Josh Hutcherson on the J. Law Hacking Scandal and Life After ‘The Hunger Games’

The actor best known as Peeta Mellark sat down with Marlow Stern in Toronto to discuss his latest film, Escobar: Paradise Lost, and his disgust over his co-star and pal’s privacy breach.

If the Hollywood powers that be ever decide to reboot the Back to the Future franchise, Josh Hutcherson would make a fine Marty McFly. Gregarious, charming, and diminutive in stature, the 21-year-old Kentuckian is blessed with that special brand of boyish insouciance that endears him to audiences, whether it be the tetchy adopted son to a pair of lesbian moms in The Kids Are All Right or the dystopian boy Friday Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games flicks.

I met Hutcherson at a nondescript hotel suite in downtown Toronto. The occasion is his new film, Escobar: Paradise Lost, which is making its premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by first-time Italian filmmaker Andrea Di Stefano, the movie opens with surfer dude Nick Brady (Hutcherson) being called into the offices of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benicio Del Toro), who tasks him with assassinating a foe. Then, the action flashes back eight years to 1983, as Nick meets a stunning Colombian woman, Maria (Claudia Traisac), and soon finds himself seduced by her aforementioned coke-slinging uncle. It’s an impressive film, bolstered by the compelling turns of Hutcherson and Del Toro, and signals an exciting new chapter in the young actor’s post-Hunger Games career.

The star of that blockbuster franchise, Jennifer Lawrence, has made headlines of late for a most vile invasion of privacy—nude personal photos of her were allegedly hacked from her iCloud and uploaded online for all the pervs of the world to see. Hutcherson, who considers Lawrence a “great friend” and “big sister,” is disgusted by the incident.

“It’s fuckin’ horrible,” he says. “I haven’t spoken to her since it happened, but as far as the public, Twitter, and media have reacted, it’s awful. We act because it’s what we want to do. I’ve acted since I was 9 years old because it’s my job, it’s what I’m good at, and it’s what I love to do. I don’t want attention. I don’t want to have my private life looked into or have people think they deserve to know about my private life. And then people say, ‘Well, then you shouldn’t have become an actor.’ Fuck that. I didn’t choose all that. I chose to be an actor. I was 9 years old! Do you think a 9-year-old is thinking about public scandal? I wanted to make movies.”He takes a long pause. “It makes you feel like you want to run away from it all and escape to a small island away from everybody.”

Around the time he was shooting the first Hunger Games film—before it became the global phenomenon that it is today—a producer-pal of Hutcherson’s passed along a script to Escobar: Paradise Lost. He was fascinated by the story of a naïve young man, serving as the eyes of the audience, being seduced into the dangerous, high-stakes world of Pablo Escobar. Better yet, Benicio Del Toro, who’d directed him in a short as part of the film anthology 7 Days in Havana, was attached as the drug lord and helped court Hutcherson.

Escobar filmed in Panama, and proved to be a very enriching experience for Hutcherson. Not only is it his most “mature” role to date and receiving positive reviews out of TIFF, but he also managed to land a new girlfriend out of it—his onscreen love interest, Claudia Traisac.

“It’s all good!” he says with a laugh. Since Hutcherson also served as an executive producer on the film, I make a crack about him having a potential hand in casting his eventual real-life girlfriend.

“Yeah, I picked her,” he jokes. “Hand-picked!”

Unlike the stars of that other popular YA franchise, Twilight, Hutcherson is grateful that the young cast of The Hunger Games series isn’t seen by the public as being inextricably linked to the property, which affords him the opportunity to dive into edgier projects like Escobar. That, he says, is because of Lawrence.

“We got lucky!” he says. “I think it helps so much that Jennifer is who she is, and has done the work that she’s done. It gives us more credibility that we’re associated with her, since she’s been nominated for multiple Oscars and won one. Also, The Hunger Games didn’t create us. The makers brought all the cast members onto the project and helped create it. I think that’s a big reason why we’re not tied to it in a negative way.”

Things weren’t always so peachy for Hutcherson. The young actor, who’s been in the business since the age of 9 when he landed a role on the TV pilot House Blend, was one of three finalists for the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the reboot The Amazing Spider-Man. The role eventually went to the limber Brit Andrew Garfield.

“That was one of the biggest heartbreaks in the world where I didn’t get Spider-Man,” he says. “I wanted it so bad. But then, I got The Hunger Games a few months later, and was like, Fuck yeah! It all worked out.”

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The two-part finale to The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay, finished filming in June. According to Hutcherson, wrapping was “bittersweet,” and as a result, the cast didn’t have a massive celebration at the end of it.

“We filmed for nine months on the last one, so everyone was so tired that we didn’t have a big bash at the end,” he says. “I think it was because we were sad. Like, Fuck, this is done. We had a wrap party in Berlin and since we were all staying at the Soho House, we went to the rooftop a lot, but nothing major.”

When it comes to Mockingjay, there’s also been a great deal of speculation about how the film will deal with the death of one of its stars, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away before finishing his scenes. Rumors have since spread that Francis Lawrence’s films would use CGI to re-create Hoffman in at least one scene for continuity purposes. It’s baloney, says Hutcherson.

“I only had the privilege of sharing one scene with Hoffman, this ball dance scene in the last one, but I saw him around on set a lot,” he says. “It’s really crazy and shocking what happened. They had pretty much shot all his stuff, so they’re not going to do any weird, CG things to re-create him. They didn’t have to work around too much.”

With the impending release of Escobar: Paradise Lost, which was acquired by The Weinstein Co. shingle RADiUS-TWC and will hit theaters on Nov. 26, as well as the final two parts of The Hunger Games, out on Nov. 21, 2014 and Nov. 20, 2015, Hutcherson doesn’t have anything else lined up just yet. He’s biding his time and finding the right films for life post-mega franchise. And his other franchise, Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, is probably kaput. “There were talks for a while, but I think that might be finished,” he says.

In the meantime, Hutcherson is interested in producing more interesting projects in the vein of Escobar, and has been writing a short film off-and-on for the past several months, with the hope of one day directing it—though he’s not ready quite yet.

“It’s been really crazy,” he says with a smile. “I have to remind myself I’m 21, because there’s a part of me that wants to keep going, going, going, but I just finished Hunger Games and have been working non-stop for 12 years, so it’s OK to slow down. And that’s what I’m doing now—slowing down a little bit.”