I have a friend who works in original content development for a cable network. She always tells me when it comes to casting that it’s better to provoke the “um, alright, if you say so” response than the “this is PERFECT” reaction. She says with ambivalence comes room to breathe, a space for the actors and director to work with less pressure. The problem with the “perfect” response is that it means that people have too specific of an idea of how that character will be, long before they see any real development on it from the actor. She’s been known to send the most awkward cuts from a screen test to her executives, just so they can’t fall in love with any one mannerism because you never know how much of what an actor does in an audition will end up in the final cut. She’s very reasonable and rational when it comes to casting decisions; she understands all the different nuances that go into it because she makes those decisions herself.
When news broke that Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth were confirmed for The Hunger Games, as Peeta and Gale respectively, she texted me two words: “HORSE. SHIT.”
If even my most reasonable friend can’t get square with this decision then we have a problem. So let’s break down the casting of Josh Hutcherson (The Bridge to Terabithia) and Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song) in The Hunger Games.
A couple weeks ago when we played teen franchise casting roulette, I said this about Hutcherson, “I can’t think of any overt cons for Hutcherson. He makes a lot of sense with this project.” And he does. Though his open-mouthed begging for the role doesn’t impress me, I do believe that you’re always better off casting good actors who, on the surface, make no sense for the role than a bad actor who is “perfect” for it. Hutcherson is one of the better young actors out there, so on that score The Hunger Games is off to a good start. On almost every other score, everyone seems to hate this decision. I’m torn. On the one hand, I think he can be made to look like Peeta. I can see him selling me Peeta’s tale of an unrequited crush. I can even see him pulling off the teen dreamboat vibe that makes Peeta so popular during the Games. Peeta is a sensitive flower, a terrible survivalist, a hapless hunter. Don’t tell me you can’t see Hutcherson being totally inept in the arena. I can.
What I can’t see? The chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss). None of us can see it. I feel like Hutcherson is going to look like Lawrence’s younger brother when they’re supposed to be young lovers. This is where Hutcherson has to sell us. This is his head-scratch moment, the place where he has room to work with how we’ve always envisioned Peeta. Because, um, I feel like there’s a lot of ground to be made up here. And I’m not convinced that having some acting talent is enough to overcome that believability gap. Chemistry is that intangible extra that is so hard to come by. From what we’ve seen of Hutcherson to date, romantic chemistry isn’t something he’s demonstrated to any degree. And he looks…odd…next to Jennifer Lawrence. Sure, he’s only 18, he could always surprise us. But it would kind of be a big surprise, wouldn’t it?
To Hemsworth’s credit, I didn’t notice him begging for this part. So there’s that. On the other hand HE HAS CYRUS COOTIES. There’s no cure for Cyrus Cooties. He just has to live with it and hope the rash doesn’t flare up too often (he’s currently dealing with a major outbreak). By casting Hemsworth, Lionsgate has made The Hunger Games susceptible to Cyrus Cooties. I hope they have lots of hand sanitizer around for people to use.
This guy actually bugs me way more than Hutcherson, and solely because I don’t think Hemsworth can act. He’s never impressed me. Sure, he looks like the kind of guy that would run around the woods, hunting and skinning critters. Okay. And yeah, I guess he’s cute enough. He’s not to my taste but I can see that he will look good on the movie posters with Lawrence. He has that over Hutcherson. But he CAN’T ACT. I pictured Gale as a charismatic, dynamic person. Hemsworth does a lot of staring into the middle distance, which is pretty much the opposite of “dynamic”. But maybe Hemsworth has the easier road, even if he is the less talented of the two, because while I don’t particularly like him, I have no trouble picturing him as a viable romantic interest for Katniss. We may be treated to Neanderthal Gale, but Neanderthal Gale will have believable moves.
Overall, I’m torn. I like Hutcherson’s talent but I don’t like his prospects as a romantic lead. I don’t like Hemsworth at all but I can accept that there are people—probably a lot of them—who will find him attractive. The casting of Hutcherson and Hemsworth is a head-scratcher all right. Let’s just hope that the maxim holds true that the more baffling the casting decision seems initially, the better it works out in the long run. Because for the first time, I’m kind of worried about The Hunger Games.