ATLANTA -- The mountain town of Asheville, N.C., isn't where most would expect a battle until the death to occur, but for a few months in 2011, it was the scene of love, poverty, corruption and survival as "The Hunger Games" filmed.
"We were in the middle of the woods," said Amandla Stenberg, who plays Rue, a tribute from District 11. "We had no Internet, no cellphone service ... we had crafting and each other."
Leven Rambin, who plays Glimmer, added during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel, "It wasn't like on sets of TV where you can cush yourself up in your (lavish) dressing room, connect to Wi-Fi and go to your air conditioning."
The cast didn't have air conditioning at all while on set. They spent most days filming scenes in the forest, then others waiting around until it was their turn to get back on camera, so they learned to get used to hanging out with each other and nature, where they constantly encountered snakes and black bears.
"I'm from Nigeria, so I didn't mind the heat," Dayo Okeniyi (Thresh) said. "But the snakes? I can't handle snakes."
But it wasn't all fun and games for this movie. The cast really needed to get into shape before they could begin the battle.
"We all had to change physically," Jack Quaid (Marvel) said. "I got a trainer and put on a diet plan -- I've never missed carbs so much. And they gave us extensive fight training. I had to learn how to movie fight because I'm used to stage combat, which is different for me because stage combat you have to simulate the fight. In movies, it's all about seeing the face."
Okeniyi had to bulk up for his part.
"I had to put on good muscle with a lot of chicken breasts and vegetables," he said. "I've never missed ice cream so much in my life. Then we had a lot of weapons training. See, the books don't say too much about what Thresh uses in the arena, so I basically had to train with everything. I was using long blade, short blade, boxing -- I did every weapon under the sun."
Stenberg, 13, made it known that she didn't spend any time in the gym for her part.
"I didn't have to go on a diet or put on muscles," she said with a laugh. "I would go on the treadmill while everyone else was (standing around)."
Quaid added, "Yeah, just for a goof."
The young actress worked on harness training, since most of her scenes are in the trees.
"I got a custom fit harness," Stenberg said. "I got to jump trees, practice climbing as fast as I could. I did spend a lot of time in the trees, especially while shooting."
Liam Hemsworth (Gale) took a much different approach to get ready for his role.
"Usually, any job I'm doing, I try to get in the physical shape of the character first," he said. "I was training for about a month before shooting ... and eating a lot less. I stopped training to eat less again (while filming). I wanted to get a sense of what hunger felt like because my character is living in depression and tries to hunt for his food every day for his family."
Although he didn't know exactly how Gale must have felt, Hemsworth felt like he could relate to the hunter.
"I think the character Gale is an extremely strong character and courageous," he said. "The thing I loved about him was through these books, he doesn't want to side with this evil, he doesn't want to be a part of these Games. He's constantly trying to find a way around it, to get out of it, fight back against it. I think I related to that. You know, if I was a part of this situation, I wouldn't want to be a part of these Games, I'd try to find a way to stop it."
While Hemsworth said he likes the strength of his character, his co-star Stenberg enjoys the softer side of the story.
"I think the people like the book (and plot) not because of the violence -- although some boys will -- I think they like it because it's a really beautiful story," she said. "It's got the romance -- it's a story about survival and sacrificing yourself for those that you love."
The movie opens today nationwide.