‘Hunger Games’ finds unknowns for fan favorites Rue and Thresh

I would suspect that many of the tributes cast in “The Hunger Games” are going to be fresh faces, and while that may be a budgetary decision in large part, it’s also a choice that could work in the film’s favor.

Rue is one of the characters most beloved by readers of “The Hunger Games,” and for good reason.  Casting Rue is critically important because the character has to make a major impression on audiences without a ton of screen time, and so first reactions are going to be important with her.

Looking at Amandla Stenberg, my first reaction is that she’s too young… and that’s exactly right.  She looks like she’s half the age of Jennifer Lawrence, who will star in the film as Katniss Everdeen, and watching these characters face each other down in a battle of life and death should be upsetting.  Director Gary Ross has spoken already about how important it is for him to get a PG-13 for his movie, and he can’t have it be overtly violent or bloody.  He can, however, play with the empathy of the audience, and casting Rue to be this young… that’s a smart decision.  It even pays off the fact that Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson look a little older than some people expected.

Day Okeniyi has also been cast, and he’ll be playing Thresh, described as very powerful and a fierce competitor.  To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t seen either actor in anything before, and I like that.  With “The Hunger Games,” it would be nice if most of the Tributes are unknown so that we can meet them as these characters.  It’ll make it harder to guess right up front who dies in what order.  That’s a problem when you cast four or five well-known people in a field of unknowns… you tip your hand.

Over at the studio’s Fan Page for the film on Facebook, you can follow the casting district by district, and I like the way they’ve laid the graphic out for you.  Lionsgate is being smart about this one so far, and I hope it pays off for them, and that the film is good enough to deserve all this early attention.  If you haven’t read our Cheat Sheet for “The Hunger Games,” give it a look so you can see what all the excitement is about.

“The Hunger Games” opens March 23, 2012.