Earlier this week Spark Life had the chance to talk to the brilliant Willow Shields about the change in her character Prim, Jennifer verbally teaching her to drive and Buttercup the cat.
Your character is always the “little duck” to Katniss. Prim makes a comment in Mockingjay that there are so few children in District 13 because they were wiped out by an epidemic, but that also seems to be a comment on…
I’m not a child anymore?
Yes, exactly! Can you tell us about that a little bit?
Yeah, no I loved that. There are little things here and there that showcase how grown up Prim is becoming, and I think that is amazing to see, because you see a totally different dynamic between Katniss and Prim in Mockingjay: Katniss is falling apart and Prim kind of steps up to take care of her now, and I loved that because it was something different to see. I loved growing with the character and then evolving to then become that, and I think that it’s because she’s grown up with Katniss in her life, and Katniss is a strong independent person and that’s something Prim has started to adopt in Mockingjay for sure.
We have more of a sense that Prim has her own ideas about the war in this film…
Exactly. And she’s also doing her own part in the war in my opinion—we don’t see as much of that in Mockingjay Part 1, but you do see the fact that she’s becoming a doctor, so to me that’s her doing her part in the war and trying to save as many people as she can, you know, because of District 12 being bombed and all these people coming into 13. That also shows that she is completely aware of what’s going on and [is] trying to help in any way that she can.
Everyone makes a fuss about how tough Cressida and Coin and Katniss are, but Prim has been through a lot and she doesn’t get a fancy weapon, but she has a quiet strength…
That’s what I—exactly. And I didn’t want to go little duck—>strength, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted it to be more subtle, I wanted it to be there but not in your face, so that’s something I talked with the director about, I really wanted it to be real and genuine. I don’t think that after all the stuff that Prim’s gone through, it does make a person stronger after all of that, but it also you still are scared, I mean who wouldn’t be scared in her situation? I mean, Katniss is scared, and Katniss is STRONG strong, and I think it’s really cool that you get to see that and see that Prim is quietly strong, like you said, but also there are moments where even she is kind of scared, but I think it perfectly encompasses how many people would feel in that situation.
My personal fan-fic that I would love to see would be Gale getting everyone out of 12, and I wonder if you and Liam have talked about your characters’ backstory, that we maybe didn’t get to see onscreen.
Yes! There is a lot of backstory that is talked about on set, and I think it’s important to create a little bit of your own backstory, because you need to know where your character is at in that place and that time, so there is a little bit of conversation about that. And for Prim, Katniss volunteered for her and went to the games, and once again after that—she never knew if she was going to see her sister again, TWICE, and now there’s this whole war going on, and District 12 is burned down and they’re living in District 13, which they never even thought existed. So there is a whirlwind of emotions, but the crazy part is that she’s still sane and strong through all that, so there was myself and Jen and Liam talking out just how you would feel in that situation, after your home is burned to the ground and almost everyone died, you know, it’s like that emotion really needed to be brought to most of the scenes.
Did you talk to Jennifer Lawrence about your role reversal?
Yeah, and I thought that was really important, because a lot of Katniss’s decision to become the Mockingjay is based on what Prim tells her, so I find that very cool, but also just you get to see this amazing dynamic that you never saw before, and her relationship with Prim is the one relationship that I think has evolved the most through the story, and I just really loved playing that part and being able to challenge ourselves in the way that Katniss is stepping down and just falling apart, and Prim steps up and starts encouraging her. And Prim is very smart, so she’s giving her a lot of knowledge about why she should be doing this, and things like that.
You are interested in design outside of acting, and Prim gets to have a costume very different to the District 13 clothes—it’s a very Florence Nightingale kind of design, and I wondered if you’d discussed that with the costume designers.
Yes, yes, I actually loved the fact that I got a very cool costume for Mockingjay because I’m a nurse, and I think it’s a little bit different that everybody else’s, and having that blue, we were very intent on a very beautiful blue for this costume, and it was very perfect for Prim. It’s a very calming, beautiful color, and you get into that with costume designers, that just the color matters a lot. A lot of the colors in District 13 are just grey, but I enjoyed wearing that costume because it was different that Katniss’s classic District 13 outfit.
Yessss, soldier Katniss. I know Katniss hates Buttercup, but Prim loved her. What does that tell us about Prim?
I think it says a lot about Prim. A lot of people don’t realize that you see her fighting to save her cat at times even if she’s not fighting to save people in Part 1, but you can see she has that love and compassion and the strength to fight to save someone or something, so that’s something that people are maybe not aware of, but she really does have that inside of her.
How many Buttercups were there, I’m just so curious…
There was just one gigantic cat, and that cat was very sweet, it was a very easy cat to work with, and they had a trainer, and that was the smartest cat I’ve ever met in my entire life. Literally, the trainer would give it commands and it would do them, it was crazy!
I didn’t know you could give cats commands!
I know! I didn’t either! I was like, You can’t train a cat, are you kidding me? But they DID! It was crazy.
Has anyone from the cast given you tips for how to survive teendom?
Jen has been giving me advice about life in general since I was ten years old—she verbally tried to teach me how to drive when I was ten. She was like, “When you’re on the freeway, make sure you’re looking at everything, not just at the car in front of you, okay, you need to avoid an accident, and the blinking lights—you’ve got to use your turning signal.” I mean, driving in L.A.?!
She’s given me advice about everything , I mean she’s given me a lot of advice about Hollywood, too, and staying who you are through this whole process and this whole world, because I think that’s why she’s successful and I think she knows that. She’s given me so much advice, definitely.
Who do you ship?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I love John Green, and I’m obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars, so … Hazel and Gus is such a beautiful ship, and it’s so amazing and true, and I love that.
You are very interested in Operation Smile, a charity that works to fix cleft palates, etc. Did your interest in medicine and helping people come during or before The Hunger Games?
During, yeah, I honestly love working with kids, and that’s the number one thing. I think they’re our next generation, so it’s really important to make sure they all have the best health, so that’s why I got involved with that.