The Hunger Games Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday.
And we’re back! Now that we’ve gotten all of the basics out of the way, let’s focus on our leading lady, Katniss Everdeen. In recent weeks, we got our biggest non-casting update yet, a look at Jennifer Lawrence in costume. You can read more about my thoughts of Lawrence on the Entertainment Weekly cover as Katniss right here, but in this edition of the Countdown, we’re taking it one step further by focusing on who Katniss really is. But, before we get to the nitty gritty, let’s run through all of the latest production updates.
New Panem Residents & President
While the casting craze has certainly died down, we’ve still gotten a fairly steady stream of new faces over the past couple of weeks. Since the addition of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Lionsgate has added Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Brooke Bundy, Latarsha Rose, Lenny Kravitz, Toby Jones, Amber Chaney, Nelson Ascencio and lastly, Kimiko Gelman.
Let’s kick things off with prep team members. In the Hunger Games, each tribute gets a three-person prep team led by a stylist. Katniss’ prep team consists of Flavius, Venia and Octavia to be played by Ascencio, Gelman and Bundy respectively. In true Capitol fashion, Flavius rocks “orange corkscrew locks” and purple lipstick and Venia “aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyebrows” while Octavia’s skin is dyed a pale shade of green. Yes, the trio is mere supporting characters, but they’re quirky and colorful (pun intended) people that do grow on you, especially in the third book of the series, Mockingjay. In the first book, Katniss explains, “It’s hard to hate my prep team. They’re such total idiots. And yet, in an odd way, I know they’re sincerely trying to help me.” But ultimately, Cinna is the part of Katniss’ styling squad that truly matters as he’s not only the one who turns Katniss from a mere District 12 tribute into the girl on fire, but one of few that Katniss honestly trusts. Read more about my take on Kravitz’s casting as Cinna here. Latarsha Rose will play Portia, the role of Peeta’s stylist, but very little is made of Peeta’s relationship with her, especially as compared to Katniss’ with Cinna.
Toby Jones, who you likely know from a slew of films, some of my favorite of which are The Mist and City of Ember, will assume the role of Claudius Templesmith, the legendary announcer of the Hunger Games. We actually never see Templesmith in the book -- we only hear his voice, often booming, providing the tributes with updates in the arena. However, back in the Capitol, Templesmith is apparently hosting some sort of show, including guest commentators. As Jones voices the character Dobby in the Harry Potter films, he'll likely have no problem going without any physical screen time in The Hunger Games. Then again, this could be the perfect opportunity to put the adaptive nature of the project to use and perhaps let us meet Templesmith in the flesh.
As described by Haymitch, an Avox is “someone who committed a crime. They cut out her tongue so she can’t speak.” Avoxes often work in servant-like positions in the Capitol and that poor individual Haymitch references is a particular server. When Katniss catches sight of her, she’s sure she’s seen her before. Sure enough, a short while later, Katniss recalls the memory and realizes there’s far more between them than a decadent Capitol cake. Dark red hair? Check. Striking features? Check. Porcelain white skin? Check. Amber Chaney is our Avox.
We’ve also got the final two tributes and the most vicious at that, District 2’s Cato and Clove. While Race to Witch Mountain’s Alexander Ludwig was once in contention for the role of Peeta, he wound up being the antithesis, a career, a tribute bred for the Hunger Games. I’m curious to see how Ludwig stacks up against Josh Hutcherson. At one point, Katniss calls Cato “monstrous” and while Dayo Okeniyi’s Thresh should be the biggest of the bunch, Cato must still have a strong and domineering presence. Hopefully Ludwig has grown quite a bit since Race to Witch Mountain.
As for Cato’s fellow tribute, Clove, this is one of my favorite casting decisions of the whole process. Isabelle Fuhrman is the ultimate creepy child in Orphan and now that she’s grown quite a bit, will undoubtedly become a ruthless teenage predator. Just imagining Fuhrman act out Clove’s most striking and ferocious moment in the book is quite chilling.
Lastly, we’ve got Panem’s #1, President Snow himself. Katniss catches a mere glimpse of Snow just a few times in the first book, albeit for rather weighty moments. She calls him a “a small, thin man with paper-white hair.” Donald Sutherland isn’t small by any means, but when it comes to casting a prominent and talented actor with 50 years of experience, certain visual elements can be sacrificed. Ultimately, what it comes down to for this character is his unspoken sinister side, this sensation that he’s ever-present and harboring the power to squash any citizen like a bug in an instant. Sutherland should have no trouble donning the “snakelike” eyes of President Snow.
