ORLANDO, Fla. -- Normally, you work your way into the off-the-wall questions with movie stars. But with Josh Hutcherson, the big one is just hanging there, demanding to be asked:
"How often does the average 12- to 19-year-old girl come up to you and propose marriage?"
The 20-year-old "Hunger Games" hunk, nicknamed "our Boy with the Bread" on some of the many fan sites devoted to showing their devotion, takes it all in stride.
"More often than you think," he cracks. "I get it. I get it. It's the CHARACTER they're in love with, right?"
Right. Well, maybe. A Kentucky native, a child star since "The Bridge to Terabithia" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth," an actor of some repute since "The Kids Are All Right," Mr. Hutcherson's world was rocked from the day he was cast as Peeta Mellark, love interest to archer-heroine Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games."
The movie was a teen-girl driven blockbuster, selling millions of tickets and millions of copies of the books and fan magazines about the series.
What George Lucas once said -- "If you can tune into the fantasy life of an 11-year-old girl, you can make a fortune in this business" -- applies, in spades, to "The Hunger Games." Mr. Hutcherson is just along for the ride. And he knows it.
"It's been a great experience. Things are obviously different for me than they were a year ago, two years ago or five years ago. I'm still doing my thing, being myself. I'm just grateful for the attention, for all the people that come out and see the movies."
He's in it for the "storytelling," Mr. Hutcherson says. Pitch him a compelling tale, and he'll do your movie.
That's how he landed a role in "Epic," the first big animated film of the summer. It's a tale of a battle between good and evil forest sprites in which a human teen (voice of Amanda Seyfried) is drawn.
Nod, his character, "is a warrior and a Leaf Man, sworn to protect Mother Nature. He's a free-spirited young guy who marches to the beat of his own drum. He has to learn to work with others in order protect Mother Nature the way he should."
Mr. Hutcherson owes his career to science fiction and fantasy, but he'd never given a thought to voicing animation before director Chris Wedge (the "Ice Age" movies) made his pitch.
"He described this world he'd dreamed up, and I fell for it. It reminded me of being a kid and being in my own backyard, playing and using my imagination. It was a chance to relive that experience a little bit. That was a magical time for me, and made me nostalgic."
That childhood love of storytelling made him sign up for the whole "Hunger Games" story arc. "Catching Fire," the second "Hunger Games," opens this fall. And if there's a third, "Journey to the Center of the Earth," "I plan to be there. Finish that story."
He just shot "Paradise Lost," about a young surfer who falls for the niece of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benicio del Toro).
And like the smartest child stars, Mr. Hutcherson is trying to plan ahead, even as he says "I don't plan ahead." You have to see past the days when he's the cute, not-that-tall (he's 5 feet 6 inches) heartthrob that all the girls covet.
"I've never been a goal-oriented person. I've never said, 'I want to do this many movies, or this sort of movie, or make it on this many magazine covers.
"But I've always wanted to be a director, and do my own stuff. We're all collaborating, telling stories. But the director is the one whose story is the one we're all telling.
"Having some acting success in a series like 'Hunger Games' frees me to try my hand at some riskier projects -- indie films, unusual roles, and hopefully a shot at directing, here and there. If I'm lucky. And believe me, I have been."