Casting Katniss — the most important female role model since Buffy?
Let’s play “Cast That Movie!” The ever popular game in which we tell casting directors who should play the role of a beloved literary character! This time it’s Katniss Everdeen, the plucky (as a bow string) heroine of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
In case you’ve been on a round trip mission to Mars for the past three years, The Hunger Games is the biggest YA series since Twilight. At least one commentator calls Katniss “the most important female character in recent pop culture history.”
That’s because Katniss is a brave, resourceful, impetuous and sometimes ruthless 16 year old, bent on surviving the dangers of life in a oppressive post-apocalyptic world. In other words, according to Meghan Lewitt, she’s the opposite of Twilight‘s wan, passive, “swoony” Bella.
Lewitt writes affectingly at The Atlantic about the strong fictional role models she had growing up, beginning with Rainbow Brite and ending with Buffy Summers, with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pippi Longstocking and Nancy Drew in between.
“All of them shared several important characteristics: They were the tomboys and the rule-breakers, resourceful, whip-smart girls who were doing it for themselves with minimal parental supervision. Maybe it was because I was such a painfully timid kid that I
drew strength from the boldness of my fictional heroines.”
Since Buffy went off the air in 2002, however, Lewitt finds precious few strong role models for tween and teen girls. Instead, the most prominent female pop culture icon is “blank slate” Bella. That’s why, Lewitt says, it’s so important to get the casting right for Katniss in the upcoming film adaptation of The Hunger Games and its two sequels.
Fortunately, a number of young actresses have emerged recently, any of whom could be reasonably entrusted with the task Lewit has in mind. I have a favorite, who I’ll tell you about in a minute, but my main concern is that filmmakers select an age-appropriate actress, which to me means 14-20. I am thoroughly sick of 20-something actors playing teenagers.
If producers follow my principle, that will elminate one of the names
in contention, Lyndsy Fonseca, of TV’s “Nikita,” who is 24. All the other actresses said to be in serious contention are 20 or younger, except Emma Stone and Emily Browning, both 22.
A trio of Oscar nominees leads the field, beginning with Jennifer Lawrence, star of Winter’s Bone. She’s 20. Close behind: Hailee Steinfeld, 14, of True Grit, and Abigail Breslin, also 14, of Little Miss Sunshine.
Still in contention, according to some sources: Saorise Ronan, 17, of The Lovely Bones (and perhaps more to the point, the upcoming Hanna, in which she plays a bow-wielding assassin); Chloe Moretz, 14, of Kick-Ass; Kaya Scodelario, 18, of the U.K. version of “Skins;” Emily Browning, 22, of the forthcoming Sucker Punch; Shailene Woodley, 19, of the “Secret Life of the American Teenager.”
Of that group, I’d say you have to go with Steinfeld. Moretz is too conventionally pretty. Breslin doesn’t strike me as tough enough. Scodalario looks like she could be Kristen Stewart’s sister–I’d think filmmakers would want to get as far away from Twilight as possible — and Emily Browning’s role in Sucker Punch is too much like Katniss — albeit, if the previews are any indication, in a lurid, sexualized, Sin City kind of way.
Besides, Steinfeld is astounding in True Grit. I went to see it in a mood a great skepticism, having a life-long allegience to Kim Darby’s take on Mattie Ross in the 1969 John Wayne version, but Steinfeld easily won me over with her convincing performance as the frontier farm girl out to avenge her father’s murder. I can’t imagine anyone else as Katniss.
Except for — well, if we wanted to go completely outside the realm of obvious choices, I’d love to see Kaitlyn Dever considered. I think Dever is 16–Google won’t give me a fix on her age — but she’s burning up the small screen in “Justified,” playing a tough-talking but vulnerable 14-year-old hillbilly girl.
As Graham Yost, executive produce for “Justified,” told Maureen Ryan, “We cast above our pay grade. We cast above the quality of our show, I would almost say. We’ve got such a great cast, but this girl Kaitlyn Dever is just stunning and is so good. And you can see in the scene with her and [a character in the season premiere], the way she held her own.
“We’ve got fun stuff for her.”
Dever has no chance, I’m sure, but she’d make a fantastic Katniss. By the way, if you’re not watching “Justified,” then you might as well take a sledge hammer to your TV. Along with “Southland,” it’s one of the two truly great dramas in production right now.
Anyway: Who would you cast to play Katniss Everdeen, the most important role model for girls since Buffy Summers hung up her stake? Be quick, producers are expected to make a selection any day now.