Francis Lawrence On How 'Breaking Bad' Influenced 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

11/19/2013 11:22 am ET | Updated Nov 19, 2013

Thought the "Breaking Bad" mania was over? Not so fast. The director of one of the biggest blockbuster franchises in recent years has taken a huge cue from the brilliant and critically acclaimed show.

Sure, the story of a young woman battling to the death in a government-sanctioned arena and a cancer-stricken man who cooks crystal meth might not seem to have a lot in common, but, as it happens, the director of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," Francis Lawrence, was binge-watching "Breaking Bad" as he was filming "Catching Fire," and he found some inspiration on the small screen.

Francis Lawrence takes over the "Hunger Games" directing reins from Gary Ross, which comes with a bit of pressure, because the first "Hunger Games" movie made a lot of money. With "Catching Fire" (Lawrence will also direct the final two movies), Lawrence must give it his own spin, while staying true to the books and the aesthetics that were established in the first movie. In other words, he has a lot of people to try to please.

"Catching Fire" seems to have a different tone than the first movie. Was that intentional?
No. I mean, quite honestly, I think that for me, it's all driven just based on the story. I think that I'm a different person; I'm going to definitely have a different style at least visually than Gary does. But, I think all of my choices were not about trying to do something different, but rather just how do I tell this story in the best way possible. There were some parameters that I had because of the first movie, some aesthetic choices of what did District 12 look like -- what does the Capitol look like? -- what kind of makes those things look the way they do. And a bunch of casting had already been done, obviously. But other than that, there was a lot of room to sort of create and to grow and to sort of make "Catching Fire" my own and just try and tell the story as best as I could.

Is there any pressure like, "Hey, people already like this. Don't mess it up"?
No, not really. Again, I guess I just wanted to kind of build on it. I think that I understood people loved it. I think I understood what people loved and I wanted to kind of build on that and grow with that -- and I wanted to kind of add to it so that bringing some new cast members in or making some new decisions or having some scenes that aren't in the book -- sort of world-growing scenes that fans might really love -- I thought that would be kind of a treat for fans.

How many days into shooting did the Jennifer Lawrence/Francis Lawrence name joke stop?
Oh, they still haven't.

Oh, really?
No, no. They still haven't. I mean, occasionally, Jennifer will just turn to me and say, "You know what? We don't talk enough about our last name." She'll say that. I mean, we constantly joke, because in every single article, it says, "Francis Lawrence, no relation" -- of course, because it never says, "Jennifer Lawrence, no relation." And we say that when we do press conferences, the card in front of my seat should just say "No relation."

Or you should adopt the nickname F-Law.
[Laughs] Yes, exactly. Yeah. Somebody did, on my trailer on the first movie, put a nickname where I was "Flawrence and the Machine."

That's a good one.
Yes. Yeah, F-Law. Yeah, but the jokes have not stopped.

When a movie is based on a popular book series, especially a book series that so many people have read, can that be a disadvantage as a filmmaker?
Oh, totally. I think for sure somebody who's read the book will not experience the movie in the same way. I think it's like, then, you're sort of seeing a movie sort of come to life that you may have imagined differently -- and you may be surprised and pleased. Or you may not. Or you may just be bummed a certain scene is gone. You may really enjoy some of the things that we've added that aren't in the book. But the twists, the turns, the basic sort of plot line, the basic sort of character turns, all that kind of stuff is not going to be a surprise for anybody who's read the book. So, I think as a film experience, it'll be far more enjoyable for those who haven't read the books, just because it'll be new.

There are scenes that are similar to what happens in the first movie -- like the introductions and then even the first part of the games. Was there a problem of, "What do I do to make this stand out to viewers so that this isn't the same thing that they saw last year?"
Yeah, I tried to be very mindful of that. I mean, I think that ["Hunger Games" author] Suzanne Collins was also mindful that it's -- just the story's different. So even there may be kind of a structural mirror to the first movie -- you know there's going to be a reaping, you're going to go to the Capitol, you're going to have some training, you're going to do that kind of stuff, you're going to meet the tributes -- that the story this time is different. That the tributes this time are very different, that the ages are very different, they're very different kinds of people...

