By Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

The Hunger Games world is abuzz with casting rumors. For those of you who don’t know, The Hunger Games is a futuristic trilogy set in a dystopian version of America, where children are forced to fight to the death on national television. The first in this immensely successful book series, by Suzanne Collins, is now being set to a highly anticipated film, which is expected to rival Harry Potter and Twilight.

We are extremely fortunate to have Gabby Vittoria and Pauline Hughes from The Hob to break down the leading contenders in this heated casting debate. We begin with the protagonist of the tale, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen.

Note: The Hob is one of the top fan sites on the web, and we strongly encourage that you visit their site for more information.

Part I: Katniss
Part II: Haymitch
Part III: Peeta
Part IV: Gale
Part V: Effie
Part VI: President Snow
Part VII: Prim
Part VIII: Cinna
Part IX: Rue
Part X: Tributes
Part XI: The Others

Related: Interview with Tanvi Berwah of Hunger Games Network on the international impact

Hailee Steinfeld

Gabby:
Hailee has the age and Katniss look, but appears too young at times. I haven’t seen True Grit, but she was nominated for an Oscar, so the girl must be able to act. With the age such a determining factor, especially with the prospect of filming a trilogy, Hailee could be the best choice. In reality, yes, she is innocent, but they can harden her look with makeup and good acting. Grade: B

Pauline: I think she is my favorite at this point. She is the right age, looks the role. I think she does have a very innocent look to her, but if she has good acting chops she can pull it off. And the fact that she has been nominated for an Oscar makes me feel comfortable in her acting abilities. Grade: B

Adam: Hailee Steinfeld catapulted herself onto this list after her breakout performance in True Grit — with a major assist from the Academy. Though she looks the sweet, innocent girl in awards shows, she can also smack around Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon; those are Katniss-like qualities. Delicate but also tough-as-nails, I like her for the role, and I’m further encouraged by her passion for the Hunger Games story and general affability in interviews. Plus, you know Peeta would fall for her. Grade: A-

Savanna: I’m a huge Hailee Steinfeld fan. We saw just how much she’s capable of in True Grit, and I really think she could pull off the role of Katniss very well. She’s young and, of all these top contenders (excluding Kaya Scodelario), most resembles Suzanne Collins’s description of the character. I love the fact that Hailee has the ability to look tomboyish and very rough around the edges, but is absolutely gorgeous when dressed up for red carpet events — a process that Katniss herself goes through in the books. It’s true that she’s only 14, two years younger than Katniss is at the start of The Hunger Games, but she could pass for 16. And by the time all three films have been produced, she will have aged quite nicely, like a fine, Capitol wine. Grade: A

Jennifer Lawrence

Gabby: Why can’t Jennifer be 5 years younger?? If she wasn’t turning 21 this year, she would be it for me. If it was only one movie, yes, she could do it. But film three movies over a period of a few years and she will get too old. Grade: B-

Pauline: I think Jennifer looks too mature for the role. But though I’d rather see Hailee in the role, I wouldn’t totally hate Jennifer being cast. Grade: B

Adam: I’m not as concerned with her age, especially with the latest innovations in makeup and special effects. If Brad Pitt could look 17 in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, surely Jennifer Lawrence can be altered into something a bit more adolescent. Like Steinfeld, Lawrence is boosted by an Oscar-nominated resume, but Winter’s Bone never reached the general public quite like True Grit did. Lawrence would be a fine choice, but why settle on scrawny rabbits when you can order lamb stew. Grade: B+

Savanna: While Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderful actress, I think that, physically, she’s all wrong for the role of Katniss. She will be 21 soon and could easily be 24 by the time the third movie has wrapped, which concerns me. I know that some 20-year-olds look like teenagers, but Lawrence looks like a 20-year-old to me. I’ll admit that she’s growing on me, though, which is perhaps indicative of her possessing the same sort of natural charm that draws Gale, Peeta, and later, the entirety of Panem, to her. Grade: B

Lyndsy Fonseca

Gabby: I don’t really like her as Katniss. She is too old, and I am just not too impressed with her. I have seen clips of her in Nikita and she looks like she is trying too hard. At least Jennifer has a bit of a baby face, Lyndsey is more woman to me. Grade: C

Pauline: I am not crazy about her, to be honest, she is my least favorite. Although I think Jennifer is a little too old, I think that Lyndsy looks too old, period. She looks like a young woman, not at all like a teen in my opinion. I think Katniss is supposed to look more like your girl next door, not Hollywood, so they need to cast her with someone who has that natural, innocent look in my opinion. Grade: D

Adam: Fonseca was born in January of 1987, which means she would be 24 — at the youngest — when filming starts. Perhaps we ought to throw Helen Mirren into the mix. What about Maggie Smith? Harry Potter’s almost over. In all seriousness, I think the age factor can be resolved, and as a man with testosterone, I wouldn’t mind watching her shoot arrows and wear dresses with unique attributes (like fire, for instance — or that coal miner’s “outfit” from an earlier Games). Her acting, however, is simply not as artful as some of her competitors, and for that reason, I can’t endorse this smoking-hot entrant. Grade: C

