By Amy Kaufman and Steven Zeitchik
1:46 PM EST, November 19, 2013
After riding through Rome, London, Berlin, Madrid and Paris for glitzy premieres and packed junkets, Jennifer Lawrence and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” posse made its much-anticipated stop at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, premiering the Katniss Everdeen movie in the U.S. ahead of its release Thursday.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, the new film follows Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as she returns to District 12 after her victory at the end of “The Hunger Games” and finds her life has grown a lot more complicated. It is expected to be a major blockbuster, opening to at least $150 million in the U.S. on the way to a number that surpasses $400 million-plus “The Hunger Games” took in at the U.S. box office.
To celebrate that — and get plenty of further ink for its tent pole — studio Lionsgate threw a major bash in downtown L.A., inviting guests as diverse as Matt Damon, Paris Hilton and Usain Bolt.
With the stream of people packing the event’s red carpet, the studio kept close watch over the proceedings. A tarp-covered chain link fence kept anyone sitting at any L.A. Live restaurant from peeking at the red carpet. As for the fans who had camped out over the weekend in exchange for a coveted premiere ticket? They were promptly herded behind barricades on the red carpet — perfectly situated to be visible in the background of every star interview.
Yes, there was chaos — particularly when Lawrence and her new haircut finally exited a limo — but it was controlled chaos. Wherever you looked, there seemed to be a suit-clad bodyguard whispering something into a walkie-talkie. And when stars Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth finally made their way over to the fans to sign autographs, they were flanked by a secret-service level of security detail.
Signing autographs is about all the trio did on the red carpet. While their lesser-known costars — Willow Shields, Jena Malone — and director Lawrence spent time talking to the hundreds of reporters on-site, the biggest names bypassed many members of the press. Lawrence did offer a thought about the same-named actress, nodding to her down-to-earth nature. “She’s a very nice, normal girl,” he said. She’s really funny and candid,” adding, “She’s a girl you like to hang with.”
Jennifer Lawrence also brings a certain credibility, coming off an Oscar win for “The Silver Linings Playbook.” Fans weren’t that concerned about gold statuettes though. As Jennifer Kelley, 33, a diehard fan who came in from New York City, put it: “We want hot people. I don’t care if the actors have won Oscars. I want to know if they have good hair or not.”
In addition to the trio of Lawrence, Hemsworth and Hutcherson, the movie revolves around an increasingly large group of characters — stalwarts such as Senna (Lennie Kravitz), President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) as well as newcomers like Fiinick Odair (Sam Claflin). All of these actors and plenty of others came out on stage before the movie.
While the audience during the screening was enthusiastic and did its share of hollering, the volume level (thankfully) never reached that of the young female-skewing “Twilight” premiere — where a moment didn’t seem to go by without a chorus of shrieking.
The instant the credits began to roll, the crowd jumped up, eager to rush over to the elaborate after party held atop a nearby garage deck. Teen power posse Willow Smith, her brother Jaden and his alleged girlfriend, Kylie Jenner, even found themselves caught in the melee.
At the final “Twilight Saga” premiere last year — held in the same location as this year’s “Catching Fire” event — there were caged wolves awaiting guests outside the party entrance. Those who scored a coveted hologram-covered ticket to Monday’s party were met by a movie-themed drum line filled with stoic young men pounding away on their instruments while staring straight ahead. Inside, the room was lit in dramatic fashion, with spotlights hanging from circular domes to give off a vibe reminiscent of the movie’s futurism.
Slowly, a line began to form for a “Catching Fire”-themed photo booth, though most seemed interested in piling their plates full of Wolfgang Puck-catered fare. It had the feeling of splashy event not exactly in keeping with the bread-starved Districts. On this day, though, the audience was happy to be with the Capitol.
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