Friday, November 22, 2013

Interview: Bruno Gunn's Life-Changing Role in Catching Fire

Photo by Diana Ragland
His very first role (according to, at least) was on my favorite soap opera ever, “Guiding Light.” Since then, he’s been showing up in all of my favorites, from “Law and Order” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Monk” to “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to “Sons of Anarchy” to “True Blood” — the list goes on. Bruno Gunn, my fellow Ohioan (he’s from Canton; I’m from Massillon), is now co-starring in one of the biggest movies, and book series, in Hollywood history: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

I spoke with Bruno recently about “Catching Fire” — which opened at midnight and is well on its way to smashing opening-night records everywhere — and he is thrilled that the world gets to see him play Brutus, the hard-core kick-ass Tribute from District 2. And lest you think he is even a teeny bit like his scary character, take it from me when I tell you that Bruno is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Celebrity Extra: Take me back to the moment you heard that you’d been cast as Brutus in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” What was your reaction?

Bruno Gunn: It’s life-changing information when you get something like this. I have been fortunate enough to be working for the past 15 years doing guest stars and small roles and independent films. And when something of this caliber comes along, it’s a game-changer. I was thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. It’s one of those moments you’ll never forget the rest of your life, to say the least.

CE: Of course you knew that “The Hunger Games” was a book series turned into a film franchise, but how familiar with it were you prior to being cast in the movie?

BG: I hadn’t read the books, at first, but after I got the part, I dove in and read the books, and I was like, “Wow.” The first movie was pretty darn close to the first book. And I think fans are going to be happy with this translation from book to film in this second one. Lionsgate really gets it right with casting. Gosh, they nail it. So, to get cast in something that I feel very close to as a character is pretty special.

About six or seven years ago, I had a friend of mine say to me, “Right now somebody is writing your role.” As an actor, you go through a lot of ups and downs, and you wonder, “Man, is there going to be something for me at some point?” And I was in a low with things, and a friend shook me up and said, “Someone is writing a role for you right now.” I really feel that way with Brutus. I feel that way with “Catching Fire.” The first thing I said to Suzanne Collins (author of the “Hunger Games” trilogy) is, “I am this guy!”

CE: What was filming like? I’m sure it was pretty strenuous, but I hope it was fun too.

BG: It was one of those things where everybody was really focused on doing their work, bringing their best selves for the part. And at the same time, as focused and as serious as everybody was, it was one of those sets that was a very relaxed, loose vibe. It was a fun vibe. We all knew what we were doing with this massive film, but at the same time, it was fun. We were all just having a great time making memories and friendships. We filmed in Atlanta, and I had the good fortune to go to Hawaii. That was the other thing. We were a group of people who came together to make this amazing film, and I had this opportunity to travel the country to make it.

CE: You’re in great shape already, so tell me, how was training for the movie?

BG: We did about two to three months of training leading up to the movie, and that was a blast. It’s important for me to stay fit on many levels. And so I went into this fit, but once I got there, I definitely turned the heat up. I wanted to do this to be a big, bruising, bad-ass warrior. Brutus instills fear, and so I wanted to look the part. I put in a lot of extra time to change my physique.

CE: Because of the popularity of the books and the first movie, a lot of people have a preconceived notion of who Brutus is. How did you go about creating him for yourself and making Brutus your own?

BG: It was about building a history for Brutus, building a back story for him. It was one of those things where I wanted to build this history and let that influence what was otherwise a very physical role so I could draw upon it when needed. I ended up having to go back and use my imagination and create scenarios for me. You know, what was his relationship to his parents? Did he have brothers and sisters? What happened to them? So I built those back stories to let that influence what was otherwise a very physical role.

Bruno Gunn as "Brutus"
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Photo By Murray Close
CE: How did it enhance your performance?

