Exclusive Interview: The Hunger Games’ District 4 Tribute Tara Macken Talks Behind The Scenes, Stunt Work & Hollywood
What does it feel like to be part of something big? And when I say big, I mean national, global, multicultural and multi-generational.
A good person to ask is Tara Macken who will appear as District 4 Tribute in the soon to be blockbuster movie adaptation of the best selling book “The Hunger Games“. The movie stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, and is directed and written by Gary Ross.
Film Equals had the immense delight to chat with Tara about her upcoming role in this highly anticipated movie, the reaction to her casting and her advice for anyone thinking of doing what she does. Check out what she had to say below and don’t miss ‘The Hunger Games’ when it is released this Friday March 23, 2012 at a theater near you.
How did the opportunity for this role in ‘The Hunger Games’ come about?
Tara Macken: Well, my background, I’m an actress and a stunt woman and I actually got sought out by my stunt coordinator. He saw me, knew that I could act and do stunts. So, he passed me along to Gary Ross, the director, who then sent me to the casting. So, I auditioned and there you have it.
This is a special kind of movie in that there was already a lot of interest because of the book. Had you read the book before getting the role?
Tara Macken: I didn’t. I only read the book after the role was approached to me, but it’s a pretty amazing book, I do have to admit. I loved it.
Did you flip through it looking for your character or did you read it straight through?
Tara Macken: I read it straight through. I love to read. It was nice seeing the part that my character was in, but I think overall I was just trying to enjoy the story.
You play a Tribute from District Four. What can you say about the character you play?
Tara Macken: My biggest contribution, I play one of the Tributes and I’m definitely one of the stronger, older Tributes and also I’m from a fishing district. So, a lot of my character attributes were reflected in the fact that she’s from the fishing district, and then also because I was one of the strongest Tributes so we did a lot of training and a lot of action to highlight that.
And you’ve done stunt work for a few years now. Did that kind of work prepare you for this?
Tara Macken: Absolutely, most definitely. Stunts are a great way to understand a character and to really get an idea of what your character is about, especially when you’re playing a person who’s in a post-apocalyptic era where everyone is out to kill each other. Having such a physical background, it was really easy for me to understand the character, understand the character’s situation, her circumstances of having to be in this arena and having to fight for her life, essentially.
After reading ‘Hunger Games’ did you find your character in the book was portrayed the same in the movie?
Tara Macken: I think so. I definitely do think so.
There were no large differences?
Tara Macken: No. Gary made a really good point to have the movie near the book as much as possible.
Did you know the attention that you’d get from just being cast in this movie? Fans really followed the announcements about casting.
Tara Macken: I honestly had no idea. When I found that I got booked on this movie I was super stoked thinking ‘Yeah, awesome. I got an acting part in a movie. I’m really excited I’m going to be working out in North Carolina for a couple of months. It’s going to be great,‘ and then all of a sudden I got a bunch of phone calls from people who went to school with me, people from back home telling me things like ‘Oh, my God, Tara, are you in “The Hunger Games”?‘
I thought ‘What? I just found out literally an hour ago. How on earth did you find out?‘ It’s crazy just because one day I’m just doing my usual thing and the next thing you know I’m getting my inbox crowded with fans.
It’s quite inspiring to have a lot of people say ‘Hey, I love the book. I’m so glad you’re cast. I love what you do. Thanks for doing it.‘ It’s weird. I’m getting used to it, but it’s good to know what I do can get recognized and can be appreciated.
You welcome the exposure?
Tara Macken: Absolutely. The cool thing about having exposure is if you’re able to embrace it is just the fact that you can essentially just inspire others who want to pursue something similar because I do get a lot of people asking me about how to train or how to prepare for a role or what my schedule entails when it comes to stunt work. So, it gives a lot of leeway to help them.
I know when I started out and I wanted to do this nobody assisted me. Nobody guided me or helped me, and trying to explain to your parents that you want to act and you want to do stunts, you don’t really have a role model so that you can go, ‘Well, look at this person. This person did it and she’s amazing at it. So, I want to do something like her.‘ It’s a little thing to give back, I guess.
What made you want to get into the entertainment business in the first place?
