'Hunger Games' exclusive: Why Gary Ross got the coveted job, and who suggested Megan Fox for the lead role

Hunger-Games-directorImage Credit: Lee Roth/RothStock/PR PhotosRecently, EW spoke exclusively with director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) about his vision for the Hunger Games, the first installment of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy. (If you’re one of the few people out there who’ve still yet to give in to the immense reading pleasure of Collins’ futuristic world, where a cruel Capitol sends its children to fight to the death on reality TV, right that wrong.) The conversation with Ross, who discovered the books after listening to his twin 15-year-old son and daughter rave over them, was really just a delightful geek-out session on the true grit of 16-year-old hero Katniss Everdeen, and Collins’ urgent and timely message about the power of the individual.

After Ross devoured the trilogy he flew himself to London over the summer to meet with producer Nina Jacobson — who was on the set of One Day, another great read! — to plead his case. “I felt very protective of the book,” says Jacobson, who already had a long line of interested directors at her door. “There was a version of the movie that could be made that would in fact be guilty of all of the sins of the Capitol and portray this violence among youth irresponsibly. If you put the visual wow as your priority over the character of Katniss, you risk making junk food out of something which is anything but. And Gary had a real feel for the balancing act between the epic adventure and the intimate love story.”

“I’m so touched by the humanity of Katniss,” Ross tells EW. “As much as the firestorm or the final action sequences are incredibly riveting and enormous, it’s the relationships in the books that are the most moving to me.” That’s good news for fans of the book from Lubbock, Texas. Upon news that Ross had taken the helm, an 8th grade reading teacher from Lubbock’s Frenship Middle School instructed her 134 students to each pen letters to the director with advice on how to best nail the film. “So many of them wrote ‘Listen, I know this is an action movie and I can’t wait to see the action but please don’t lose the heart of the story,'” relays Ross. CAUTION! STOP! FAT SPOILER ALERT! “The death of Rue is mentioned by every kid who reads the book.”

One Frenship boy pleaded for Megan Fox in the role of Katniss, a perhaps misguided request at least partially driven by hormones. Ross and Jacobson will soon be heading into casting meetings, and they understand the growing clamoring for a relative unknown in the main role. “I don’t think she should be famous,” says Jacobson. “I think that fans want Katniss to belong to them and I understand that. And I think that sometimes with people who have a strong other identity — as a celebrity or as a well known other character — you feel like that person doesn’t belong to you and I think that’s what fans are looking for.” Ross promises that casting announcements will come soon, as the film hopes to go into production in the late spring.

For much more of our conversation with Gary Ross about the Hunger Games, including scoop on the budget, rating, and plans to bring the Muttations to life, check out the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday, Jan. 7. And check back here at EW.com tomorrow for more scoop from the director.

Comments (202 total) Add your comment
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  • Alex

    Gosh, this producer kicks ass. First One Day, and now The Hunger Games. I like her.

    • Strepsi

      Know who I always pictured as Cinna?

      Kyan Douglas from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”

      http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1390233/

      • Sherry

        brilliant – that is exactly who I pictured too!

      • dania

        whats the name of the producer??

      • tracy

        he doesnt seem…..um strong? not in build but in the face kinda thing.. that proberly doesnt make sence…

    • KLS

      I was thinking the same thing! Awesome!

    • Lex

      Agreed! But if Megan Fox gets even close to being in this movie I will not get paid to watch it.

      • hungerfan

        The Megan Fox comment is a joke. Does anyone read the article or do they just pick choice words to cling to?

      • taylor hayes

        yea i think it should be someone not famous too! i probably wouldnt like the movie much if megan fox played katniss because thats the COMPLETE opposite of katniss for sure!

  • Bridget

    If they cast Meghan Fox the movie would not do well. I’m hoping for an unknown for all parts!! So excited news for this is popping up!

    • mel

      yeah this movie need someone that can act like they have emotions and they are covering them up.

    • hungergames3

      If they casted Megan Fox I would not see the movie. Megan Fox is fine in Transformers, but it would ruin Hunger Games. I’d be the one petitioning it at the opening day.

    • konaluvur97

      Yes!! Agreed. Espeically for Katniss and Peeta. They are just both so unique I would be absolutley crushed if they were played by a famous actress and actor because I wouldn’t be able to picture the famous person as the character. AT ALL.

      • insertwittynamehere

        I totally agree! I really want to see this movie, but if they cast anyone famous for Katniss, Peeta, or Gale, I will NOT acknowledge that it exists…

    • A2

      Can anyone please tell my why everyone wants an unknown for the main lead. I don’t understand why?

