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.

Josh Hutcherson

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?

Liam Hemsworth

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.

10 thoughts on “Umm…o…kay…

  1. Lula

    Here’s my issue…Kellan Lutz, Ashley Greene, and Nikki Reed were cast in the Twilight franchise & people still throw fists full of money at those films, willingly & happily, may times over. And look at all the joy these three have brought to (most) people–we’ve spent hours making fun of these “actors” and their “contributions,” both onscreen and off.

    Shit. OK, then. You’ve just proved your point. DAMMIT, Sarah.

    But let me just add this…as someone who read the first book when it was initially released (long before it became THE thing), I maintained that if The Hunger Games ever found itself on the silver screen, the casting choices I’d be most excited about were Katniss, Cinna, and Haymitch. I support Lawrence as Katniss. Now if we can get an amazing Haymitch (not RDJ or Hugh Laurie…dear God, will people shut up? It’s casting, not type-casting!) and a quality Cinna, then I’ll roll with the Hutcherson/Hemsworth gravy train. Because eventually the Hannah Blah-banna cooties will fall off.

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  3. Tara

    Sadly I feel pretty much the same way (except I cannot attest to whether Liam can act or not as I’ve not seen him in anything). I want to love the movie…so I have my fingers crossed that they pull this off somehow. I am very interested in Cinna. I have this image in my head and cannot find a single person that fits him.

  4. sassenach

    I truly feel like this movie is in trouble. Lawrence and Hutchinson will NOT have chemistry. He will look like a weak little brother type compared to her and there is no way that I could buy a romance between these two. UGH

  5. Dani

    I have faith in the Peeta casting. I think it’s an advantage that people can’t imagine him as anything other than a little brother type for Katniss, because Katniss doesn’t really go for him (she doesn’t really go for either guy) until the end. There are plenty of points through it all that Katniss seems likely to end up alone, without either of them. I’m excited about Hutcherson because he can act, as you’ve said Sarah, and I think he’ll do great when it comes time to film Mockingjay. I really think he can own tortured Peeta. Plus he’s only 18…you grow so much in your late teens/early twenties as a person, and we’ll get to see that with the trilogy.
    The Liam Helmsworth casting is where I went “ehhhh o…kay….”
    I think Haymitch is more important than Gale.

  6. Griffin

    I think everyone is getting too hung up on the romance aspect. It’s not a fairytale love story. There’s more emphasis on friendships and bonds they make through the horror and adversity. Peeta spends a lot of the story with unrequited love…he’s resentful and in the third book not a friend to Katniss at all! Josh has the depth and the experience to handle the character and at this point that’s all I was concerned about. I think people need to relax.

  7. Amy

    I agree with Sarah that the romance between J. Lawrence and J. Hutcherson is…hard to see. But I think some of the commenters have brought up a good point- the romance only has to make sense near the end. In ‘Hunger Games’ Katniss only hooks up with Peeta in the Arena so that she won’t be ostracized back in District 12- she certainly doesn’t view him as a viable romantic partner.
    Peeta has to grow from the lovesick boy bumbling around in the Arena to the tortured, hateful, damaged young man who can’t separate his true feeling for Katniss. This will take some acting skill, and in that respect I think J. Hutcherson is a good choice- he has the acting skill to handle the transition.
    Gale goes from very angry to really, really angry- it’s a one note character, so there isn’t much asked of L. Helmsworth in that respect- he just has to be fierce, and angry, and spoiling for a fight through all 3 films.
    I think the biggest acting challenge, besides Katniss, is actually Haymitch. He is a complicated character, with a lot of layers and motivations, and so the casting of that part will need to be good. I actually think that the dynamic between Katniss and Haymitch is one of the more interesting and difficult dynamics to really capture.

  8. Dee Dee

    I am so co-signing Josh Hutcherson. This kid has impressed me since Bridge to Terabithia. And as I suspected then, he has grow’d up and become quite the handsome young man- I see no reason why this can’t wont be a future movie staaaar. Maybe not the next brad pitt, but I will be suprised if he isnt a steadily working actor in the next 5-7 years.

    Speaking of Bridge to Terabithia…whither anna sophia robb? That girl has way too much charisma for one person. Was sure she’d break out by now, but it hasnt happened yet. Ah well.

  9. Morgan Monahan

    I agree to a certain extent, I believe that hutcherson could really surprise us.. I mean really surprise us. I think he may be able to pull it off, just and that alone would be a big surprise anyone. Hemsworth on the other.. Well I very little hope in me!! I do not find him attractive-fair enough some might- but he is meant to be the hottie!!! The man if district 12!!! Dear dear, hutcherson is looking like the stronger tribute to me…

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