“Can I just fangirl out for a second?” Jena Malone asked before talking about the Blu-ray for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, as though she were one of its many admirers as opposed to one of its stars. “There is so much behind-the-scenes footage. We had so much fun on Catching Fire that I’m just excited to sit down and watch.” And really, who could blame her for fangirling about her own movie, the first with a female lead to top the annual box office in 40 years?
While the power of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is undeniable, Malone’s character — badass District 7 tribute Johanna Mason — was Catching Fire’s biggest breakout, thanks to an intoxicating mix of venom and vulnerability. But what the 29-year-old actress put into the movie paled in comparison to what she got out of it.
“I learned so much about myself through playing Johanna,” she told BuzzFeed. “I knew I had strength as an actor, but Johanna taught me how incredibly strong I could be emotionally, that I could intimidate an entire room with just the energy I walked in with. You can really do some damage through how you carry yourself in life.”
And thanks to her 16-year-old sister, Malone is also aware of the powerful role movies play in shaping the next generation. “My sister really looks to cinema for a lot. Whether it’s purposely or subconsciously, it’s partly how she learns to be good at this or bad at that, how she learns about body issues, and how she learns to deal with friends,” she explained.
That’s why Malone wants every character she plays to have purpose, whether it’s within the film world or the real world. “At the end of the day, film has such an eternal shelf life — my movies will last longer than I’m going to last, so I might as well be making things I think are important, playing women I find inspiring, and playing characters that I would want my children to look up to.”
As a longtime fan of the Hunger Games book series, Malone chased the role of Johanna, recognizing that with its underlying themes of social equality, Catching Fire had much more on its agenda than pure, popcorn pleasures. And LGBT equality is a cause close to Malone’s heart since she grew up with two moms.
“The messaging of the film is amazing,” she continued. “As a society, we’re much further than where we were when I was younger and I love that people are so much more accepting and loving. Families can focus on just giving love now. That’s the most important thing. I think that’s an incredible time to be a part of.”
Now, after nearly two decades in this business, Malone is preparing her next big endeavor: releasing an album with her band The Shoe on June 3. “I think every young woman should constantly be wanting to surprise herself and constantly be pushing herself until the day she dies,” she said. “I will always be a storyteller, and I’m just excited there are now so many different ways I will get to tell my stories.”