After months of waiting, today finally sees the release of The Hunger Games, and as the tributes line up to enter the arena*, the sense of anticipation among both fans, and the film industry couldn’t be higher.

Over the last few weeks we’ve brought you coverage from the red carpet, interviews with Lenny Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence, and of course our review of the film.

Today we’re bringing you our interview with Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth. Because it was a round table interview it’s a little eclectic, covering everything from the advice given by Suzanne Collins to how Hemsworth would survive if he had to fight in the games.

It’s a long interview, so we’ve split it in half. Check back later for part two.

What did you think of the film when you first saw it?
LIAM HEMSWORTH: I was nervous as hell to see it the first time, because everyone was building it up so much, and I really didn’t want it to suck. Now that I’ve seen it I’m really very happy to be out there talking about it. I’m very, very proud of it.

There’s always that sense of weariness on set that everything might go wrong. Were you confident when you were filming it?
LH: There were too many extremely passionate people around it for it to be bad, and Gary Ross is such an amazing director, and I think we all felt comfortable enough to really trust him here. His vision was perfect, and really captured what Suzanne Collins was trying to do; she was also such a big part of writing the script, and her opinion was very much valued. She wasn’t just pushed aside and didn’t have a say in anything. She was always a part of the process.

Did Suzanne give you any tips or guidance on how to play the characters?
ELIZABETH BANKS: She’s very shy.

LH: I met her in person for the first time a couple of days ago at the premiere.

EB: She’s not around very much. I agree. You can’t please everyone when you’re making a movie. For me it was like, ‘let’s please Gary, the director. It’s his vision, let’s serve that’, and then Suzanne was sort of Goddess of Panem, of this world and of these characters. If she’s happy, I’m happy.

When they were doing Potter, Rowling was giving all sorts of notes that she’d written when she was writing the books. Did Suzanne do that?
EB: Not to me.

LH: Not to me. I spoke to her on the phone before we started shooting, and told me a bit about my character. I told her what I thought, but yeah, that was kind of enough.

EB: I just got a note saying ‘I think you’ll make a great Effie’.

Elizabeth, is it true you were so determined to get the role you wrote a letter to Gary Ross?

EB: I really love the books. I was an early adopter of The Hunger Games, I read them before they were bestsellers; I was on the pre-order wait list for Mockingjay on Amazon, and Gary and I made Seabiscuit together, so when he got the job I knew that the book was in great hands, and he and I are friends, so I sent him an e-mail and said, ‘I love this book, and I’d love to play Effie’, and he said to me, ‘yeah, that’s great Banks. I need to find Katniss’, because I e-mailed him the day after he got the job.

What was it about Effie the made you want to play her?
EB: I just think she’s a very fun character to play. I had a great time playing her. I went to drama school, and when you’re at drama school you get to play those kind of characters all the time, and then you think you’ll go out into the world and get to do that, and you never get to do that. So to play someone so theatrical and over the top, and she’s a villain, but she’s very loveable, and she’s comic relief but she’s very layered, there’s so much going on with her. That’s what I loved about her, and that’s what every conversation I had with Gary, was how to make sure she wasn’t written off as comic relief, that there was more to her.

You’re also quite visually interesting with the costume and makeup. What was it like when you finally saw her as a character?
EB: It was really fun to watch myself disappear in the mirror everyday and to watch Effie appear. We had an ‘ah ha’ moment every day on set. Sometimes it was when the lips went on or when her hat went on or the shoes, because everything contributed to the character. The clothes are very restricting, and a great reminder that she lives in this totalitarian regime and is repressed. The hair. We drew a lot of comparisons to Marie Antoinette when we were crafting her look, and for me she is the latter day [Marie Antoinette] in that she sat in the castle saying, ‘let them eat cake’. She was the 1% and the 99% starved around her, and she didn’t seem to care.

You bring up the political nature of the material. Donald Sutherland, over the last few weeks has been saying he hopes it will inspire people to be a bit rebellious. I presume it’s the same for you guys is it?
LH: Yeah, I think a bit part. My character, he’s so passionate and outspoken, at least to Katniss, about not siding with these games, and I think if I were in that position, I would be doing the same thing. I’m an ambassador for the Australian Childhood Foundation, which is about protecting children from getting abused, and this is child abuse in this, and I feel very strongly about that. I think I would be doing exactly what Gale’s doing, and try to find a way around it, and a way to fight back.

So are you hoping people take something like that away from this movie then?
LH: Yeah, I think it has very, very strong messages, and child abuse is a big thing in there, so if people can take something like that away from it, it’s a bonus.

Liam, how do you think you would have fared as Peeta ?
LH: I don’t know. When I read the books, I always related to Gale more, and when I read the script it was always for Gale.

Are you an angry man?
LH: Am I an angry man? Just like what I said, I think Gale is extremely passionate about not being part of these games, and trying to find a way around it. I think I’d be trying to do the same thing.

If Gale had been picked at The Reaping, do you think he would have done anything differently?
LH: I think the arena’s completely unpredictable, and you can never really tell what’s going to happen, but he’s a pretty well-rounded guy, pretty knowledgeable about the wilderness. I think he’d probably do OK.

It is quite unusual to have a franchise like this anchored by such a strong female character.
EB: It’s only one of the reasons that I love the book, the trilogy. I think she’s a great heroine and a great role model for young people, and if there’s a message in the movie for me it’s that young people matter, and that their actions have consequences, that you can make a difference in your world through acts of courage and bravery and dignity and love and hope, versus our basest nature. That’s what I love about the books; she is like a beacon of hope in a really dark world.

Could you picture anyone apart from Jennifer Lawrence, either beforehand, or now, in the role?
EB: I honestly can’t picture anyone else. I was so happy when he cast her.

Because there was a bit, there always is, I suppose when these huge books are adapted, of fans taking to the internet talking about the actors playing the roles.
EB: I was really lucky because I had the support of Entertainment Weekly in the United States. They said, ‘cast her’, and then they did cast me, and I was like, ‘ah, they don’t know that they are going to cast me’, which was really nice. Again, we can’t please everyone, there’s just no way to do it. I hope the haters – I’d like to turn them around – I hope they leave the movie going, ‘ah, she was fine’.

How about you Liam?
LH: Everyone was a bit weird about me and Josh. The way it’s written, we pretty much both swapped hair colour and physical [traits]. I generally don’t read anything on the internet – try not to – hopefully it’ll please people.

Have you had any run ins with fans, either when filming, or doing publicity?
LH: I’ve had a few marriage proposals, and prom date proposals. A few interesting things like that. It’s been really fun to turn up to places and see so many people waiting, and they’ve been waiting for so long and they’re so excited about it. It’s really fun to be a part of it all.

Liam, in the story, Gale asks Katniss to run away and live in the woods with him. How do you think you’d cope?
LH: I’m pretty ‘outdoorsy’. Growing up, me and my brothers, and all my friends – my family used to live in the hills in the middle of nowhere, pretty much, and we used to have bows and arrows and air rifles and throwing knives, and we would spend all day in the forest. I think I’d probably do OK for a little while, hopefully I’d be able to catch rabbits and stuff in the forest.

*Yes pedants, I know they don’t ‘line up’, but ‘step on their pedestals and wait for the glass tube to descend’ would have seemed clunky, and required far too much explaination.