When Jennifer Lawrence signed on for the big screen adaptation of the popular young adult novel series The Hunger Games, she had never picked up a bow before in her life. A bit of a problem, considering her character, Katniss Everdeen, is an ace markswoman capable of hitting small targets from great distances (i.e. rabbits, to feed her hunger with). In order to transform the rising starlet into an archery whiz, the filmmakers had to call in a real life professional to whip Lawrence into shape. Enter, Khatuna Lorig. The Georgia-born, four-time archery Olympian stepped in to the role of teacher for The Hunger Games and wasn’t sure what to expect from her Hollywood apprentice.
“When they called me, they told me, ‘We want to make her look like a professional, to shoot like a professional,’ Lorig explained to Hollywood.com. “So, I’m like, ‘Okay, let me give a try. Let me meet the girl,’ [to see] how she looks, physically, and how she does.” Lorig recounted meeting Lawrence for the first time, describing her as a “strong-looking girl” and “very outgoing personality, very outspoken, very happy.” But when it came to coaching the actress in the art of the hunt, Lorig never went soft. No star-treatment here.
“From the beginning, I told her, ‘Listen. If this is going to work, we’re going to do it in a professional way.’ It’s a physical sport—even though I had her with a very light, barely 20-pound or 18-pound Olympic style wooden bow for her. She was getting sore. I think she was working out in the morning, then coming shooting with me, then going to work out again.”
Lawrence’s physicality helped her slip naturally into the sport—long arms and a long neck are essential to being an adept archer—but still, the rigorous regiment was no easy task. In fact, Lawrence even sustained a few injuries— from smacks to the face with her bow to snapping strings to the arm. But even with the pressures of preparing for her performance and various other types of training weighed on Lawrence pushed through like a trooper. “By about the fifth day, she was doing really well. I made her stand on one knee and shoot like that. I always told her where to put the string on her face to look good for the camera, and to not bend the bow. Millions of archers would look at that and laugh at you. But she looks like a professional.”
After only ten lessons, Lorig had no doubt in her mind that if Lawrence kept practicing, she could work her way up to a competitive level. But will the Oscar-nominated actress’ new-found skills affect her performance as Katniss? Lorig already knows it has. “It comes from your eyes. It comes down to your face. You know right away if the person is scared, or if she or he is confident to shoot against you. What I saw from the previews? That’s my technique!”
Lorig isn’t sure if she’ll be back as Jennifer Lawrence’s coach for the sequel Catching Fire, but she’d be happy to return, as the two grew to be friends. “I told her I would be very proud when I see her onscreen. I told her, I’ll see her on the screen and say, ‘That’s my student!’ And you know what she said? She said, ‘When I see you in the Olympics, I’ll say, ‘She’s my coach!’’
Lorig is currently training to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but her archery artistry will be on full display when The Hunger Games hits theaters March 23, 2012.
Photo of Khatuna Lorig by Teresa Iaconi