Gary Ross Defends Jennifer Lawrence Casting, Says Hunger Games Author Approves
On the heels of today's confirmation that 20-year-old Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence will play Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old heroine of Lionsgate's The Hunger Games adaptation, EW caught up with director Gary Ross to get his explanation of the casting move. According to the interview, Lawrence's age and her blonde hair -- details that raised fan eyebrows when the Winter's Bone star first emerged as a front-runner -- are of no matter to Ross, who says the choice was "the easiest casting decision I ever made in my life." And if it makes any difference, Suzanne Collins apparently agrees.
"To Suzanne, Jen is the perfect realization of the character who is in her head," Ross said, telling EW that Collins was present at every single audition for the role of Katniss Everdeen in the 2012 franchise-starter. (Which included an audition by Nikita star Lyndsy Fonseca, who admitted that she'd read for Ross and Tweeted her congrats to Lawrence.)
As for the issue of remaining true to Collins' books where Katniss's age (16 years old in the first novel) is concerned, Ross dismissed the need for accuracy in the name of finding an actress with the right kind of strength and maturity.
"This is a girl who needs to incite a revolution. We can't have an insubstantial person play her, and we can't have someone who's too young to play this. Suzanne was incredibly adamant about this. Far from being too old, she was very concerned that we would cast someone who was too young."
That bit raises an interesting question in regard to Collins' own desire for accuracy in casting. Many readers wondered if Lawrence was already too old to play even a scrappy 16-year-old survivor, especially one described in casting breakdowns as looking 'underfed.' But Collins' concern that Ross might go too young suggests that the age-specific detail isn't a priority. So then, which details are?
Asked about the apparent ethnic elements in Collins' description of Katniss, Ross waved off the issue and suggested that, while supporting characters Rue and Thresh are clearly African-American according to Collins' original vision, Katniss is ambiguous. Just ambiguous enough to be played, conveniently enough, by a blond Caucasian woman.
"Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American. Suzanne had no issues with Jen playing the role. And she thought there was a tremendous amount of flexibility. It wasn't doctrine to her. Jen will have dark hair in the role, but that's something movies can easily achieve."
Missing the greater point, Ross assuaged fan fears with a laugh. "I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer's hair color."
It may be enough that Ross has found a proven and talented performer to carry the Hunger Games films, but his responses here remain slightly unsatisfying. He makes no specific address of Katniss's olive skin color, for example, or the possibility that she's bi-racial -- the more controversial attributes of the Katniss casting.
It's Collins' justifications for the Lawrence casting that will be more important to hear, as her explanation will carry greater implications -- and she probably knows it. Ross manages to skirt the issue by hiding behind ambiguity, acknowledging the possibility of eager fans' alternate readings with a line whose tone, unfortunately, is hard to pin down in print: "I think a lot of the debate that has gone on about who Katniss is is fantastic, because people feel very passionately that their take on the character is unique and correct."
What fans ought to seek out is an acknowledgment by Collins as to whether or not it matters that Lawrence doesn't physically fit the bill her words seem to conjure. Further, it would be a confidence-booster if Collins asserted her involvement in the casting choice as an extension of the scope of her creative involvement in the film adaptation.
But ultimately Lawrence is our new Katniss, and at least you know she's got the chops to pull off a role like this. Novel adaptations rarely achieve the fidelity to source that fans hope for and now that the most important piece of the puzzle is in place, the remaining cast choices will ultimately give more of a sense of what Ross' version of Collins' vision will be.
Did the Gary Ross explanation assuage your fears? Do any of Movieline's picks to play Peeta and Gale have a shot? And is it time to let the Katniss casting debate go and hope for the best? Sound off below.