BG: There were moments where I found myself going back into my story that I created, and there was a sense of sadness that was starting to bubble to the surface, and I was like: “Wow! I’m getting really sad right now.” Not to give too much away, but there was a moment where I had this sadness, and it was bubbling to the surface, and as an actor I thought: “Gosh, you know, Brutus wouldn’t be almost crying. He’s a fierce warrior.” And then I thought: “Wait a second. This is real. This is what I created. It’s a real moment.” Brutus can have this real moment.

I’m starting to get — it’s so close to bubbling up in me now. Even a year later, it bubbles up. But it’s a real moment for Brutus to have this sadness. So I let it play. I’m going to open the floodgates and just let it be real. So, that’s what I did. As an actor, my job is to express myself as freely as possible. So that’s why I was like, “I’m just going to let ’em have it.” Building that back story really helped.

CE: I know that fans really appreciate all the hard work you put into creating this character, the concern you’ve shown for a series that is close to a lot of people’s hearts.

BG: I’m glad you brought that up. That’s one of the things that I just love about this: The fandom is pretty special. This is one of those opportunities where — and especially with social media, and I’m a huge fan of social media — to be able to reach across the world and have a dialogue with someone instantaneously is pretty freaking amazing. And to be able to reach out to the fans and share that experience with them — because it’s a real experience that I’m having — and to share that with the fans, who are probably feeling it 10 times more than I am, that’s pretty special.

CE: And they’ve been waiting for this movie for a long time. Are you ready for the craziness to begin?

BG: Everybody asks me that, and I’m like, “Are we ever really ready?” But I should prepare myself, right? I’m looking forward to it. It’s thrilling to see the fans so excited; I’m ready to jump in with them. I’m ready to have this experience with them because it’s for them. That’s really how I feel. This is all for them, so if me tweeting ( about “Catching Fire” gets them — which I do a lot of, and they love it — that’s what I want. It’s for them.

CE: I am excited for summer to come, and to see what’s in store for my favorite vampires, werewolves, and fairies in season seven of “True Blood.” What’s it been like working on that hit show?

BG: That’s another great group of people to work with. They’re organized; they’re smart. They know exactly what they want and what they’re going for. The whole entire group of people was great to work with. I’m excited to get back on “True Blood,” and I’m looking forward to getting into that season opener.

CE: I am so worried about Sookie, Bill and Alcide, what with you and all the other Hep-V-infected vampires coming after them. I know how tight-lipped they are over there, but do you know anything about the inevitable fight scene that will take place?

BG: I don’t know about the fight scene, but I can tell you that I’ll definitely be back in Bon Temps, Lousianna.

CE: Such a tease! I know that, along with myself, there is a whole slew of “True Blood” fans who just have to know what’s going to happen!

BG: That’s awesome that you like it. It’s such a fun show. And it has a great fan following too. They have such great fans, just amazing. I think that’s one of the things I love about it: These fans are loyal to the bone.

CE: What can you tell me about the new movie you have coming out next year called “The Vatican Tapes”?

BG: That’s a thriller/horror movie, and it’s with an amazing director, Mark Neveldine, who did “Ghost Rider.” It was a great opportunity to team up with him and work with him for the first time. It’s another Lionsgate production. I play a patient in a mental ward. It’s going to be frightening, to say the least. But it was great working with Mark Neveldine. What a talented and visual director! Some of the shots, you’ll just be blown away. As we were filming, I was thinking, “How is this going to work?” And then I saw it, and I was like: “Yep, okay. Go ahead and do it, Mark.” But I’m not going to say anything anymore to give it away. But he was great to work with. The whole cast was great. It was a fun experience, and I’m looking forward to that coming out.

CE: Fairly recently you were at a charity event in your hometown of Canton, Ohio. What was that for, and what can you tell me about it?

BG: It was the Pathway Caring for Children charity event. They help foster kids, abused kids — kids just in real bad shape. It was a fundraiser, and they also had the Tuohys, the family who inspired the book and movie “The Blind Side.” They were the guest speakers, and they reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in appearing. I love the state of Ohio and everything about it. I love the people there and especially my hometown, so it was a no-brainer for me to take that opportunity to go back. It was a great experience, and it’s an amazing organization.

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