The Fan Sites Weigh In - Who is Katniss Everdeen?
In a recent discussion with the fine staff of TheHob.org, I brought up the idea of breaking down the character of Katniss via popular big-screen heroines. However, by haphazardly throwing out the first two names that came to mind, Hit Girl and Lara Croft, I nearly extinguished the entire effort because, as the writers of The Hob pointed out, minus the fact that Katniss must fight, she’s really nothing like either.
[Image courtesy of Adina at mockingjay.net]
We really don't see the comparison of Katniss to these superhero women. A superhero goes out looking for the bad guy to protect the people, etc. Katniss was forced into the games, and the people she has to kill aren't necessarily 'bad guys,’ but rather other children being forced into the sick game along with her. What makes Katniss so unique and a fascinating character is that she goes into the games to protect her family and then in the games protects Peeta and Rue, whom she comes to care for.
That being said, I left it to The Hob to find more appropriate parallels and they pinpointed another Jennifer Lawrence character, Winter’s Bone’s Ree. They explained, “The movie almost plays out like an audition for the role of Katniss! Ree, like Katniss, takes care of her family while her despondent mother cannot.” If you’re looking to formulate a sense of the character beyond Lawrence, The Hob points you in the direction of Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s Buffy. “She is chosen for the job, she did not decide to go out and start slaying vampires. She does it to protect the people around her and she is particularly self-sacrificing when in it comes to family.
[Image courtesy of Frouzan at frouzan.deviantart.com]
While many are up in arms about the constant comparison of The Hunger Games to The Twilight Saga, to my surprise, The Hob actually called Bella Swan the most like Katniss of the characters we discussed and they do have a point, suggesting Bella’s desperation to fight for the people she loves is much like Katniss’ behavior throughout the trilogy. But don’t get carried away and take this as a thumbs up to put The Hunger Games right on line with Twilight. The Hob also suggests that while Bella and Katniss do share some similarities, a pivotal difference with a monumental effect on the tone of the story is that “Bella is led by her all encompassing true love; Katniss is led by the will to survive.”
Katniss is an incredibly multi-layered character, making it particularly easy to misunderstand her. In opposition to The Twilight Saga, the phrases “Team Katniss” and “Team Peeta,” don’t apply to romance, rather the actual battle at hand. Just like any new person you meet, there’s a surface value and then who the person really is. At the beginning of The Hunger Games, author Suzanne Collins merely offers up Katniss’ rather harsh exterior. Even throughout the piece, there are times you ache for Katniss to simply be kinder to the people around her, especially when it comes to embracing Peeta’s love. When Peeta’s presented as the sweet and loving boy with bread while Katniss is feisty and, at times, unappreciative, how can you not find yourself pulling for Peeta in this fight to the death?
Theresa of Down With The Capitol admits to having been a proud member of Team Peeta, but, after reading the Hunger Games anthology, The Girl Who Was On Fire, specifically Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ entry, “Team Katniss,” she felt compelled to switch teams. Theresa recalls, “Barnes, brings forth the point that Katniss is a tough character to get to know because, unlike many other popular heroines, she doesn't know who she is as a person.” Theresa points out that in the first book, Peeta himself says, "She has no idea. The effect she can have."
[Image courtesy of Chelsea at al-jinni.tumblr.com/]
So then, who is Katniss? Citing Barnes, Theresa puts forward, “She's not a Buffy. She's not a Bella. She limps across the finish line when we're used to seeing heroes racing, she eases into a quiet, steady love instead of falling fast and hard." Theresa herself also adds, “She's real; not a superhero. She makes real decisions and yes, sometimes those are wrong or perhaps not well thought out, but she's real.” As for Katniss’ more romantic side, in her “Team Katniss” Read Along, Theresa draws attention to a quote from Barnes’ piece: “In Katniss' mind romance was something ‘she never had time for' and when circumstances forced her to start thinking of love, it was always tied in her mind to survival."
Katniss is not your typical teenage girl out to get the guy or even someone who fantasizes about being a hero. Everything Katniss experiences in The Hunger Games is a result of external forces; events that force Katniss to adapt. It’s through those changes that we meet someone that, like Theresa points out, is truly “real.” While Katniss does have priorities, namely survival and her family, her means to preserving both can often feel irrational and selfish, but also noble and admirable. She’s a 16-year-old and is presented as just that, someone who’s yet to come into her own and hasn’t quite figured out the right way to get what she wants and needs.
The Hunger Games Countdown runs here on Movies.com every other Wednesday. There's 295 days until release.