The first arrivals showed up at five in the afternoon to stake out their place in line. The location: Walmart in Secaucus. The occasion: the midnight release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second film in the tremendously popular franchise.
“Catching Fire is the best movie on the planet,” said 14-year-old Sarah, who traveled from Teaneck with three friends (plus a chauffeur, also known as “mom”) to be here.
“I’ve been a fan for, like, ever, and the fact that they’re here….” Elia, one of Sarah’s friends, let out a deep sigh. “I cried when they walked in. I’m going to start crying now.” And to prove herself no liar, that’s exactly what she did.
Whom was she talking about? Two of the actresses from the film were in the building, preparing to sign swag from the crowd.
Devin, a 15-year-old from South River who hit the road at 4 p.m. to be first in line for the March 7 release, made it very clear why he was willing to stand in line for six hours. “To meet Mags. She was in my top three favorite characters.”
Mags was played in the film by Lynn Cohen, a tiny, elderly, endlessly effervescent actress with a mane of grey-white hair. Accompanying her in Secaucus was Stephanie Leigh Schlund, the blonde beauty who played Cashmere in the film.
While the fans queued up in the aisles, the actresses were in a back room of Walmart being interviewed by a media representative while eating a late meal. For Cohen, that meant a healthy salad. For Schlund, it was a bag of neon-colored gummy something-or-others.
“It’s exciting to see kids get so excited about reading.” --Karen Ann
Cohen previously worked for three years on Sex and the City, which she described as having a similar fan base to Hunger Games. Both, she noted, were concerned with women bonding with women.
She had high praise for Sex and the City and creator Darren Star, and especially for Tony-winner Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda.
Highly vivacious and amusing, Cohen was described by her Hunger Games co-star Schlund as “the one on set who made everyone blush” during the making of the film.
“She was the life of the set,” said Schlund.
Both actresses sang the praises of Hunger Games: Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence, saying he was insightful and visionary.
Those freaky people
At midnight on March 7, the DVD and blu-ray went on sale at more than 2,000 Walmart stores, including Secaucus. About 45 minutes prior to that, the actresses sat down at a booth decorated in Hunger Games chic and met with eager acolytes. Both Cohen and Schlund spent considerable time chatting and taking pictures with their largely adolescent fan base, the first 50 of whom received limited edition posters from the film.
Some of the fans were decked out in their own home-made clothing celebrating the film, like t-shirts and sweaters designed by Sarah and her friends.
“It’s a great film. It’s fun. It takes you away for a little while,” said Sarah. “I read the books first. I’m a huge Divergent fan.”
Elia agreed. “Divergent, the Maze Runner, Legend, Vampire Academy.”
“It’s exciting to see kids get so excited about reading,” said Karen Ann, one of the self-confessed “cool moms” in attendance, driving her daughter, Kelsey. “The movies were great but it’s exciting to see them love the books so much. [Kelsey] reread the book countless times. She highlights.”
“She didn’t want to borrow her cousin’s because they want to highlight the parts they like,” added her friend, Carolyn. “That’s very cool.”
“I can’t think back to what, at 12, in our generation, what was this exciting,” said Karen Ann. “David Cassidy? The Partridge Family? Grease was huge. Star Wars. We had all those people that were like, whatever they were, those freaky people. Trekkies.”
“I’m never washing my arm ‘cause she touched it,” said Kelsey after getting her cache of items signed by her idols. “They’re actually real people. You can actually talk to them.”
“I don’t remember how to breathe,” said Katalia, clearly still in a daze.
Luckily her friends were there to remind her. “In and out,” said Sarah. “In and out.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.