As she climbed down a huge set of stairs on the set of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, carrying a cat, completely drenched, Willow Shields had an epiphany.
"It hit me how crazy and spontaneous my job as an actress was," said Shields, who recently called to talk to the Times.
Acting was only a hobby for Shields until she got her big break in the Hunger Games series at 10 playing Katniss Everdeen's younger sister, Primrose.
Now 15, Shields' star continues to rise in Hollywood thanks to the popular films, her recent appearance on Dancing With the Stars and her growing status as a fashionista.
On Saturday, she brings all those star qualities to the Shops at Wiregrass as the centerpiece of the Wesley Chapel retail center's Back to School Bash. Deborah Detweiler, the shops' marketing director, said Shields' appearance is generating social media buzz and drawing at least one mother and daughter who will travel from Miami to see her.
"We knew Willow would be someone perfect for this event because she is a role model for many young girls and is also someone adults will recognize and enjoy meeting," she said.
Shields was still living at home in Albuquerque, N.M., when she submitted her audition tape to Hunger Games producers, earning a flight to a Los Angeles audition and the role almost instantly, a surprising turn.
When it comes to acting, she doesn't have any secret rituals to preparing for a shoot.
"It's hard to explain," she said. "Once I'm on set, surrounded by all of the other actors, everything falls into place for me."
So has her bond with Academy Award-winning actor Jennifer Lawrence.
"At first it felt like Jennifer was my big sister because she would watch out for me," Shields said. "But as I've gotten older and continued to work with her, we've become best friends."
While Lawrence is a friend, another star from a popular film series serves as a role model: Emma Watson.
"I haven't met her yet," Shields said, "but I appreciate the fact that she began as a young actress, and grew up on-screen. Her work as a feminist with the United Nations is amazing, she is so well-spoken."
Shields credits her acting success to being strong mentally and emotionally, being independent and interesting, and having the ability to handle rejection.
Her headstrong personality emerged as the youngest contestant in DWTS history. Paired with professional dancer Mark Ballas, she insisted on practicing the routines approximately 10 hours each day.
Shields cherished having Ballas as her dance partner, she said. Ballas was able to play to her strengths, choreographing songs that would require acting as different characters on the dance floor.
"My favorite routine was one inspired by Alice in Wonderland because it was quirky and fun," Shields said. "I felt that the dancing became easier for me that week. I was getting the moves down by the third day."
Her hard work paid off. She stayed on the show until Week 7 when she received a surprising send-off.
Shields, who is working on the independent movies The Wonder and Fall From Grace, has also become an unexpected fashionista. She takes risks, noting that not everybody will understand her choices. But she sticks with them.
"I've learned never to take anything people say about you personally," she said. "I just laugh off any negative comments."
Virginia Barreda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.