By Catherine Scott | The Playlist January 31, 2011 at 4:39AM
Earlier this week, director Gary Ross' adaptation of "The Hunger Games" received a release date of March 23, 2012. With the roll-out of the film being a little over a year away, we expect to hear casting decisions any day now, and as "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" near their final installments, the 'Hunger Games' trilogy is being eyed as the next Young Adult phenomenon, and it's hoped it could launch a group of stars in the same way that those earlier franchises did. There are a number of key roles in the franchise, but the one that's attracted the most attention so far is the female lead, Katniss Everdeen. Now that the film has had its date set on the calendar, we thought we'd have a look at some possible contenders for the role, as well as some other key figures that Ross will be casting.
If you haven't had the chance to pick up the books, they take place in a not-too-distant future, where the United States has been divided into 12 Districts, all ruled by the ominously named Capitol. Each year, as a reminder to the Districts of how powerless they are under Capitol rule, two teenage representatives are picked via lottery from each district to compete in the Hunger Games, a nationally televised fight to the death between what are essentially children, where the last one standing is victor. The story is told through the experiences of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old girl from the desperately poor District 12, who volunteers to replace her younger sister as one of the selected representatives, and whose casting is crucial for the film to work. While the comparisons to 'Twilight,' the last teen literary phenomenon, are inevitable (particularly due to the central love triangle), the two heroines couldn’t be more different. Katniss needs to be played by an actress who is physically strong, intelligent, and can display a vast emotional range; there’s no hair-chewing, nail-biting angst à la Kristen Stewart. Ross has yet to confirm any narrowing down of the field, ahead of the shortlist story that's bound to appear in the next few months, so basically any female actress between the age of 14 and 25 has a shot at this point. We’ve picked a few of who could be among the most likely contenders.
Why She Could Do It: Heathcote is probably the least well-known of the actresses here, but she’s been making some serious waves in the last few months, and is clearly a star on the rise. She was recently one of a number of names rumored for the lead in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” although Kristen Stewart emerged as the frontrunner this week. She has a small role in Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi thriller "Now" and her first lead in David Chase’s “Twylight Zones," so she’s climbing the rungs at surprising speed. She also just scored a role in "Cogan's Trade" alongside Brad Pitt. Not too shabby.
Why She Might Not: She’s something of an unknown quantity at this point, to be frank, so it's hard to say whether or not she's right for the role. Katniss is a tough customer, and Heathcote strikes us as rather delicate. Her casting in "Cogan's Trade" may disprove that (although it should be said that, as much as we love Andrew Dominik, he doesn't write killer female roles, really). Heathcote's going places, but she strikes us as wrong for the part.
Why She Could Do It: Of the names mentioned here, Fonseca probably shares the closest physical resemblance to the description of Katniss with her olive skin and dark hair. She proved in "Kick Ass" and, most recently, the CW show "Nikita" that she can, well, kick ass harder than most of her peers, but without letting her performance slip: on "Nikita," she doesn’t let Maggie Q’s titular character outshine her. She’d probably fit right in with an action tentpole like the 'Hunger Games' trilogy, and she's both recognizable enough, and surely cheap enough, to headline a franchise that's trying to keep the costs fairly low.
Why She Might Not: Fonseca is, after all, mainly a television star with no leading roles yet to her name. It’s a big job to be handed over to someone who hasn’t yet proved that they can carry a film on their own -- not to mention that her commitment to "Nikita" may be a problem for future films, if not the first one. Plus, at 24, she could be a little old to be taking on the role of a 16-year-old for a film trilogy that could end when she’s almost 30. But hey, Hollywood knows how to mask age well, and, considering the recent furor over MTV's "Skins," it's entirely possible that the characters could be aged up a little, to tone down the tumult of underage murder otherwise heading to the screens.
Why She Could Do It: She was one of the many names thrown out for the female lead of Marc Webb’s “Spider-Man” earlier in the year, before the role went to Emma Stone. No sweat off her back: she had decent parts in Britflicks “Nowhere Boy” and "188.8.131.52," and made her Hollywood debut in “No Strings Attached,” before lining up a small role in “Mr. Popper’s Penguins" later this year. Her face is out there, for sure, and like Heathcote, her name has already been thrown around for a lead role in a major tentpole. She also looks the part of Katniss as much as anyone here.
Why She Might Not: Like Fonseca, she's also 24, but she admittedly looks far younger -- 16 shouldn't be too much of a stretch. More insurmountable might be the path from English rose to Appalachian badass. She's also leaning towards comedy at present, without a ton of action credits so far, and considering the grueling action of “The Hunger Games,” that may be a factor. Also, the bangs would have to go...
Why She Could Do It: Well, first of all, she’s the perfect age to play Katniss and carry her through to the finish, without requiring a 'Twilight'-style one-film-a-year schedule. She's got a tremendous dramatic range, with one Oscar nomination already under her belt, and she's turning to action for the first time shortly, in Joe Wright's “Hanna," and looks like she's pulled it off. Of all the mentioned girls, she looks the least like Katniss naturally, but with some dyed hair and a braid, it's not going to be a stretch; besides, surely it's more important to cast the right actor, rather than the right face. She’s also the biggest name here, meaning Lionsgate would surely feel confident in keeping her in there.
