It was director Gary Ross’ 15-year-old twins who turned him on to The Hunger Games, the first installment of Suzanne Collins’ terrifically urgent futuristic trilogy. “I started reading it at 9 o’clock one night and finished reading it at 2 in the morning,” says Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit). Like the rest of the bestselling young-adult series’ ardent fans, he fell hard for heroine Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who must survive the whims of a cruel government that sends children to fight to the death on reality TV. Ross and Lionsgate aim to start production on the first film in the late spring. Collins, who wrote the early drafts of the script, is resting easy about the choice of director. “I feel confident that Katniss is in excellent hands,” she told EW. “His previous work illustrates his passion and talent for good storytelling, and I look forward to seeing his vision for The Hunger Games come to life.” In this exclusive interview— which contains a few spoilers, so don’t say we didn’t warn you—Ross describes just what that vision entails.
EW: What do you think makes you the right director for the gig?
Gary Ross: I just loved the story so much. There is a defiant, antiauthoritarian quality to it. I guess if you look at some of my stuff, Pleasantville probably in particular, there’s a streak that runs through all that. And I’m so touched by the humanity of Katniss. As much as the firestorm or the final action sequences are incredibly riveting and enormous, it’s the relationships in the book that are the most moving to me.
EW: Are you already hearing from kids who are afraid you’re going to screw up their favorite book?
Ross: [Laughs] I just received 150 letters from the Friendship Middle School near Lubbock, Texas. The reading-program teacher got them to all write me letters. So many of them wrote, “Listen, I know this is an action movie and I can’t wait to see the action but please don’t lose the heart of the story.” The death of Rue is mentioned by every kid who reads the book. It’s funny because I realize the letters are from Lubbock, Texas, which is where Buddy Holly was from. So in a way it’s the birthplace of American teenage rebellion. Isn’t that cool?
Read the full interview here.