SUPER EXCLUSIVE

Catching fire

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Photo by JILL LEJANO

We’ve always been Team Peeta.

Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son character from “The Hunger Games,” stole our hearts from the get-go, when Katniss Everdeen recalled how he saved her life with two loaves of bread.

But that changed last week, when we walked into The Peninsula Manila’s Balagtas Room.

Liam Hemsworth, who plays Gale Hawthorne in “The Hunger Games” films, was waiting inside for our one-on-one interview.

The actor was in the country for a series of promotional appearances for Bench, which signed him up as an endorser last year. He joined the brand’s roster of Global Benchsetters—a list that includes Adam Levine, Bruno Mars, Lee Min Ho, Lucy Hale, Jessica Sanchez, Joe Jonas, Siwon and Donghae of Super Junior and 2PM’s Nichkhun.

Truth be told, we were a little concerned. On the day we met Liam, both the mainstream and social media continued to sling rumors about his supposed breakup with fiancée Miley Cyrus.

Will he really be up for an interview? Will he be in a good mood? Will he be willing to talk?

Photo by JILL LEJANO

The answer was yes, yes and yes—but not about Miley.

Looking like a sexier, scruffier and more mature version of his “Hunger Games” alter ego, Liam shook our hands warmly and said hello. He had just come from his native Australia for a 10-day visit with friends and family which included his older brother Chris “Thor” Hemsworth.

“I’m extremely happy to be here,” Liam said, expressing his desire to explore the Philippines. “I hear the beaches are beautiful.” He got to do just that—after his interviews, press conference and two meet-and-greet sessions, he spent a few days in Amanpulo before leaving the country on Wednesday.

Liam’s fans have a lot to look forward to this year. He has four films coming out: “Catching Fire,” the sequel to “The Hunger Games”; “Love and Honor”; “Empire State” Dwayne Johnson; and “Paranoia” with Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman.

“I’ve been kind of addicted to the whole process of making movies,” he said.

Here are excerpts from our interview:

We’ve seen your billboards for Bench; what was it like shooting with the lion?

Photo by JILL LEJANO

I spent half a day with the lion which was great fun. I didn’t even know until I turned up that there was a lion there. (Laughs)

Didn’t you get scared?

A little bit at first, you’d think the worst, what could possibly happen, the worst situation. But it was super calm. They had a couple of trainers there who had been with it for a long time. The lion was amazing. He would sit there and they would make him do these big roars. It was great.

Did you have favorite pieces from the shoot?

There’s lots of good stuff. All their jeans fit great … and the plaid shirts.

What are five fashion items you can’t live without?

Shoes, t-shirts, jeans, underwear … I like a good pair of underwear. And… socks. (Laughs)

Photo by JILL LEJANO

How would you describe your style?

Simple, casual, less is more for me.

When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?

Probably when I was 16. My two brothers are both actors. I went through high school watching them do different TV shows in Australia. As the youngest brother, I’ve always looked up to them. I wanted to do what they were doing. I started doing acting classes outside of school when I was 16 and then eventually got an agent and started auditioning for different things and eventually got some work and just fell in love with it.

Was fame a big adjustment?

Yeah, absolutely. But the biggest thing for me is I love making movies, I get to do that, I get to work with great, passionate people, different artists. I feel very, very lucky to be where I am.

BENCHED Liam Hemsworth in Manila. Photo by JILL LEJANO

We’re very excited about “Catching Fire.” We know you play Gale, but are you Team Gale or Team Peeta?

(Laughs) I would say Team Haymitch. He’s my favorite.

I love him!

Me, too. I’ve always loved that character the most in the books and Woody Harrelson is one of my favorite people. He’s such a good person to be around. I have very little scenes with him but when I do, it’s really enjoyable. He’s just a fun person to be with.

How are things on the set?

They’re great. We have a new director, Francis Lawrence, and he’s amazing. He’s extremely relaxed and well-prepared. For me, the most important thing is having a director that you can really look up to and give yourself to.

There’s going to be a lot more action for Gale in “Mockingjay.” Are you excited about that? (“Mockingjay” is the final installment of “The Hunger Games” trilogy.-Ed.)

Yeah, yeah. I’m definitely looking forward to that. There’s going to be a whole new element to the story in that one. And Francis Lawrence is again going to be doing that one. I’m really looking forward to working with him.

“Empire State” and “Paranoia” are also coming out this year. Can you tell us about these projects?

“Empire State” is with a director named Dito Montiel. He’s been one of my favorite directors since “A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints.” He’s probably one of my biggest inspirations at that time and still is. It’s loosely based on a true story of a guy in 1982 who stole a bunch of money from an armored car company he worked for.

“Paranoia” I shot with Robert Luketic as the director, and (with) Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman (in the cast). It was incredible, it was absolutely amazing to be on set and going head-to-head with those guys. They couldn’t have been nicer and easier to work with.

Is directing something you see yourself doing in the future?

Yeah. One day. I’d like to do this for a bit longer and really get to know the process of filmmaking. But I think I’d be a little bit out of my league at the moment. But definitely, in the future.

Do you have a dream role?

I look for scripts that are different and innovative with a good director who has a real vision. That’s what I’m looking for at the moment.

You’ve done different genres. Do you have a favorite? Which do you enjoy the most?

It can be anything. I think if I have a director I can truly give myself to, then it’s a lot more enjoyable. I enjoy the process a lot more because I’m not stressed out about it. If I’m working with a director who knows what he wants, everything’s smooth.

How often do you get back to Australia?

Not very often. That was the first time I’ve been back in almost two years. It’s tough, I would love to go back more, but these days I’m working so much it’s really hard to get out there because it’s such a long flight from the USA.

What do you miss most about it?

My friends and family. I grew up in a really small town. I miss that, I miss the simplicity of that and not constantly being surrounded by the city, because it’s not how I grew up, you know. I grew up in a much different state of mind than now. I’d like to get back to that, just relax and slow down a little bit.

What’s the craziest thing a fan has done to get your attention?

It’s a little weird sometimes when I have fans outside my house in LA. Sometimes they stay there for a few days. It gets a little scary sometimes, yeah. (Laughs)

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