Savanna: No way! Lyndsy Fonseca is beautiful, but her beauty tends to hover on the sexy side of things, which just wouldn’t work for Katniss. Not to mention, she’s 24, and looks nowhere close to 16, or even 17! People unfamiliar with the books might start to wonder if a Katniss-Haymitch hookup were possible (ew!). Audiences need to believe that the Arena is full of teens and children, not adults masquerading as such. Casting older actors to portray high schoolers works for TV shows like Glee, but for something like The Hunger Games, which is so very rooted in themes like the loss of innocence, I think it’s key to go with a younger cast.  Also, as others have said, I’m unsure if her level of acting is sufficient for such a mighty role. Grade: D

Chloë Moretz

Gabby: Too young!!! Definitely Prim, NOT Katniss. She is too childlike and doesn’t have the maturity needed. A few more years and maybe she could do it, not now. Grade: C-

Pauline: Now this is someone I think looks too young. I picture her more as Prim. Grade: C-

Adam: Moretz is a talented actress with a burgeoning career, but — as the experts have pontificated — she just doesn’t look the part. If production gets delayed a couple of years, however, throw her name right back into the mix. On a side note, anyone traveling through Europe would do well to stop in Switzerland’s breathtaking town of St. Moritz. Grade: D

Savanna: I like Chloë Moretz a lot. She was awesome in Kick-Ass and Let Me In, but right now, she’s unfortunately too young. I wouldn’t mind seeing her as Prim, though! Grade: C-

Abigail Breslin

Gabby: I think of her the same way as Chloë. They are lumped together in my mind, both would be good for Prim. Abigail maybe even more so. She has more of an innocence to her than Chloë, which I think is what Prim needs. Grade: C

Pauline: I think Abigail looks too young for Katniss…same as Chloë. Grade: D

Adam: If she wins, will she start shrieking “I won I won I won I won I won!!!!” over and over again like she did in Little Miss Sunshine? I’m a tremendous Breslin fan, from her comedic work in Zombieland to that phenomenal, nuanced performance in Definitely, Maybe. Unfortunately, one wonders if she could even hurt a fly, let alone blast arrows at other teenagers. As a human being, she gets an A+. As Katniss… one above E, for Everdeen. Grade: D

Savanna: Honestly, I laughed when I saw her name on the list of Katniss frontrunners. In my mind, Abigail Breslin will forever be Olive Hoover from Little Miss Sunshine. I think she’s ridiculously talented, and I absolutely respect her as an actress, but even at 14, she’s just too pinch-her-cheeks adorable to play a hardened character like Katniss. Grade: D

Kaya Scodelario

Gabby: Ahhh, Kaya, she just looks like Katniss to me. She has a certain vibe about her, and she looks fantastic wielding a bow and arrow. Considering her PR people have said she hasn’t submitted a reading or met with anyone, it seems doubtful. But maybe there are things behind the scenes we aren’t privy to? They could be instructed to say no, when she is involved. Entertainment Weekly has her on the list, so this is all up in the air. Grade: A

Pauline: I don’t know too much about her acting chops, but she totally looks the part. Her PR people told us that she hasn’t met with anyone, while other people have, so her odds aren’t looking too good. Grade: A

Adam: All the fans want Kaya, all the experts want Kaya, and Kaya seems to want the role pretty desperately (despite her publicist’s denials of such). Hmmm. To pick her would make too much sense, which is why Hollywood is bound to get it wrong. The studio heads are probably counting on the Kaya enthusiasts to see the film, regardless of who’s picked, whereas the everyday filmgoer might be more galvanized by Steinfeld or Lawrence. I’m still not convinced she embodies the essence of Katniss, but the Katniss in my head likely differs from that of most. Grade: A-

Savanna: Kaya Scodelario has been the fan favorite for this role ever since it was announced that the series would be adapted for film. Personally, I love her. She’s the right age, has the right look, and if you watch the UK Skins, you know she can act (and effortlessly project both a sense of badassness and vulnerability). Aside from an unknown, she’d be my top pick — which probably means that she doesn’t stand a chance! The one thing, I think, working against her, is that while she’s still somewhat of an unknown here in the United States, in the UK, she’s quite a celebrity. Last year, she even ended up 13th in a “100 Sexiest Women” poll in the UK edition of FHM Men’s Magazine. Grade: A

Unknown

Pauline: I would be fine with it if she could act well and looked the part. I don’t think they need a star to make these movies big. Though I have a feeling that if they are already talking to some high profile actresses, the chances of them going with an unknown is probably unlikely.

Gabby: We won’t know until we see the film and that thought scares me a little. But we must have faith that Gary Ross (the director) and crew know what they are doing.

Adam: This would be my preference. I love the idea of a fresh face, without prior associations, to essentially become Katniss. One of my favorite things about Harry Potter was the anonymity of the children. Leave the adult characters to more recognizable names.