Right. I feel we know them better, too.
Yeah, I think so, too, and I think that also that my goal was to sort of make sure that the emotional value in each of those scenes that may be similar are very different. So, if you're going to have a chariot sequence, in the first movie, it might have been at night -- this one is going to now be during the day so we get to see more of the Capitol. You get to see more of the experience, right? But it's a different experience. If the first one was about a girl and a guy going out into this kind of gladiatorial entrance and feeling sort of shocked like deer caught in the headlights -- sort of afraid and dazzled. This next one is, "OK, these are veterans now coming in." They're not fazed by the spectacle, right? This is more a showdown with Snow -- that it's about looking and connecting with Snow in this moment as they're sort of cheering her name, so that the emotional value of something that could be really similar is very different.

I know this answer might be obvious, but the more I thought about it, I wasn't sure. Which of your prior movies prepared you for this more: "I Am Legend" or "Water for Elephants"? Because there's the romance element of the latter movie.
No, it helps, I have to say -- but I think quite honestly that "I Am Legend" prepared me more, just for the technicalities of it all. You know what? I'm going to take that back. I think that it's sort of both; it's even. I think the thing is, technically, "I Am Legend" helped, because we were under the gun. It was a quick prep. It was a big movie. It has loads of effects. So there's a lot of technicalities and big world building. "Water for Elephants" I think helped me because I was dealing with a certain kind of a love triangle. And I quite honestly learned some lessons. After the movie came out, I sort of saw the way people sort of perceived the movie and perceived the relationship -- and I learned quite a lot about what I intended and what I think people took away from the movie and how those didn't quite meet up. So, I think having been through that really helped with my presentation of their love triangle in this movie and what I was trying to portray.

The third book, "Mockingjay," is being divided into two movies that you are directing. How do you approach that story? Because I know quite a few people who don't like that story as much as they like the story in the first two books.
Well, I think it's all approach. I think, quite honestly, for me, the third book is the book that gives the stories their meaning -- and that's what I'm most excited about. To be able to take these stories to its finish, but also to be able to tell the story that sort of gives them all their kind of greater meaning, is really important to me. But, we all hear that kind of stuff, so I'm very mindful of it. And what I can try to do that we did with "Catching Fire" is make it as rich and emotional an experience as possible. So, if we can continue to keep the story in sort of Katniss's point of view and keep you emotionally engaged with her and make the story as compelling as possible and give each of the characters that we present as emotional a story as possible, I think that we'll really keep people engaged in the world of "The Hunger Games."

Did you like ending on a cliffhanger?
I like a cliffhanger. I was saying, what's really interesting is I became really obsessed with "Breaking Bad" while we were making this and binge-watched the entire series up until these last eight episodes while we were making "Catching Fire." And the more I watched those episodes, I just became sort of convinced that you can do that kind of stuff with movies, too. I know it's weird because TV people used to always look at movies for inspiration, and now, suddenly, we're looking at some great TV shows as inspiration. But they opened bold and they end bold, and I just think that that's fun stuff.

Having seen every episode of "Breaking Bad," this makes complete sense. And I did want more.
Yeah, yeah. No, well, that's a good thing. And hopefully, that's the idea, is make people want more -- make people want to see what's coming next. And look, we're not making it up, you know? The story's already out there; it already exists. The big difference with something like "Breaking Bad" and this is obviously, you've got to wait a year, as opposed to just waiting a week.

Well, it's comparable to waiting between seasons.
Yeah, that's true. I guess you could look at it as that last episode at the end of season five or whatever of "Breaking Bad."

When they split the season in half, we had to wait a year to find out what happened after the toilet.
Yeah, yeah. Well, look, we're doing that with "Mockingjay" [laughs].

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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