Gary Ross says Jennifer Lawrence's audition for "The Hunger Games" was the best tryout he's ever seen and adds that directing the film marked the most fun experience of his career.
In the sci-fi movie, Lawrence, a 21-year-old actress who was nominated for an Oscar for "Winter's Bone," plays Katniss Everdeen. She lives in a post-apocalyptic future where a boy and girl from various districts are chosen and taken to a massive area to fight to the death in an annual event called the Hunger Games. The actions of the fighters, or tributes, are filmed and broadcast like a reality show.
"I knew this was a very special actress," Ross said of Lawrence. "And then I met with her and she embodied so much of what Katniss is - there was a strength, a solidity, a confidence, kind of a no B.S. attitude to her. And then, she came in and read for me and just blew my socks off."
"I mean, she just knocked me over with her audition," he said. "It was the best audition I've ever seen. I'd just glimpsed the movie in front of me and then I just went, 'Oh my God, this is going to be great.' We went through another process of seeing other people, but I knew I had the character."
The sci-fi movie is an adaptation of the first book in a series by Suzanne Collins. The stories have a fan following, mostly among teenage girls, and hundreds attended the Los Angeles premiere earlier this month. The movie hits theaters on Friday, March 23.
"I loved the material. The minute I closed the book, I thought I had a very clear take on how to do the material," Ross told OnTheRedCarpet.com. "This was a really pleasant experience for me. It was a very clear experience, I think a lot of this was due to Suzanne's narrative - it was so compelling. I really had a blast. Maybe I'm older now, but I enjoyed my job more than I ever have enjoyed doing it."
Ross is best known for helming feel-good films like "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit." Lawrence told OnTheRedCarpet.com that Ross directed "The Hunger Games" "like a war movie."
Ross wanted to avoid any Hollywood glamorization to remain true to the story.
"Had we done a slick, tent-poley version of this or tried to present some kind of glossy entertainment, we'd be doing what the capital was doing in exploiting this kind of premise, right?" Ross asked. "It had to feel really raw and urgent ... and in Katniss' point of view - the way the book was. So my first job was, how do I give you that feeling that the big gave you when you shut that cover?"
Ross said Lawrence, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "Winter's Bone," embodied everything he saw in Everdeen.
Ross co-wrote the screenplay with Collins and screenwriter Billy Ray.
"I wrote a draft of the script. I sent it to Suzanne. She liked it, fortunately, and came out to Los Angeles," Ross said. "We started trading ideas and before we knew it, it was kind of electric in the room. I said, 'Well this is crazy, we're working together anyway, why don't we do it officially?' And then she did the last polish of the script with me and that was fantastic."
Reporting by Cari Skillman of KABC Television, which produces the entertainment show "On The Red Carpet" (check for local TV listings).