Why She Might Not: She’s already super busy with other projects, including "The Hobbit" -- though it's unknown how big or small her role will be -- and she's undoubtedly the most expensive name on the list, which is probably not what Lionsgate will be going for. And, while it's unclear if the audience is as loud and vociferous as the 'Twilight' one (we're sure we're about to find out in the comments section below), the visual differences may be too great for the fanbase.
Why She Could Do It: Another actress of appropriate age, Scodelario doesn’t have many credits to her name, but she’s certainly made an impression in a fast time. Starting out on "Skins" in the U.K., before moving on to a teeny-tiny role in "Clash of the Titans," she’s scored her first big role as Catherine Earnshaw in Andrea Arnold's much-anticipated version of "Wuthering Heights.” Something like 'Hunger Games' could turn her into a massive star if she proves she can handle art fare and a massive studio project. Plus, she’s hinted she already received the script (along with Fonseca), so we imagine that she's being considered.
Why She Might Not: She looks a little fragile to play Katniss, but she could train and pack on some weight; unlike the porcelain Heathcote, there's an almost feral quality to her. All in all, she’s probably the most on-paper perfect choice for Katniss, and one we firmly endorse.
Why She Could Do It: She’s coming off her extraordinary performance, and the subsequent Oscar buzz surrounding “True Grit,”; it's one of the most remarkable debut performances in some time, and after picking up an Oscar nomination this week, she's fresh in studio executives' mind. She was fantastic as a tough child hunting her father’s killer in the film, proving she has a flair for drama and can create a strong female persona like Katniss, while she can clearly handle the physical demands of the role as well. At present, she doesn’t have any projects coming up, leaving her wide open for a trilogy like this.
Why She Might Not: At only 14, she’s way too young to play Katniss right now -- while it's possible for the character to be aged down, it'd have a knock on effect on the others around her -- you couldn't pair Steinfeld with, say, Alex Pettyfer without it coming off as deeply creepy. And, yes, maybe Steinfeld could play older, but it might be kind of weird to see Steinfeld be an “older sister” figure to a girl only two or three years younger than her (Katniss has a little sister Prim and mentors a young girl, Rue, in the arena).
Honorable Mentions: Another youngster, 13-year-old Chloe Moretz, has publicly expressed her interest in playing Katniss, but there’s the same problem of age and mentoring that Steinfeld would face. Nina Dobrev could be another television choice, but she hasn’t shown the range Fonseca has, and her time commitment to the ever-popular "The Vampire Diaries" is pretty serious. Imogen Poots has gotten popular with the studios, but she’s probably too fragile to take the role, and her schedule's filling up pretty fast as it is. Lucy Hale of "Pretty Little Liars" is a little too conventionally beautiful perhaps, and hasn't shown the same acting prowess as some of her counterparts. Camilla Belle could also do it, but she’s pretty busy and hasn’t demonstrated much range yet. Both Felicity Jones and Elizabeth Olsen just broke out of Sundance as ones to watch, so maybe the studios will want to capitalize on that success.
Either way, as of last month, there is no frontrunner , and it's important to remember that the studio could well end up going for far less well-known names than any of the above. The announcement should be here soon, as 'Hunger Games' looks to start production in early spring. Here are a few more guesses as to who could play supporting characters; we'd love to hear who you'd want to see cast as well.
Peeta Mellark -- Peeta is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed companion to Katniss in the arena, so there are a few popular choices already out there for the male lead. The previously mentioned Alex Pettyfer first springs to mind, with his star set to rise next year with both "I Am Number Four" and "Beastly" coming out. However, he's apparently being courted aggressively for Screen Gems' similar "Mortal Instruments" series, and probably couldn't do both. It might be better to go with someone like Josh Hutcherson, who proved he could act in “The Kids are All Right,”, and just missed out on "Spider-Man," or Hunter Parrish, who has long been a staple on the hit show "Weeds.” They could also use someone fairly unknown, like Lucas Till, who looks to break out of the Disney mold in the next few years with a role in "X-Men: First Class" as Havoc. Not a blonde, but Paul Wesley, another 'Vampire Diaries' alum, could also be a good pick.
Gale Hawthorne -- Gale is Katniss’ other man, her best friend from childhood. He’s tall, dark and handsome, bringing to mind names like Ben Barnes or Gaspard Ulliel of "Hannibal Rising,” although both are certainly too old by now. They could also use any of the "Gossip Girl" guys -- Ed Westwick, comes to mind, even though he’s looking at more serious fare. Drew Roy, who has had mostly small roles in films like "Secretariat," also looks to graduate from Disney TV and onto the big screen. Even Taylor Lautner could play it, but he’s too big a star to accept such a small role (especially in the first book), and one so close to Jacob in 'Twilight.'
Haymitch Abernathy -- As the drunken, middle-aged mentor to Katniss and Peeta, Haymitch could be played by a variety of great actors. Big actors like Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp have been thrown out there by fans, but there's no way the studio would consider such big stars as anything other than a pipe dream. In reality, looking to television is probably a good call: actors like Hugh Laurie, Timothy Olyphant or Bryan Cranston could all be plausible.
Primrose Everdeen -- Katniss’s younger sister needs to be the opposite of her -- small and fragile with a naive demeanor. Elle Fanning could, and should be the first choice on producers’ minds, but those two younger girls mentioned for Katniss -- Moretz and Steinfeld -- could also be great as Primrose. Prim’s role is small in the first book, but she gets more time by the third installment “Mockingjay,” so it could be a good move for Fanning as she expands her repertoire, and gets a little older.