On the first weekend in March, Entertainment Weekly hit newsstands across the country with The Hunger Games' Louisville-born star, Jennifer Lawrence, on the cover and her concerns that starring in the movie would change her life.
That same weekend, in the checkout lanes at Kroger, Lawrence stared out from a half-dozen magazine covers, including an issue of People completely devoted to the film. The Hunger Games is based on Suzanne Collins' blockbuster trilogy of novels about a brutal future government that forces teenagers into an annual televised death match.
With legions of fans eager for the next major film franchise, The Hunger Games promises to make big stars of the two Kentuckians in its lead roles: Lawrence, as resourceful heroine Katniss Everdeen, and Union native Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta Mellark, her fellow Hunger Games competitor.
Both had cinematic résumés before The Hunger Games. Lawrence most notably was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress last year for her performance in Winter's Bone. Hutcherson is a veteran of big-budget thrillers Journey to the Center of the Earth and its recent sequel, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, and the Oscar-nominated drama The Kids Are All Right.
But neither had experienced the frenzy surrounding The Hunger Games.
"Just the size of the fan base. I saw them yesterday at the mall, and it was crazy," Lawrence, 21, said early this month from Los Angeles during a Hunger Games publicity tour. "You hear about it, but then when you see it, it just blows your mind."
Before that, Lawrence felt an inkling of fans' zeal while waiting at an airport. A guy approached her with a bunch of her head shots.
"I said, 'What? How did you know I'd be here?' and he said, 'I didn't. I just bought a ticket so I could walk around the airport in the hopes that you might be here,'" she said. "The weirdest thing was how normal he looked and acted, but what he was doing was completely crazy."
Hutcherson, 19, experienced the then-nascent mania when he was at home in Northern Kentucky over Christmas and fans came knocking.
"They had driven down from Chicago on the chance that I would be home for the holidays," Hutcherson said during the same publicity tour. "They rang my doorbell and started crying and freaking out when I answered and all this stuff, so it was a pretty crazy experience."
Hutcherson said he wasn't angry. He doesn't want fans coming to his house, "but at the same time, they were very passionate about the books, they were excited about the movie, so it was totally OK," he said. "I just don't want it to happen again."
'That's totally Kentucky, isn't it?'
Lawrence and Hutcherson had never worked together before The Hunger Games, but they quickly connected through their mutual home state.
"It was kind of an instant bonding factor, being from the same place," Hutcherson said. "For me, it was the upbringing; it's the family and the culture and everything. It felt like her and I were on the same page with that whole thing. There's an understanding when you're from the same place, an instant sort of connection with someone."
Lawrence said, "The funny thing is, we'd both hear each other saying things and be like, 'That's totally Kentucky, isn't it?' One of the things was when we said we were 'chilled to the bone' or 'cold to the bone,' and no one else had heard those sayings, and we said, that must be Kentucky."
There is one big difference whose depths only a Kentuckian might be able to fathom: Lawrence is a University of Louisville basketball fan, and Hutcherson is part of the University of Kentucky's Big Blue Nation.
The actors were struck by the fact that one of the settings for The Hunger Games isn't far from Kentucky, albeit in a brutal future with a totalitarian government that makes children kill one another for entertainment. Katniss and Peeta hail from a place called District 12, in what is now Appalachia.
"It is so far in the future, but it looks like the past," Lawrence said. "It looks like a coal-mining town from the 20th century, and I guess there are ways it looks like Eastern Kentucky."
Hutcherson said that when he read The Hunger Games, he recognized the setting.
"The serendipitousness of it was kind of crazy, and then the fact that both Jennifer and I are from Kentucky made it all feel like it was very close to home," Hutcherson said.
'The entire film was made by fans'
A love for the books was another thing both stars had in common. Now that has evolved into a love for the films. As with any movie based on a beloved novel, The Hunger Games has some fans anxious about how well it will transfer to the big screen.
"I saw the movie for the first time about a week ago, and I absolutely loved it," Hutcherson said. "It was so powerful, so moving. I just hope that everyone gets to see it.
"Suzanne Collins was involved throughout the entire process, ... so to have her writing the script and also produce the movie gives fans peace of mind that she didn't just hand it off to Hollywood to go mess up."
Lawrence said, "The entire film was made by fans. Lionsgate, me, the other actors, (director) Gary Ross were all real fans of the book, and we didn't want a watered-down version of the book. We wanted a real film that portrayed what we loved about Suzanne's work."
For both actors, that makes a pleasure out of the changes that are coming to their lives — the fame, the fans, the press, the work.
Hutcherson said, "It's not that hard to talk about a movie you love so much."
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: Copiousnotes.bloginky.com.