      • DK

        my personal reason is the fact I want to see KATNISS, not some actress PLAYING her. I’m one of those people that reads extensively up on actors and actresses, and I could only picture just the actress, not the role she is meant to play. Plus, there wasn’t one actress, famous or otherwise, that put Katniss into my head. But that’s just me.

      • Stacey

        Because they don’t what people to relate the famous person to the prior role they want them to be unknown because they would fit more

      • IMO

        For me, I want to see the movie because of the story, not who plays the characters. I think too many times when books are made into movies, the tendency to cast a known actor often takes away from the story, which is what I’m going to see.
        I like to go to movies to see my favorite actors/actresses, but sometimes the personality overtakes the character. (And is helped along by the media and marketing machines that can’t let the movie stand on its own merit or grow one.)

      • Taylor Murphy

        People r saying 4 some1 who is new because they do not want some1 who is greedy and selfish to play the role of any character! I would like some1 new cuz that person will get a chance to show us what they got. Also, Megan Fox looks nothing like Katniss, she is to old to play Katniss!

  • what up

    I really loved this book! Loved the character of Katniss she was so relatable. I’m glad they ruled out Megan Fox now, an unknown would be best to play her.

  • John

    Incredibly excited for this movie, but there was no need to mention Megan Fox in the article. She won’t be cast as Katniss. Bringing up Megan Fox’s name at all just creates a petty opportunity to insult Megan Fox in comments about how terrible it would be if she were cast as Katniss.

    • Katie

      agreed…that was a pretty cheap method of getting people to read the article.

  • Ruby

    I haven’t even read the books (I plan to), but I almost had a heart attack imagining Megan Fox in it. She’s such a joke! Thank God the people behind the movie have more sense than that.

  • Vic

    bahahaha just imagining megan fox as katniss… definitely wouldn’t work.

    so excited for this movie!

  • Briana

    I’m more concered about the role of Peeta. I can’t wait till casting starts!

    • Vickie Ess

      Hunter Parrish as Peeta? Relatively “unknown” with blonde hair blue eyes. Anyone…?

      • Anna

        YES. He’s the only one I can see doing justice to the role.

      • Nicole

        AGREED! I can’t watch Weeds anymore without picturing Silas as Peeta! He would be PERFECT!

      • hellolovely

        Oooh, that’s a good thought. He’s taller and slimmer than I pictured Peeta, but that’s not a bad thing! Plus, he can actually act.

      • Tanya

        Hunter Parrish is the PERFECT person for the Peeta Role. Just PERFECT.

    • Em

      Me too! Im glad im not alone. Don’t get me wrong I love Katniss but Peeta is the best

  • Casey

    I’m really looking forward to this movie, especially since they really seem like they’re trying to to tell the story as it is and not destroy it or turn it into some lame tweeny crapfest. Although I don’t think 8th graders are the best fans to listen to.

    • Kate

      What is wrong with Eighth Graders? Surely they are the target demographic of both the book and the movie…? Many adults love the stories and will go see the movies (I’m one of them), but the producers would be unwise to alienate the main fan base. Now I’m not suggesting that eighth graders have any idea how to make a good movie but let’s not be dismissive or condescending.

      • Kate B

        I definitely agree, eighth graders are who the book was written for and will probably be the hardest fans to please. As adults I think we are more willing to accept changes in film adaptations as necessary. What I don’t understand here is why everyone seems to take the Megan Fox comment, obviously meant as a joke, seriously. Of course she was never in consideration!

      • JG

        I am from the school that wrote the letters to him, and nearly pissed my pants reading this. In truth, i know who said Megan Fox and if you were ever to meet him then you could understand the dimwitted comment. I assure you that A. My class period is half a bunch of idiots and B. we didn’t all wish for that. Some of us truly wish for the movie to be made the way it should be and make a truly horrific yet brilliant tale somewhat mirroring Orwells 1984 that shall be great for all audiences.

      • JG

        Oh and trust me. B.B. was serious about megan fox.

      • hungerfan

        JG, you and I both know that BB was totally kidding and wrote that remark to be funny. I don’t think our PreAP class is full of “dim-witted idiots”, but I’m sure they’d love to hear how you feel.

      • jojo

        totally there are even a ton of people i know in grade 7 that are into it

    • Casey

      I was under the impression the demographic was a little bit higher than 8th grade, but I suppose it fits. I just think 8th graders may not fully grasp everything the story encompasses. I mean, yes, there are plenty of smart ones out there, but there are also a lot of dumb ones who have no taste…which is why another certain series is popular.

