He pauses to line up his tee shot, then takes the club back and sends the ball sailing. "Yeah-heh!" he cries. "You're not even supposed to hit that far with the pitching wedge. It's crazy."

There's a competitive nature on display here that runs deep and fuels a sibling rivalry that involved chasing not the same girl but the same big break. Liam followed Chris to L.A. They shared a manager and a dingy West Hollywood apartment, and for a time, each was the presumptive star in Marvel's epic Thor. Chris auditioned first, then Liam read for it and became a finalist. He donned Thor's flowing golden tresses for screen tests: "It's a hard thing to pull off—a blond wig. I won't lie." He seemed to have the career-making role in hand (Yeah-heh!) until Marvel changed gears and gave the franchise to someone else: Chris. That sting came soon after Liam was offered a role in Stallone's The Expendables—only to learn at the last minute that he was the ultimate expendable, axed before shooting even began.

"My bags were packed," he says. "I've celebrated with my friends. Then we got told the script got rewritten and it's not happening. I was devastated. Like, what the fuck? I told everyone I'm leaving. I look like an idiot."

He went to L.A. anyway, deciding he'd crash with Chris until he booked a job or his tourist visa ran out. "There was a moment," he admits, "I was sitting at our manager's house with Chris. He booked Red Dawn and Thor in the same week. We were celebrating for him. But then it was like, 'Yeah, I'm probably going to have to go home in a week.' But I didn't want to! I love this town."

Then came the audition for The Last Song that he found so laughable. He got the job. And the girl. When Liam and Miley hooked up on the set, he was 19, she was 16—a fact he doesn't shy away from. "What happened happened, and we've been together two and a half years," he says. "She makes me really happy. When you start, you want to be professional, but when you're filming those scenes with someone and pretending to love them, you're not human if you don't feel something." When the film wrapped, he went home with her to Nashville, where he was introduced to the joys of Cracker Barrel and Miley's dad, Billy Ray. "He's very spiritual," Liam says of Mr. "Achy Breaky Heart." "He's just one of the nicest guys. Very accommodating. I've listened to his music since we got together. It's awesome." And so is Cracker Barrel. "I'd never heard of country-fried steak before. It's great! I love fried food." He's less keen on another iconic trash-treat, though. "In Australia, we used to always watch Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. I didn't know it was a real place. Epic." But he was disillusioned after a trip to a White Castle in Kentucky with his Hunger Games costar Josh Hutcherson. "The movie was better than the burgers," he says. "We might have thrown up after."

When Liam returned to L.A. with Miley, he was a paparazzi target by association. And suddenly a hot property. He quickly landed a string of big-budget films, including a 3-D adaptation of Arabian Nights with Anthony Hopkins and a political thriller directed by John Singleton. But just as quickly the projects got delayed or fell apart. Start dates were pushed. Funding dried up. Frustrated, he turned to his brother for advice. "Chris is like, 'This is when you do the hard work. When you get on set is the easy part. Work your ass off and put the time in for auditions and take it seriously.'" Telling this story today, Liam sounds like a baffled child who's just realized how much of life is out of his control. "It's not like I wasn't working!" he says. "I was booking all the jobs I was going in to audition for."

And yet Liam didn't step in front of a camera in 2010. Instead, he and Miley nested, eating sushi most nights ("Sushi is my favorite thing to do in L.A."). Between bento boxes, he worked out his frustrations at a no-frills boxing gym: "When I'm boxing, if my career isn't going well, at least I feel mentally and physically strong."

He grabs his putter, lines up his shoulders, and taps the ball with surprising finesse. "Look at that! That's going in. That's a par 3." As I step up to address the ball, still a good 50 feet from the hole, I ask if he has any advice. "Keep your head down. And whack that shit!"

We could have hit the ring today instead of the links, I say.

"Yeah. And I could have kicked the shit out of you."

•••


"I've never met Pattinson," Liam says, remarking on the young Hollywood idol in whose footsteps he seems destined to follow. The path is fraught. Sure, there's the ability to cherry-pick roles and use your name to get a passion project off the ground. But there are also the endless intrusions and the risk of being labeled for life. As he tees up at the next hole, Liam doesn't want to talk about the Twilight effect—that The Hunger Games might similarly explode his life and career—or think that he could gain insight from those who've come before him. "What do you say to someone?" he says. "'Your life's gonna change.' Okay. Thanks. Cool."

In The Hunger Games, Liam stars as Gale, a brooding man-child suffering a serious case of heartache when his girl, Katniss, is shipped off to compete in the killer Olympics. It's Liam—not Jennifer Lawrence—who is this film's ingenue, a pretty young thing watching the hero do battle. "He's so vital to understanding where she comes from," says the film's director, Gary Ross. "We need to feel for her and her connection to him."

It's hard to say how much pressure comes with fronting a franchise, especially when it could transform the guy who's Thor's brother and who walks Miley's dog into Hollywood's hottest young star. While Liam downplays such expectations, he concedes that he and his Hunger Games character share a certain helplessness. "Gale is someone who wants to stand up to this thing but can't," Liam says. "He's pretty powerless."