Tara Macken: It’s funny. I actually didn’t really seek it per say. I’m half Filipino and half Irish. My dad is an engineers and everyone in my family are doctors, very smart people and he used to always ask me, ‘Tara, what do you want to do when you grow up?‘ I’d answer, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll surprise you when I get there.‘
That’s a positive way to look at it.
Tara Macken: Exactly, and honestly, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I loved to perform. I was always into theater. I was a dancer. I was a gymnast. I like doing stupid things, particularly falling on my head. That was kind of thing I did. Everybody does it, but some people forget how fun it is.
And you just never forgot?
Tara Macken: Exactly, and so when I came out to L.A. I said I’d give it a try, a whirl and see if maybe it’d be something that I could get into or if it was something that was just a part of growing up and now I have to face reality and do what everyone else expects of me. So, I just give it my all and I’m really happy that all the hard work that I’ve put in is finally paying off.
What would your advice be for someone who wants to get into the industry and follow the same path as you?
Tara Macken: Two things. It’s honing your craft and making sure that you you practice your hardest everyday in training. It’s just like any athlete. If you want to be the best basketball player in the Olympics you better train every single day. You can’t just say, ‘I want to be an actress,’ but then you never act.
You need to consistently be reading scripts. You need to consistently make your own shorts and get familiar with the art of acting. Get some friends and run a scene. Join the school play. It’s the same thing with stunts. If you want to be a stunt person, quite frankly you have to start falling down a bunch and start researching as much as possible about everything that’s stunt related. You just have to do the work. So, if you think of it like that, like a professional doctor puts tens years into his craft before he can operate on a person. Then you also need to put that much time and energy into being an actor or being a stunt performer or a dancer in order to be able to make it.
In addition to that, you have to be confident in yourself because the thing about Hollywood that sets it apart is, more so than any other job out there, you get rejected 99.9% of the time for the things that you audition for or apply for. It can get really personal because you’re your own product, but if you understand that the odds are always against you and that the only thing that you can do is execute your craft to the best of your ability then that’s all there is.
Maybe you weren’t cast because quite frankly you have dark hair or you’re a girl and they’re casting a guy. It’s completely out of your control, but as long as you know you’re going there and you did the best work for yourself then that’s all that really matters. If you don’t have that mindset, it’s going to eat you up inside and you’re going to quit. It’s a hard industry and a lot of people don’t see the rejection that people face on a daily basis living out here. But you have to roll with the punches and just move on.
It takes years to become an overnight success, right?
Tara Macken: Yeah, and people who peg actors to be an overnight success, you read their interviews and you read stories like ‘It was not overnight. I’ve been working for ten years, twenty years and now I’m getting noticed.’
Do you have a specific plan you have for your career or are taking it step by step?
Tara Macken: Step by step. I’ve always loved superhero movies growing up and I love action and adventure. So, I guess I want to be my own superhero, but I’m taking it step by step. It’s just an evolving thing. I want to keep on pursuing acting and pursuing stunt work. That’s about it. I guess I’d like to be the next Jackie Chan, but female.
Do you have any other upcoming projects you can talk about?
Tara Macken: Yeah. I worked as a lead stunt double in ‘GI Joe 2; Retaliation.’ I double the character Jinx who was the female ninja. That was pretty awesome. I was on ‘Battleship.’ I was doing action stunts on ‘Battleship,’ and then I also guest starred and acted in an episode of ‘Children’s Hospital’ which is on ‘Adult Swim.’ I played Henry Winkler’s daughter which is really funny, like, ‘The Fonz is my dad.’
If you could work with any actor or director you wanted who would it be?
Tara Macken: For a director, I would say Baz Lurhmann, John Woo, Michael Bay and Darren Aronofsky. I think what he does is really out there and he sticks to his creativity and it works. I would love to work with people who are at the end of the day artists and to see them still hold their creative integrity through the process of making a huge film would be very interesting to watch.
And what about from the actor side?
Tara Macken: There are so many. Anytime I come to set and meet my idols I always think ‘Oh, my God, you guys are so cool.’ I know this is cheesy but I would love to work with Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie. It’s really cheesy, I know, but I think those people are awesome.
It’s not cheesy. They are pretty awesome.
Tara Macken: Growing up they’re your idols and they’re still rocking it. Oh, and Jackie Chan of course.