      • Melanie

        @Casey – 8th graders are smarter than you think. Give them a little bit of credit. I see nothing wrong with junior high kids being passionate about “another certain series”. Were you reading high brow literature at 13? They all have to start somewhere, and I’m not sure if you’ve ever taught 8th graders, but most need something to hook them on to reading before they are ready to challenge themselves. They don’t just read Twilight. Twilight is a “gateway book” for many of them. I will never understand the need to bash that series. It is fluff, and if it makes a student pick up Bram Stoker’s Dracula down the pike, then I think it has served its purpose. No one ever labeled it “literature”, but what in the heck is wrong with a book that opens a students eyes to the possibility that reading might be enjoyable?

      • dddd

        it is higher then 8th grade. its meant for teenager not tweens. tween have no taste, look at there favorite things, twilight and megan fox. ew. Hunger games is a brutal exploration of the capacities of humans and the emotions that are experianced

      • galeprimrue

        @dddd: NO! Us tweens do NOT only like Megan Fox and Twilight! I personally HATE twilight AND Megan Fox

        And who cares if we don’t fully understand the meaning? I understand part of it, and I am younger than 8th grade. But I still loves the book, and I at least got something out of it.

        So, there.

      • Suzie Q

        I feel so offended by all of this, being in 8th grade myself. While I agree that many 8th graders do not have the life experiences that would enhance the book’s meaning, that doesn’t mean that we have “no taste.” We do understand much of the book. The world that YOU may have grown up in is different than the world today. Children are exposed to violence at an earlier age. The media aspects(which are a huge part of the book) are something that everyone can understand.
        Also, about the “Twilight” thing. If the series had been aimed at and was popular with 18 year olds, would you say the same thing? Or are you just saying that because of our age, we don’t know “real literature?” I read “Little Women” in 4th grade and understood it completely. Is that not “real literature?” Will you say that I was too young to understand it? I understand that not everyone is like me, but please don’t write us all of as Twihards and Megan Fox fans. It’s called age discrimination.

      • Anne

        Suzie Q is right. I’m younger than 8th grade and I had 12th grade reading comprehension when I was tested last year. I fully understood this book, and found it quite interesting. Personally, I hate Twilight and will not see this movie if Megan Fox is cast. I think it’s just a matter of who reads it. Believe me, I know many “tweens” who arn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. The kid who suggested Megan Fox for the role may have been one of them, or not, but everyone, even tweens, have individual opinions that matter just as much as everyone else’s. Not all of us are stupid.

      • 8th grader

        @Casey, Anne, etc.: It’s true not all of us “tweens” are completely tasteless (i.e., salivate over things such as Twilight, Megan Fox, Robert Pattinson, et al – I for one stay far away from anything involving that Bermuda Triangle), but sadly, most of us are. It’s usually either drooling over R-Patz and shreiking at a Bieber concert (girls) or giggling at any hint of innuendo and playing Halo from dusk til dawn (boys). What a sad thing my generation is… maybe it’ll be better in 5 years. We all hope.

  • Kacey

    I hope I hope I HOPE that they cast Kristin Chenoweth as Effie.

    • Steve

      You and me both! I can totally imagine her saying, “And may the odds be ever in your favor!”

    • A@

      Angela Kinsey would be so much better! I can’t think of anyone else to play Effie.

    • Hannah

      I like the feeling of an unknown cast, EXCEPT for the roles of Effie and Haymitch. Effie just BELONGS to Kristin Chenowith, and I like the idea of Robert Downey Jr. as Haymitch.

      • Amy Leigh

        See, I pictured Hugh Laurie as Haymitch when I was reading the trilogy.

    • Lindsay

      Kristin Chenowith would be perfect as Effie! I’m still trying to decide who should play Caesar Flickerman.

      • effie fan

        Elizabeth Banks!!

    • Amy Leigh

      Kristen Chenoweth IS Effie to me. There is not a single actress that I can think of that would fit Effie as well as she does.

      • galeprimrue

        AGREED! No one could do Effie. No one but Kristen Chenoweth!

      • Em

        Nooo! Elizabeth Banks!!!

  • Silly B

    Eeeek! I can’t wait till they start the casting. Robert Downey FTW! (errrr.. as Haymicht not Katniss..lol)

    • LMNOP

      Robert Downey Jr–great idea!!

    • Heather P

      Unfortunately, I think he may be a bit over the budget for this movie. I think he’d be great in it. Personally, I’d kind of like to see Johnny Depp in the role. He’s done lots of indie films. I think he’d be great.

      • leslie

        omg i can so see johnny depp as haymitch!!!!!!!!!!! ahhhh i so want him in the movie that would be so coll to see him do a head dive when he’s drunk!! :D

      • Amy

        If they were going to cast Johnny Depp (in some crazy alternate reality where he would play a relatively minor role), I could see him as Cinna.

      • dahlia

        And Johnny Depp wouldn’t be over budget? He commands at least as much $$$ as Downey.

