THE HUNGER GAMES
Casting The Games
Once word was out that a film version of THE HUNGER GAMES was in the works,
speculation about casting snowballed into an internet phenomenon of its own.
Amidst the hoopla, the filmmakers began coming to grips with just how intensely
invested fans of the book were in seeing something they could believe in on
screen. "It became clear that everyone who read the book had their own clear
idea of who Katniss or Gale or Peeta should be," notes Gary Ross. "It's a
testament to how connected people become to this story, and I found it
Adds Nina Jacobson: "People were very opinionated about who should play the
roles and that was obviously a lot of pressure. But I feel the same way when I
love a book - I don't want anyone to mess it up. So as we began the casting
process, we talked a lot about looking for the essence of these characters in
the actors. You can create a lot of different things on screen, but you can't
create that essence. You have to go out and find it."
Katniss and District 12
It began with the most difficult character of all to cast - the girl who
rises from the dust and grime of Panem's mining district to become an iconic
rebel heroine: Katniss Everdeen. Her origins might be common, but Katniss is
anything but a simple girl. Driven by harsh circumstances, she can be cold and
calculating at times but at her core she is selfless and loyal. Only 16, she
also is still very much in the process of forming her own ideals and notions of
love and self-worth . . . in a world where such things are nearly impossible.
"Katniss is a fierce, independent survivor," describes Gary Ross. "She's a
hunter, an archer and an athlete, and as the story begins, she already has
amazing skills she's developed to protect and fend for her family. Most
importantly, she's someone who comes to know her own truth. One thing Suzanne
and I talked about is that she is a bit like Joan of Arc - someone who can't
abide tyrants, which ultimately gives her the courage to defy the Capitol."
Executive producer Robin Bissell further observes, "In the middle of the
Games, important questions arise for Katniss - not just can she survive but is
she able to love, and who does she love? She gains remarkable strength but also
blossoms as a human being."
Young actresses across the world coveted the role, but the search stopped
when Ross and Lionsgate executives met with Jennifer Lawrence, who had garnered
an OscarĀ® nomination for her devastating performance as a girl protecting her
family in the low-budget indie thriller WINTER'S BONE. Most importantly, Collins
herself gave her blessing to Lawrence.
Collins admits that initially she had some trepidation over the idea that
anyone could embody the Katniss she'd envisioned. But Lawrence set those worries
to rest. In a letter to readers of Entertainment Weekly, Collins wrote: "In her
remarkable audition piece, I watched Jennifer embody every essential quality
necessary to play Katniss. I saw a girl who has the potential rage to send an
arrow into the Gamemakers and the protectiveness to make Rue her ally. Who has
conquered both Peeta and Gale's hearts even though she's done her best to wall
herself off emotionally from anything that would lead to romance. Most of all, I
believed that this was a girl who could hold out that handful of berries and
incite the beaten down districts of Panem to rebel. I think that was the
essential question for me. Could she believably inspire a rebellion? Did she
project the strength, defiance and intellect you would need to follow her into
certain war? For me, she did. Jennifer's just an incredible actress. So
powerful, vulnerable, beautiful, unforgiving and brave. I never thought we'd
find somebody this amazing for the role. And I can't wait for everyone to see
her play it."
"I felt I'd found the one person who could possibly play Katniss," recalls
Ross of meeting Lawrence. "I've worked with many amazing actors but I think
someone like Jen comes around once in a generation. She's an unbelievable talent
and she brings so many qualities that are raw and true to the character, from
her natural athleticism to her emotional power. I can always imagine different
versions of films I direct, but I can't imagine a version of this film without
Adds Jacobson: "In her audition, Jen stole the role. There was instant power,
intensity and certainty in her performance. Some people can be fierce and others
can be tender, but Jen is both."
Lawrence says one thing instantly drew her into the depths of Katniss: "Her
strength." She continues: "I'm always drawn to strong characters, because I want
to be like that. This is a girl who has the whole world placed on her shoulders
and she becomes a kind of futuristic Joan of Arc. I just knew that I had so much
respect for the books and who she is that there was nothing I wouldn't do to
bring that out in the right way. I also loved that Gary understood that this
movie is not about Katniss looking cool with a bow-and-arrow - it's about her
being heartbroken by all that she has to do."
The actress was undeterred by what she knew would be intense scrutiny by
Katniss' millions of fans. "There's a lot of pressure when you're playing a
character so many people are crazy about, but I felt I could rest easy because I
was committed to do the very best that I could," Lawrence states. "I knew we had
a group of talented people focused on making the best possible movie and that's
what I believed in."
With Lawrence cast, the next task was to find the boy with whom she is paired
in the Games: her co-Tribute, Peeta Mellark, who has long had a secret crush on
Katniss but cannot be sure if she is to be trusted. Taking on Peeta is Josh
Hutcherson, best known for his roles in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and BRIDGE TO
TERIBITHIA -- and once again Ross was instantly certain about the choice. "It
was unbelievably clear with Josh. He came in and was able to articulate
everything we felt about the character," the director recalls. "He said 'Peeta
is someone who can disarm the world with his charm, but he knows who he loves
and he's always loved Katniss. He loves her so intensely, she is the one person
he would give everything for.' After that, I felt 'now I have Peeta and I can do
Suzanne Collins was equally taken with the casting. She put it this way to
Entertainment Weekly: "If Josh had been bright purple and had six foot wings and
gave that audition, I'd have been like 'Cast him!' 'We can work around the
wings!' He was that good."
Hutcherson remembers that the minute he began reading the book, he was swept
up and felt a connection with Peeta. "I've never seen a character so close to me
as a person," he says. "His self-deprecating humor, his outlook on life, and the
way he wants to stay true to who he is no matter what are all things I could
really relate to from my own life. I was very into Peeta from the get-go."
As the Games get underway, Peeta becomes even clearer about his aim. "His
goal is to make sure Katniss survives," Hutcherson explains. "His greatest skill
is his ability to talk with people, to negotiate and manipulate, and he uses
that not in a conniving way, but to protect Katniss."
That was easy for Hutcherson, given his rapport with Lawrence. "I think Jen
perfectly encapsulates a young woman who finds the power to take care of herself
and others around her. She has both a hardness and a vulnerability that's
beautiful and really genuine," he says of his co-star.
Playing Katniss' longtime best friend in District 12 is Australian actor Liam
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