Fayette County woman goes from gas fields to silver screen

| Thursday, March 22, 2012

April Black, 24, of Smithfield in Fayette County, works in the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling industry.

That's her day job. She's also an actress in "The Hunger Games" -- as well as movies like "Abduction," "Super 8," and this summer's much-anticipated "The Avengers." She became a stuntwoman for the film "Freerunner," performing whenever things got too hot for the Brazilian supermodel playing the lead role. She also works as a model for American Eagle and runway shows at New York City's Fashion Week, among others.

Her story sounds like it could be a sequel to "Flashdance." But Black sees her recently acquired day job in the gas fields of Western Pennsylvania more as a source of stability -- which can be in short supply at the working-class level of the acting and modeling business.

"It's a complete 180," she says. "I have a 40-hour week, doing a lot of construction projects, dealing with some billing for construction projects, scheduling meetings, things like that. I've got to take care of bills, and want to get a house and take care of retirement, and save for the long run. Sometimes (acting's) not really reliable, but it's really fun and great traveling and doing all that stuff."

Her featured role in "The Hunger Games" was a particularly big deal, since she's a huge fan of Suzanne Collins' books.

"It's funny, because I started reading the books maybe three years before I heard anything about the movie," Black says. "I told all my friends about them, and said 'If they ever make a movie about these books, I don't care what I have to do to be there, I'll be there.'"

She went to North Carolina for casting, and was overwhelmed by the number of people clamoring to be in the movie.

"They said people showed up at the casting from 49 out of 50 states of our country, and people from 20 other countries around the world," says Black. "It got so big so fast."

Oddly enough, another person who made the cut was her friend Dayna Kutek, 16, of McClellandtown in Fayette County.

Black wasn't allowed to divulge too much about her role, but says that she played a woman from the Capitol -- the wealthy enclave that pits children from vassal states in duels to the death for their televised entertainment.

She got to act in scenes with Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci.

One day on the set, she was surprised to find herself sitting next to Lenny Kravitz.

"It was really exciting, because nobody really knew he was there," she says. "He's a really humble person, which is surprising for someone who has achieved so much fame. He sat next to me, and said, 'Hey, I'm Lenny. What's your name?' He was such a cool person. Some people get all nervous. They tell you when you go in to shoot some scenes that you're not allowed to ask for autographs, because then they get real uncomfortable. You can see why -- they just want to be treated like a normal person. He didn't want any special treatment."

One scene was a particular challenge: How does one react to watching children kill each other in an arena• What if you have money riding on it?

"One of the things was a featured close-up of me reacting to the murders that are going on. The 'tributes' are trying to survive in the arena -- kill each other to advance to the next level. The children are ages 12 to 18. (The director) told me, 'You're looking at this person killing this person, but you're winning money because you're betting on them.' It was challenging. It's a bit heart-wrenching. How am I able to make this come across -- that I'm loving what I'm seeing?"

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