    • Kacey

      I do like the idea of Robert Downey Jr. as Haymitch. But I think Hugh Laurie would be great too.

      • Jeanie

        I pictured Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Haymitch when I read the books.

    • Yusuf

      I was very upset at the end of this book. My heart broke when Finnick got attacked by the mutts, baeucse he was going to be leaving Annie all on her own, and then we figure out she is going to have a son! and i agree with the twilight part, but not in the same sense as i think you do. to me Katniss was like Bella after Edward left her to go to Italy. depressed, emotional, and mentally disoriented. And i became rather upset when she was talking about killing herself! and for those who are upset about prim, remember she is with her father now (and not real)

  • Carrie

    Megan Fox would obviously be all wrong for the part. After seeing “True Grit”, I’m hoping Hailee Steinfeld will play Katniss. She’s got the long dark hair and the acting chops. Only someone very talented and special could play the part.

    • keely

      As I watched True Grit and was mesmerized by that young woman’s presence and ferocity I absolutely thought of Katniss. If she were interested that would be amazing luck for fans of the novel.

      • Samantha S.

        Hailee has expressed interest in doing The Hunger Games. I hope she gets the part too! Her or Kaya Scoldelorio (sp?)

      • CHANdelier

        She was absolutely amazing in “True Grit.” I actually smiled when I read this article, especially this line:

        “The conversation with Ross, who discovered the books after listening to his twin 15-year-old son and daughter rave over them, was really just a delightful geek-out session on the *true grit* of 16-year-old hero Katniss Everdeen, and Collins’ urgent and timely message about the power of the individual.”

        I mean, are they sending us a secret message or what?! Just kidding of course. Found that funny though. (:

        I cannot see anyone else being Katniss. Hailee is the kind of girl who can be very pretty but also fierce and dirty, like in TG. Also the age is right, because she’ll grow into the roll instead of starting out way too old to begin with.

        HAILEE FTW!

      • Gabi

        You do have some good choices like hamtiych, but rue was way off. She is suppost to look african-american, but she looks whiter then prim. and aslo prim is a really good fit. i was thinking someone more like alexandra daddario for katniss and william moseley for peeta.

    • James

      Glad to see I’m not the only one that thinks she would be amazing in the role!

    • KC

      I thought about her the other day, and think she would be absolutely perfect. She was so good in True Grit. I’d love to see her as Katniss!

      • Helle

        Loved the books and read them just like you did. It must be the teacher in us! Can’t wait to see the movie, but our girls will have to wait. I still think 9 & 7 are too young for the whole eicprxenee. They haven’t seen the last two Harry Potter movies yet.

    • Nicole

      She was amazing in True Grit, but I cannot imagine her playing Katniss any more than Chloe Moretz. I’ve believed for months that Lyndsy Fonseca was a perfect fit, being in an action series and all, and I was overjoyed when she was sent a script.

  • Jess

    Has anyone brought up True Grit’s Hallie Steinfeld for Katniss? She could be phenomenal! (I’m gunning for either her, Chloe Moretz, or Saoirse Ronan)

    • James

      Those were the three I was thinking!! Though the prospect of a complete unknown still seems like the best

    • Allie

      No, definately not. She’s too round in the face and looks about 10 or 11. I couldn’t picture her as Katniss in a thousand years. If she gets cast I may rethink seeing the movie. Sorry.

  • Melissa

    I’m sure he’s seen the video of Rue’s Death on Youtube…I want that girl to play Katniss.

  • zozo

    I cannot wait for this film!!….The Hunger Games trilogy is the best series I’ve read in a long. The characters,(crazy about Katniss; the best female protagonist ever) the story, stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

  • zozo

    If an unknown cannot be cast then either Jennifer Lawrence(Winter’s Bone), Saoirse Ronan…Hallie Steinfeld is a wonderful actress but a little too young I think because she is 13 and Katniss is 16 when the story begins.

    • Gizmo

      Hallie is pretty young, but I heard that she is 5’8″. so tall! haha she can pull off looking like a 16 year old.

    • jesharris

      Hailee just turned 14 in December. By the time the movie is released she will probably be close to 16. And if they make the trilogy, she would not age out of the role so quickly as would an actress who really is 16 or 18 now.

    • dahlia

      Hailee just turned 14, and will be 15 when they begin filming, if things go according to schedule. Her age actually makes her perfect, because she will still be a teenager when and if they film the sequels.

      • Suzie Q

        Also, Katniss is a little on the small side, being malnourished and all.

      • CHANdelier

        agreed. also she’d be able to transition WITH katniss into her older years.

        She’d be fifteen playing 16! What’s so bad about that? In True Grit she was really 13 playing 14 and I don’t think anyone noticed/were bothered by that.

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