Gary Ross Defends Jennifer Lawrence Casting, Says Hunger Games Author Approves

jenniferlawrence300.jpgOn 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.



  • The Winchester says:

    The dude playing Spiderman in his teenage formative years is a lot closer to 30 than 20.
    All those Pretty Little Liars can legally drink, no lying required.
    Why is casting a girl 4 years older than her fictional character's age that big a deal suddenly? It's called "acting" for a reason.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    You're correct, of course. But with Hunger Games there's such intense scrutiny because fans want to see the novels come to life as faithfully as possible. That means getting every key detail right, almost more so because Collins wrote her characters very specifically down to age, build, and physicality.

  • Andrew says:

    I haven't read the books, but other than "olive-skinned" is there anything that says the character is/isn't a specific race in the text?
    I know tons of olive-skinned caucasians including some of my own family, so I don't see how being olive-skinned automatically rules out honkey-ness.

  • m. says:

    I was satisfied with Gary Ross interview with EW and thrilled that Suzanne Collins feels that Lawrence is the best actress to play Katniss. It's Collins creation and if Jennifer's audition is what she envisioned in her head then fantastic. Time to move on and stop all the Annie Wilkes/Misery Chastain stuff.

  • Nicole says:

    The character's mother and sister are described as blond and blue eyed, and it would be a real stretch to suggest that the sisters have different fathers.
    What will piss me off is if they cast white people in every role except the two obvious African American characters mentioned in the article.
    As for age: keep in mind that Lawrence is younger than most of the "16 year olds" on Glee. While I'd much prefer to watch children who look like children carry out horrible acts of violence City of God style, it's just not going to happen in a mass market Hollywood movie.

  • Brandy says:

    I was starting to calm down about the casting new, obviously not excited, but resigned and then Gary Ross's condescending comment about dying her hair ticked me off again. Basically if you read the description of Katniss in the book, Jennifer is the physical opposite. Now if you feel it's not important to the story say that, but laughing off fan concerns makes me think you just don't get it.

  • Cam says:

    I'm not so bothered by the physical concerns (though they are VERY valid) because those things can be changed, but I have to say that this casting does make me rethink my ideas on who will play Peeta and Gale. The Katniss role was always going to require someone with some real acting chops, so I'm pleased that they didn't forego that concern in favor of seeking out a perfect physical math, that would not have been wise either. I will now be anticipating greatly more news of additional casting. I would love to see Adam Lambert play Cinna... I love the unheralded depth of that character.

  • Andrew says: because she's olive-skinned and her mother and sister are described as blond-haired and blue-eyed you're just jumping to the conclusion that she's bi-racial?
    Have you never heard of recessive genes?
    Do they mention the father at all? How do you know he's not Italian or Greek or Black Irish or Armenian or (I could go on all day)...
    I'm beginning to think ya'll are the racists by forcing race into an issue just so you can make a stink about it.

    • Has Anyone Looked at an Olive Lately says:

      " because she's olive-skinned and her mother and sister are described as blond-haired and blue-eyed you're just jumping to the conclusion that she's bi-racial? Have you never heard of recessive genes?
      Do they mention the father at all?"

      Coupled with the fact that her father is described as dark-skinned, not olive, but dark--and that recessive genes are present in all races...yes, yes she could be bit-racial.

      "How do you know he's not Italian or Greek or Black Irish or Armenian or..."

      Well, Southern Europe (Italy, Spain) was invaded, occupied and ruled by Africans. So that olive-skin, is a hereditary gene passed on from the Moors. So technically, even if she was Italian, Greek, or Armenian, she would still be of mixed heritage--and in the good ole U. S. of A., she would be considered...wait for it...Black.

      I could go on all day...

  • brandi says:

    Yes they do mention the father

  • DSQ says:

    Her dad is descibed as having dark skin. No one said white actress should have been excluded but that Hispanic and bi-racial actresses should not have been excluded from the casting call.
    It is very suspect that a character whos race was left up to interpretation casting was only open to white actresses.

  • C. says:

    I think that Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice for the movie, not because of race, not because of weight or height, not because of what Suzanne Collins said about the casting, but because I simply thought she is a beautiful woman and she'll make a good Katniss... just thought I'd say that.

    • Has Anyone Looked at an Olive Lately says:

      The ONLY WHITE NEED APPLY casting is what makes this a race issue. The fact that all ethnicities were not considered for the role, as Katniss’ character is racially ambiguous--Olive skin, dark hair, and grey eyes encompasses a range of ethnicities. It really is that simple.

      It’s not just about another heroine being white, or Jenninfer Lawerence's ability to play the part; the opportunity for POC (People of Color) to audition for the role wasn’t even extended. We will never know if someone of color, a non-white actor, could have possibly been "the perfect choice", because Suzanne's choice was regulated to "White Only".