Guest Post by J. Sciancalepore

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The Hunger Games And Casting Names…
Why The Odds Are In Our Favor For The Upcoming Movie
By J. Sciancalepore, author of The War On Destiny

There has been a lot of talk lately about casting for the movie version of The Hunger Games – much of it nervous or negative. I just thought I’d throw in my own two cents. And maybe just a little reassurance. Because one name matters more to me than any of the other ones being hotly debated.

To be clear, I love Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series, consider it my favorite read of the past year, and I (like you, I’m sure) have very clear pictures of the main characters in my head. I’ve also been reading the books aloud to my daughter, trying to offer a unique “voice” for each character. Putting it bluntly, most of the names being bandied about don’t exactly fit what I picture or hear.

Jennifer Lawrence was just recently given the coveted role of Katniss. I haven’t seen her yet in Winter’s Bone (currently sitting in my NetFlix queue), but I recently watched her in the indie drama, The Burning Plain. I was impressed, particularly with her ability to “act with her eyes” – conveying confusion, sadness, betrayal and determination without saying a word. This is essential to the successful portrayal of Katniss.

However, I have to say that Ms. Lawrence seems a little too old to me to play the movie’s 16-year-old protagonist. Jennifer is currently 20, and that’s before cameras start rolling on what should be a multi-year movie trilogy (I say “should be” because parts two-three will only be greenlit if part one turns a profit). Jennifer’s also probably a little too pretty for the part and certainly not olive-skinned with dark hair and gray eyes, though I know make-up professionals can help in that regard. And I have to wonder if she is physical enough for the role. Katniss has an almost primal ferocity, and – though vulnerable – she can hunt, fight and kill.

The other name that had been closely attached to Katniss was, of course, Hailee Steinfeld. I, like everyone else, was wowed by her performance in True Grit. She can clearly inhabit a character, and she is a natural with snappy dialog – true to Katniss’s sardonic side. She may even be a bit closer to “what Katniss should look like” than Ms. Lawrence – attractive but not too pretty, tall and strong, slightly Mediterranean.

I suspect that Lionsgate, the studio providing the movie, was concerned that Hailee was actually too young for the role. She’s currently 14 and would have been placed in numerous “romantic situations,” which would have meant casting younger for Peeta and Gale…or risking some serious ick factor.

Peeta and Gale? Alex Pettyfer, Josh Hutcherson and several of the other names being rumored for the two men in Katniss’s life also seem “too pretty” to me. Peeta isn’t supposed to be a chiseled stud – he’s a big lug with an honest face (more along the lines of Cory Monteith, aka Finn from Glee). And Gale should be his polar opposite…grungy, tough, fiery…but still not perfect and coifed.

I’m not so sure about the names people have proposed for Haymitch, either. Hugh Laurie, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges…they’re all fantastic actors. But c’mon, all of them have only been mentioned because they’ve successfully played drunks/addicts before and they’re all damn funny. But, Haymitch is supposed to be in his early 40s, an ex-athlete gone to pot. Jeff’s clearly too old, whereas Hugh and RDJr. still look in the peak of health. Of the two, I’d choose Robert, who has “bulked up” for movie roles before and would certainly bring lots of personality. Someone posted a very interesting suggestion in the comments at EW.com recently: Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m not positive about that, but I’m intrigued.

It may be because her character is the one true over-the-top caricature in the bunch, but I actually love all the big-name choices being associated with Effie Trinket. Kristin Chenoweth, fabulous. Christine Baranski, great. Emily Blunt (ala Devil Wears Prada), brilliant. Great choices, any and all. I’ll give Kristin the edge, though.

Were it up to me, Katniss would have been played by an amazing unknown, about whom we have no preconceptions, much like Ms. Steinfeld was a few short months ago. Likely Gale and Peeta too.  (If I was casting the leads for a film adaptation of The War On Destiny, that’s how I’d approach it!) But, when investing millions of dollars, the studio generally wants the closest it can get to a sure thing. And that means familiar names.

The one name that heartens me the most about the movie version of The Hunger Games, however, is actually that of its director, Gary Ross.

A screenwriter, who has dabbled in directing. A guy who makes smart, sensitive movies, not big sci-fi SFX flicks or edgy actioners. An unexpected choice. An odd choice. A great choice!

He has actually only directed two movies, Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, but both were good-to-great with applicable parallels to The Hunger Games. The former featured a teen-led rebellion against a seemingly perfect but tightly-controlled world (President Snow would have loved it!), whereas the latter was a strong adaptation of a beloved book written by a noted female author (sound familiar?).

And here’s the most important thing to keep in mind ­ – both of his previous movies were extremely well cast. Pleasantville featured Reese Witherspoon, Tobey Maguire, Joan Allen and William H. Macy; Seabiscuit starred Chris Cooper, Jeff Bridges, Tobey (again) and Elizabeth Banks. Though these are “name brand” stars, they are all actors’ actors. Thoughtfully selected. Well directed.

(Side note: is Ross one of those superstitious directors who likes to cast the same actor in every movie he makes? If so, whom would Tobey Maguire play? Maybe someone on Katniss’s prep team!)

Obviously, this is no guarantee of a successful film franchise, but it bodes well that the studio (and, from what I’ve read, Suzanne Collins) endorsed Mr. Ross over a slew of younger, edgier Hollywood directors. It demonstrates that they know the action of The Hunger Games – brutal, thrilling, heart-pumping – is important, but it’s the underlying emotions that make the story great. To borrow a phrase from the Games, the odds are ever in our favor.

I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.

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Thanks J!  Check out The War on Destiny at www.thewarondestiny.com

If you haven’t yet, read our little chat with J. Sciancalepore here.

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