Mar 15 2011 9:00am

Hunger Games Casting Buzz: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsIs there anything* that sets the heart racing—whether in hope, terror, or outrage—faster than the news that a movie version of a favorite book is in the works? Magnify this in intensity if: (a) a series is involved and the question’s still open whether multiple books will get smushed into one movie; (b) the movie(s) are likely to be unfaithful (oh, why even bother, Dark Is Rising and Blood and Chocolate adaptations?); and/or (c) it seems likely the movie might actually, y’know, get made, and actors’ names start floating around.

Take the casting speculation for the upcoming movie version of The Hunger Games, which seems to have become a full-contact sport lately.

Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s BoneSure, the actors that will bring Peeta and Gale to the screen matter, but no one who’s read these books can doubt that casting the right Katniss Everdeen will be a huge factor in the project’s artistic success or failure. Actresses' names have been floating around for some time now, with various people fading in and out of the buzz. For awhile, it looked like the search was on for an unknown to play the part, with the Wall Street Journal running a pre-Oscars piece about casting agents hunting for “the next Hailee Steinfeld,”aka the young unknown who came out of nowhere to garner an Oscar nod for her performance in True Grit. Steinfeld’s name itself has been bandied around for Katniss, but the buzzing tracker jackers now seem to be swarming in critical mass around Winter’s Bone standout Jennifer Lawrence, who is reported to be on the cusp of a deal. (Or possibly a done one, by now.)

Among most Hunger Games readers I know this choice is looked upon as a nonsurprise, but a bit of a disappointment. None of this has anything to do with the actress involved (Lawrence and Steinfeld are both clearly capable of stunning, unconventional work), but with the picture the book conjures of Katniss. She is described as having dark hair and olive skin, something she shares with others from District 12’s Seam, the underclass of the underclass. The distinction is tied up in class issues that speak directly to the series’ core themes. There has already been plenty of discussion about the potential for whitewashing elsewhere, and the debate about whether to age the characters and by how much. And I’ll be shocked if Katniss keeps her Appalachian accent. I also wonder if it’s even possible to embed the same kind of critique of reality show culture and the realities of war into a big budget mainstream movie populated with gorgeous young actors.

But it’s to Suzanne Collins’credit that Katniss is such an unusual heroine, and one that inspires such strong feelings from readers. That her world-building is thoughtful enough that such concerns can even be raised. A trip through the revolution’s worth of fan-made trailers and tributes on YouTube only confirms how special these books are to many. The fact Collins is involved with the script—and has a background in screenwriting—gives me much greater hope all will be well in the end.

That said, I cling to my usual policy where movie adaptations are concerned: Remember it doesn’t affect the books in the least. No matter what happens, the greatest effect on the books will be even more people reading them and—possibly—a set of new cover treatments. If the worst happens, some fun ranting will be had by all. If the best, then we’ll have yet more fascinating conversations about a story that’s already yielded plenty of them.

Still, we’re playing the casting sport. So if you ask me, the next most important role to get cast isn’t Gale or Peeta (well, maybe Peeta—bakers forever!), but President Snow. Panem must have the right villain-in-chief. Suggestions in the comments?

*Okay, so there undoubtedly is. Roll with me here.

Gwenda Bond writes YA fantasy, among other things, and can be found at Shaken & Stirred or on Twitter (@gwenda).

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I'm still not over the horror of the Blood and Chocolate movie. Just sayin'.
Alie V
2. ophelial
I'm in the process of reading The Hunger Games now (the first book of the series, not the entire series yet). It's pretty good so far, hoping it picks up once I get into the actual Hunger Games tournament.
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
I have yet to read all of the trilogy, but am still so excited to see this on screen. As you say, Gwenda, Lawrence is an incredible actor, but I can see the issues with her playing Katniss.

Like Avatar (then named The Last Airbender), where only until there was a hubbub that they cast an Asian in the movie, or Memoirs of A Geisha, which had the Japanese geisha played by a Chinese actor.

And then we have the opposite thing, where Hollywood sticks in a black best friend for an awkward bit of diversity.
Victoria Janssen
4. VictoriaJanssen
I pretend there WAS no movie of THE DARK IS RISING. Lalala I can't hear you.
Gwenda Bond
5. GwendaBond
The truly sad thing is: there were SO MANY movies to choose from as examples of travesty.
Heather Waters
6. HeatherWaters
@MFrampton -- I have to say that the first book is my favorite in the Hunger Games trilogy in terms of story (though I was really into Mockingjay's plot until the end). In terms of characters . . . I loved all that Mockingjay revealed about the ones I now consider my favorites: Gale, Johanna Mason, and Finnick Odair.

Which is all to say that a) you should totally finish the trilogy so that we can discuss, and b) I don't even care who Katniss is anymore (especially since diversity has been thrown out the window)--bring on the Gale casting! Hee.
Gwenda Bond
7. GwendaBond
The other guy I really think is important is Haymitch. And Haymitch is--oddly--the one character I can picture my immediate choice for: Stephen Fry. I can't explain it (and haven't looked back to see how he's described).
Megan Frampton
8. MFrampton
Ooh, Stephen Fry as Haymitch! Perfect.

@redline_ I'll get there, I promise! Soon. Very soon. We will discuss.
Heather Waters
9. HeatherWaters
@GwendaBond -- And Effie! I'd love to see Kristin Chenoweth play her.
Bella Franco
10. BeguileThySorrow
I think Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress but I'd really like to see a Katniss and Gale like was described in the book, with the olive features and accents of the seam. But I woudn't be devastated if the actors were not exact, as long as the film itself is good (good directing, acting, polt/screenplay,etc) On NextMovie it mentioned Hunter Parrish might be up for the part of Peeta and imo I think he'd be perfect for Peeta! I love his work on Weeds and he's older but not so much that he could play younger or in his 20s if thats where they take script adaptations.
11. MaP
Honestly, I've come to live with the fact that no one will be perfect. With all these books turning into movies, something always ends up wrong, whether its with the actors or just the film-adapted story line. Though everyone has read the same description, Katniss is going to be altered in some way in everybody's minds. None of these actresses, to me, fit Katniss... it'll be tough. Although, I do agree with your Stephen Fry idea! Nice choice!
12. Krystyna
@redline_ Kristin Chenoweth would be awesome as Effie!! Oh the anticipation. Cannot wait to see all of these decisions...
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