By Mandi Bierly
Updated March 23, 2012 at 10:41 PM EDT

“I’m not really allowed to drink a lot of caffeine, because I’m 11,” laughs Willow Shields, who plays Katniss Everdeen’s younger sister Prim in The Hunger Games. But don’t worry, she managed to stay awake through her first midnight screening ever in her hometown of Albuquerque, N.M. Last night, she and about 15 family members and friends arrived at the theater two and a half hours before the film started to get seats together, but she wasn’t allowed to go inside the theater until about 45 minutes before the movie began. “So me and my dad basically just drove around town at 10 o’clock at night looking for something to do,” she says. “We drove everywhere. I was even gonna go roller skating. I was like, ‘If the roller skating rink is open, I’ll go roller skating at 10 o’clock at night.’ We were like, anything? Can we do anything?!”

When they finally returned, the theater was nice enough to provide security for her, which, it turns out, she needed as she posed for pictures and signed autographs in the lobby for fans who recognized her. (Watch a short video her father shot of the crowd below.) When she reached her seat in the second row of the theater, more people who hadn’t been in the lobby lined up in the aisles to take their own pictures of her and ask for autographs. “I thought it was really funny that half the people I autographed things for said, ‘Autograph the back of my phone.’ I was like, ‘What? Really? Seriously?’ They didn’t have anything else,” she says.

It sounds a bit overwhelming, but she handled it fine. “I had my cousins and my friends, and they’re like, ‘We’re your bodyguards! Don’t worry!'” she giggles.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Last night was only her second time seeing the movie. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! “I could hear people in front of me sniffling. It was exactly what I felt the first time I watched it, sitting in the Nokia Theatre [at the film’s Los Angeles premiere], just sniffling with everyone else during Rue’s death scene,” she says.

And what was the audience reaction when the mutts made their appearance? “Ohmygod,” she says, excitedly. “Everyone was jumping in their seats. It was crazy. I was really happy that I knew when that was gonna happen. ‘Cause I remember sitting in the Nokia Theatre when that happened, and I swear, I probably kicked through the seat in front of me. I still jumped, but it wasn’t as bad.” (Her mother, who was already a huge Hunger Games fan before her daughter auditioned for the film, wouldn’t allow Willow and her twin sister to read the book until they turned 11. Did she have to shield her eyes from anything in the movie? “No,” she says. “Since I’d already read the books, I was expecting some of that in the movie.”)

When the film ended, Willow and her family snuck out quickly because she was exhausted. “I fell asleep in the car on the way home,” she admits. Does she see another midnight movie in her future? “I don’t know. I didn’t get home until 3:30 in the morning. It was pretty late for me,” she says. “It was a really crazy, awesome experience.”

Read more:

The Hunger Games

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Gary Ross