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The Hunger Games: As the franchise draws to an end, the fun lives on for the stars

The Hunger Games franchise may be drawing to an end, but for stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, the fun lives on. The trio talk unbreakable bonds, larks on set and 'wrong' tattoos with Gemma Dunn

Stealing is never okay. Unless, of course, you're Academy Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence, and the object of your desire is a pair of handsome co-stars.

"The only things I took (from The Hunger Games set) were Josh (Hutcherson) and Liam (Hemsworth)," declares the 25-year-old actress, with a sense of mother's pride in her tone.

Propelled to international stardom for her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen in American author Suzanne Collins' novel trilogy-turned blockbuster franchise, the Kentucky-born star reverts back to her southern roots: "Took my heart right with ya..."

And aside from mimicking her accent, it seems her male counterparts have no objections.

"I didn't take anything physical either - just this," Hemsworth repeats, gesturing to the three.

It's Friday, it's late afternoon, and considering the trio are in the middle of a gruelling schedule promoting The Hunger Games' final chapter, Mockingjay - Part 2, they're on top form.

As hilarious as anticipated, the affable pack sat in their usual formation - Lawrence in the middle, Hemsworth to the left and Hutcherson to the right - and share a dynamic that's rare in Hollywood circles.

Comparing their alliance to that of a dysfunctional "old married couple", I dare to ask how they'll cope being apart after five years together making the movies.

"We still see each other and we're in constant contact, so we don't miss each other yet. But towards the end of last month, we knew this was going to happen - we had pre-separation anxiety," admits Melbourne-born Hemsworth (25), who plays Gale Hawthorne.

"We had a lot of anxiety," Lawrence agrees, before being interrupted by Hutcherson, who aptly states they now "finish each other's sentences".

Maybe they should go cold turkey? "No way," Lawrence comes back, instantly.

"Why are you trying to break us up, man?" quips 22-year-old Hutcherson.

Their quick and dry wit is infectious, and for a split-second, I go from interviewer to latest recruit, feeling like I'm laughing with friends. But in reality, of course, these are Tinseltown's hottest exports - a line-up that has age on its side and opportunities that millions can only dream of.

Since the first of the four sci-fi dystopian films was released back in 2012, the record-breaking franchise has taken audiences by storm - grossing more than $2.2bn at the global box office.

Yet while Catching Fire and Mockingjay - Part 1 subsequently continued the page-to-big-screen love affair, it's director, Francis Lawrence's (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) thrilling and powerful instalment of Mockingjay - Part 2, that brings the perilous chapter to an end.

And in spectacular fashion.

Emotions are high as the stakes for Katniss escalate from surviving the most deadly games ever devised, to setting the course of the future.

The story picks up with the leading lady back in the bunkers of District 13, still unable to reach a brainwashed Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), as she watches the nation of Panem sliding into full-scale apocalyptic war.

Though Katniss has accepted her role as the Mockingjay symbol of the rebellion, she's aware it's going to take more to turn the tide against The Capitol.

Joining forces with Gale, Peeta, Finnick (Sam Claflin) and the so-called Squad 451, she sets out for the once-glittering city - transformed into a place of mayhem under attack by both rebels and peacekeepers - with a covert mission to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

In four increasingly complex instalments, Lawrence has taken her character through a pendulum of changes.

Katniss has metamorphosed from a disarmed 16-year-old trying to save herself and family into a reluctant rebel hero, and now finally into a fierce leader determined to shatter a ruthless society for the good of all.

"This is the chapter when Katniss really starts to believe in the impact that she can have," says the actress.

"She's always been so reluctant and has always found herself in situations where all she can do is try to survive, but now she's turning the tables. I was excited for her to finally take her place as a leader."

Peeta and Gale, both having fought for the affections of Katniss since day one, have also developed. For Hutcherson, the film requires a 180-degree change from how he normally approaches roles.

"Peeta's always been known as being the down-to-earth, grounded, honest guy. But now he's out of his mind, I had to turn that inside out,” explains Kentucky native Hutcherson, whose credits also include Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and Escobar: Paradise Lost.

Gale, on the other hand, has transformed from Katniss’ hunting ally to one of Panem’s most uncompromising warriors, with a view to “end all of this — whatever it takes”, muses Hemsworth, who also stars opposite Kate Winslet in upcoming comedy-drama, The Dressmaker.

With a stellar band of cast-mates, including Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci and Natalie Dormer, you’d be forgiven for thinking morale was high on set. But Hutcherson divulges that even the comedic talents of “joker Jen” couldn’t lift the mood in the dingy sewer scenes.

Amid the low ceilings, water and humidity, it was the “job of producer Nina Jacobson to rally the troops to a tight schedule”.

Is it intense shoots like this that recently had the stunning Lawrence exclaim she was “ageing like a president”?

“Oh I love hearing my quotes back!” says the star, rolling her eyes.

“I didn’t try to blame the movie, I just meant I’m busier than Ryan Seacrest...”

“Wow! Challenge accepted,” Hutcherson chimes, laughing at his co-star’s overt honesty.

At one with each other’s quirks, never has the ‘nothing can prepare you for the end’ tagline on the Mockingjay — Part 2 artwork seemed more appropriate.

“Woody (who portrays troubled mentor, Haymitch) cried when making a final speech during the last day of filming. That was pretty heartbreaking,” Hutcherson reveals of the cast and crew’s “dramatic” farewell.

“But again, I want to reiterate, it is not over.

“We are not finished with this. We’ll never be able to have healthy, functioning relationships with other people — not even with our own parents,” adds Lawrence, who was recently named as this year’s highest-paid actress.

“This,” she says, aiming both thumbs at the boys, “will never die”.

Perhaps some matching, commemorative tattoos are in order?

“I was with Liam’s family when I had ‘H20’ tattooed on my hand (to remind her to stay rehydrated). After I’d had mine tattooed on my skin forever, Liam bailed,” says Lawrence.

“I got it stencilled on and I didn’t like the look of it,” retorts Hemsworth, laughing.

“I should have Googled ‘H20’ before as it’s written wrong,” confesses Lawrence, now beaming. “I basically have, ‘I’m stupid’, tattooed on my hand for the rest of my life...”

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 is in cinemas now

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