“We had the unique experience of seeing and experiencing ‘The Hunger Games’ from the outside, and then we get picked up for the last two movies, and you experience it from the inside. It’s crazy, like walking into the eye of the storm, being a part of this. We’re both honored to be a part of it.” That’s how Wes Chatham, who plays Castor in both of the “Mockingjay” episodes of the enormous Lionsgate franchise based on Suzanne Collin’s trilogy, described joining the series for its final two films.
Chatham came to Dallas along with his co-star Evan Ross, who plays Messalla, another member of the squad that joins Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in the culminating assault on the Capitol of Panem to topple the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
“We were the new guys in school,” Chatham continued. “They were very warm and very inviting, but we became very close. It was a huge transitional time in our lives when we were with each other every day. It was such a transitional period in our life.”
Ross, the son of Diana, explained that in a shoot that spanned nine months, he and Chatham built a strong bond. “So much stuff happened over that time,” he recalled, including his getting married. “We were having so much fun, it was ridiculous. We had the craziest traveling experiences. We had to sleep at airports. We had such a good time, man. Working with a core group of people for so long, it becomes almost like family. We plan to [get tattoos]” as a memento,” though they admitted that they hadn’t decided on a design yet.
Some of the picture was shot in the U.S.—Chatham mentioned that the interior of Snow’s office was a New Orleans mansion—but a good deal was filmed in Europe. “They chose these European places [for] a timeless look and architecture that’s hard to place, kind of in its own world,” Chatham said. “So they used a lot of the World War II barracks, bomb-making mills, an old Nazi airport—these really interesting, intense places.”
While the cast were enjoying themselves off the set, however, the story of “Mockingjay—Part 2” is actually quite grim. “Thematically, it’s a war movie,” Chatham, who served as an aviation firefighter on an aircraft carrier for four years, said. “But it really focuses on the realistic toll violence has on you physically and emotionally.”
In many respects it was a grueling shoot. “We had some training, but the stuff we had to do was to know what was safe and how to shoot the guns,” Ross said. “Then it was up to you to work out. It was mainly to make sure that we knew what we were doing.”
Chatham added, “Films are about movement and choreography. When you’re going in and clearing a room, or doing anything in formation, you have to move as one, one unit, one organism.”
“He knew how to do that,” Ross noted. “So I followed him a little bit.” But, he noted, he wasn’t as reckless as Chatham, who sometimes rushed into their scenes while he held back. “I had the feeling I might fall. He got pummeled a few times.”
“There’s a lot of running and jumping,” Chatham admitted.
There was also some pretty dangerous action. One spectacular sequence finds the squadron attacked by a bunch of humanoid, lizard-like mutants in a watery sewer system. “We were literally in the tunnels for three weeks straight, in water. It was intense. All of it was such a bonding experience,” Ross said.
But it was also a potentially disastrous one. “There was a time when I ended on the bottom somehow,” Chatham recalled. “I could get my head up only this high, under eight people, and I was like, am I going to drown in a foot of water? Well, this is my last scene in the movie,” he added with a chuckle.
The routine could also be grueling before actual shooting began. “It took me two-and-a-hours every morning, two guys doing my makeup. I had a prosthetic ear,” Ross recalled.
Chatham added, “He was miserable in the makeup chair.” As for him, his hairstyle was the biggest change. “I wanted a full Mohawk,” he said. “But we’d seen Mohawks before, so how about a half-Mohawk. That’s what we went with.” It wasn’t a big problem for him, though, since his next role called for him to have his entire head shaved.
Ross, who’s also a musician of note, was finally asked whether he preferred acting or making music. He declined to choose, saying both were fulfilling.
“What’s better than this—to be creative and do what you love?” he asked.