Prior to 2011, Alexander Ludwig was best known as the somewhat skinny kid with supernatural abilities at the center of both the 2009 Dwayne Johnson family flick Race to Witch Mountain and the 2007 fantasy film The Seeker: The Dark is Rising.
But to take on the role of the ruthless Cato — the deadliest tribute and rival to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games — Ludwig says he put on roughly to 30 to 40 pounds, filling out the now 19-year-old Canadian actor into quite the imposing presence. In person, though, he still exudes a youthful squirminess, an inability to sit still for more than a few seconds, that renders his outsize bulk more sweet than scary. Check out our interview below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first know that there was an opportunity to be a part of this movie?
ALEXANDER LUDWIG: I heard about the film a lot earlier than most. I had a meeting with one of the studio execs. I had a dinner with them at the Beverly Hills Hotel, I think, maybe a year before they were going to make it. And she told me about the books and that they were thinking about doing a movie. I read the book and immediately fell in love with it. I just dedicated my summer to just physically and mentally getting into the role.
Did you know you’d be playing Cato right away?
Originally, it was between me, Josh, and another guy for Peeta. And then when Gary called me and asked me would I like to play the role of Cato, I just jumped on the opportunity. Because I’ve never really played a bad guy, and I just thought it would be really, really fun, to just dive into the whole twisted psychotic-ness of it.
How much training time did you have between when you officially got the role and then started shooting?
About two weeks. But I had been training a lot before.
Just on your own?
What did you do?
Definitely I wanted Cato to have as much of a physical presence as he did a mental one on the screen. So I had to put on something around 30 to 40 pounds for the role. I’m still working really hard to get back to normal. It’s so much easier just to eat and workout than not eat and workout like crazy. It’s definitely tough, but it’s at least what I thought the character demanded, so I thought it was important.
Did you have a sense of how big this film was going to be?
Definitely not when I first heard about it. I think when it really hit me was when I came back to Vancouver for Thanksgiving, and there was press and fans outside the airport. That was the first thing. You expect that in L.A., but not really at home. That kind of smacked me in the face, like, God, this thing’s real. Which I’m excited about!
NEXT: Ludwig on tough workouts and what’s next for him