Savanna: I would also be interested in seeing an unknown portray Katniss. In other young adult book-to-movie adaptations, some of the more true-to-character casting has come with the consideration of actors and actresses that were essentially plucked from the street (think of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra in The Golden Compass or Evanna Lynch as Luna in Harry Potter). I know it seems like they may be leaning towards a more “established” young actress (or at least one with proven critical and box office success), but representatives for the film have said that they’d be willing to cast an unknown if she were truly “right” for the part, so there’s still hope.

Regarding Danielle Chuchran…

Adam: Maybe I am a sucker for “little engines that could” stories, but she is my personal endorsement. I was very moved by her short film, and she seemed perfect to me — small sample size of course, but why not reward her with — (avert your eyes!) — an audition. Give her a chance! Grade: A+

Savanna: I thought Danielle was incredible in both short films! Her acting was solid, and she just seemed very Katniss-esque to me. One thing I like about her is that she looks like a teenager, but not as young as Hailee Steinfeld. Her face and demeanor are so sweet, though, I wonder if she could pull off Katniss’s more grittier, violent moments. Grade: B+

Pauline: I think she did a great job in those movie shorts. I would have no objection to her being cast in the role. I was shocked to see that she really has long blonde hair, but she pulled off the wig, and the whole look, really well. And her acting was really good, too.

Gabby: Yes, she was very good in the shorts. The one thing I worry about with an unknown is if they have the ability to carry a major motion picture.

See the short film below, featuring Danielle Chuchran in a pivotal scene. She deserves tremendous credit for putting this out there. Now at almost 500,000 views on YouTube:

 

The Age Factor

Adam:
You all seem pretty intent on preserving the age of these characters, but Hollywood has gone older time and time again. Might fans expect Katniss to just look older?

Pauline:
I think the whole thing that makes these books powerful is that all this stuff is happening to children, so casting adults in the roles would take away from that whole aspect in my opinion.

Gabby:
I think Katniss probably does look a bit older than 16, she has lived a hard life, but to keep the story intact — the horror of children killing children — we need the youth represented.

Pauline: I agree, Gabby…I think you need to keep the impact of watching children go through this in the viewers’ minds…I don’t think The Hunger Games would have been AS horrible if it were all adults.

Adam: I know I am one-on-three in this regard. But when I read the books, I just couldn’t imagine a 12-year-old actually being in that situation, along with 16 year-olds. I wonder if people would be uncomfortable with the real ages. Is that possible?

Gabby: I’m not sure how the public will react, but if the filmmakers want to stay true to the story, it is what it is!

Savanna: I personally think it’s a good thing if audiences feel uncomfortable.

Adam: I just worry if “uncomfortable” means a hit at the box office. And that’s ultimately what this will be about, of course. Maybe a happy medium can be found.

Savanna: I just think that seeing 20-somethings in the Arena, even if we know they’re supposed to be 15, 16, 17, would totally lessen the impact of the story.

Adam: We will see, obviously, but I have my doubts. when was the last teen movie where any of the characters were actually the right age?

Savanna: Many have also pointed out the downside to going with “real” kids and teens: minors’ on-set hours are limited. So maybe they should just cast a bunch of 18-year-olds?

Pauline: They were able to pull it off with Harry Potter so I don’t think it should be a problem (unless England has different laws about that kind of stuff).

Gabby: That is a good point, particularly with the tight schedule they are set on. The movie is “supposed” to be out next March, less than a year from when they start filming.

The Appearance Factor

Savanna: In the books, Katniss has a very distinct look that is representative of the area where she lives (the Seam, a more impoverished area of District 12): dark hair, grey eyes, and olive skin. Obviously, hair can be dyed and contacts can be worn, but how do you feel about the skin-tone component? There has been a good deal of backlash over the more recent casting rumors, with some accusing Hollywood of wanting to “whitewash” the franchise. What do you think? How important is it for the actress playing Katniss to have olive skin?

Pauline: To me, I feel like olive skin could be Caucasian but with a tan. I think that would be caused more by working outdoors and hunting and stuff.

Gabby: For me, the color of her skin isn’t that important. It is bringing the character Katniss to life. If the actress can pull off the tough vulnerability, then she will be great.

Pauline: But I think that can all be done with makeup, spray tanning, etc., as long as they cast the right actress…I don’t care about her skin color.

Savanna: On that same note, what about build? In the books, Katniss is described as being rather small. And obviously, she hasn’t been eating too well in District 12. How much of a role should these factors play? I know some of these top contenders are somewhat tall.

Gabby: The actress should be skinny, but height-wise, I don’t think it’s a major factor. And they can make anyone look taller or shorter with the magic of movies. Katniss is skinny, but she has to be able to wield a bow and arrow; that takes strength to do it as well as she does. So she isn’t sickly.

Pauline: Well, that is a little trickier because you don’t want to tell an actress to starve herself for the role, but she should be on the slender side. But Katniss hunted, so she wasn’t starving as much as others were I don’t think. I’m not so much concerned about her height.

Adam Spunberg is a senior writer at Picktainment and founder of the Austen Twitter Project. Email him at adam@picktainment.com or tweet @AdamSpunberg.

Savanna New is an associate editor at Picktainment. Email her at savanna@picktainment.com.