‘Hunger Games’ casts a wide net for Katniss, including two Oscar nominees

I feel bad about rushing this one, since it’s the first time I’ve written about “Hunger Games” here on the site, but I promise this is a conversation that is just beginning.

When any series blows up and becomes a big buzz hit and gets purchased by Hollywood and suddenly seems to be everywhere, I do my best to read the source material so I can speak with some sort of knowledge about it.  It’s the least you can do when you’re covering pop culture the way I do.  And frequently, I find myself underwhelmed by whatever it is, as I did with “Twilight,” for example, or irritated by the material or by some subtext or by the fanbase itself.

With “Hunger Games,” you can count me in.

I think the books are very well-written, very smart, and the characters are worth investing in.  When you look at the range of ages the producers are considering as they start casting, it makes sense, because Suzanne Collins hasn’t really made things easy on the people making the films.  Her lead character, Katniss Everdeen, is a sixteen year old with the maturity of someone in her mid-twenties but who physically could be mistaken for younger.  And she’s got to be physically striking, a romantic lead but not an obvious one, and capable of carrying an action film.

Yeah, good luck with that.

One of the things that is so compelling about the series of books is the “Battle Royale” like hook of the thing, which is set in a future where people live in one of 12 different districts, all of them serving the Capitol.  Once a year, each District has to send one boy and one girl to compete in televised games that are fought to the death, tributes to the ongoing glory of the nation of Panem.  These kids, from the very beginning of the first book, are dealing with the very real presence of death in their lives, and the possibility that they will not live to see tomorrow.

In District 12, Katniss and her family do their best to help their neighbors, and life is tolerable.  When Katniss’s younger sister is picked in the annual lottery where names are drawn to pick the tributes, Katniss steps up to take her place, setting off a series of events that, by the end of the third book, includes all-out civil war.  It’s a huge journey, and the first book deals strictly with the Hunger Games that Katniss enters along with Peeta Mellark, a boy from her village. 

There is a love story of sorts that is built into the series, but it never becomes the sole purpose of the story being told, and it’s not a weak “will-they-won’t-they?” dilemma, either.  Instead, Collins draws a series of strong characters with some very logical, tangible attractions in place, and there’s no easy answer to the problems she lays in the paths these people are on

The role of Katniss is going to tax an actress, and over three films, she’s going to have to grow a lot.  If they cast someone like Jennifer Lawrence, who is 20, they’ll have to ask her to play younger.  She’s probably mature enough to have some perspective on Katniss, and she can bring a certain strength to it that was evident in “Winter’s Bone,” too.  If they cast someone like Hailee Steinfeld, she’s 14, and so she’s playing older, which might inform the way Katniss is constantly trying to play the roles people expect of her.

It sounds like as many as 30 people have already read for the film
, and before Gary Ross picks a Katniss with Lionsgate, I’m guessing they are going to need to do a screen test and really consider every option.  I’m not surprised to see Chloe Moretz in the mix, or Emma Roberts, and Saoirse Ronan is a safe bet as well.  But adding names like Kaya Scodelario and Emily Browning to the mix, with 24-year-old Lindsy Fonseca being a real surprise, means they’re considering everyone, and that’s the key.  Ross needs to weigh every option, and I’m sure they’ll make a choice that takes into account how long they’ll need to make the films, how they’re writing the character for the movies, and even the way they need to build a cast around someone.

Big stuff, and like I said, they’re still early in the process, so there’s more time to talk about the books and the movies as they start production this year.