a lot. I think she took a picture for memories. “Let me take this picture to show everyone how hard I’m working.”
Did she look like she got it right in the movies?
She looked in the first movie. I haven’t seen the second one yet—hey, I’m busy—but what I saw in the trailer she did very good. In the few moments I saw where she’s shooting I saw her doing the things I asked her to do, so I smiled. “Thank you, you actually did it.” It’s complicated: aligning your face, aligning the string. So many movies are so bad at making archery look right and believable. As her coach, I think she did a great job in the movie.
Did she seem like she enjoyed the lessons?
Probably she did. She had to enjoy it. As good as the shots look in trailers, she had to enjoy it. Of course, I think she’s enjoying being an actress and being a star more than archery. I don’t blame her.
How long was the training?
Fifteen hours total. It was 15 days, one hour a day. Every afternoon she was at the archery field doing it like all my other students.
Is it possible to master it in that short amount of time?
No, but it’s possible to get a good foundation. So if she decides to go for it, she has a good foundation. If she decides to continue archery, which I have doubts about, she has the basics. But I’m already happy with what she’s done. As a member of the archery community, I’m so pleased with what she did. She’s made archery glamorous.
How does the archery community feel about the movie and the way it portrays the sport?
Since the movie came out, if you notice every other movie has a bow and arrow. Archery seems like it’s the coolest sport in Hollywood right now. Of course, for me it’s the coolest sport in the world already. But I instruct many women who say they started doing it because Katniss Everdeen is such a great hero. The women look at her as a strong woman, and lots of women want to be like her: strong fighters. So the movies have attracted lots of people to archery. Classes are very busy! I can tell you from the archery community what archers think about this movie. They are very happy I coached her because she looks like she knows what she’s doing. (Laughs)
Before The Hunger Games and before Katniss, what do you think was the most iconic portrayal of archery in Hollywood?
I don’t know if she’s an archery icon, but I can tell you that when Geena Davis tried out for the Olympics she started to make archery glamorous. She didn’t make the team, but she tried out and got a lot of press for it.
Are you a fan of the films, archery aside?
Of course. Are you kidding me? This is me student! My girl with the bubbly personality who I coached for 15 days in the movie. Every time I see her around—I live in West Hollywood—I smile. I’m just very proud of her, and very thankful that she made the future of archery so bright.
Have you seen her since your training sessions?
I saw her on the TV, duh. (Laughs) But I haven’t seen her otherwise.