‘The Hunger Games’ Drafts Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Hutcherson will play Peeta, while Hemsworth is cast as Gale, studio announces.

After months of debate, speculation and rumors, Lionsgate has officially announced casting for the two male leads in the highly-anticipated film, “The Hunger Games.” Josh Hutcherson (“The Kids Are All Right”) will play romantic, reluctant hero Peeta Mellark, and Liam Hemsworth (“The Last Song”) will play brooding boy-next-door Gale Hawthorne.

Hutcherson and Hemsworth will star alongside Jennifer Lawrence, who was recently announced as having landed the coveted role of Katniss Everdeen .

Hutcherson has been acting for over a decade in films like “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” but he is perhaps most recognizable for his role in last year’s critical darling and Oscar-nominated film, “The Kids Are All Right.”

Australian Hemsworth, although slightly newer to Hollywood, has been garnering attention from his roles in TV and film, particularly Australian soap “Neighbours” and last year’s tear-jerker romance, “The Last Song.” (That and the fact that he dated Miley Cyrus.)

“The Hunger Games” is based on Suzanne Collins’ dystopian best-seller about children forced to compete in an annual, televised fight-to-the-death battle. It is an intense and violent story of survival, corrupt governments and a struggling population, with a heartbreaking love triangle thrown in for good measure. The fanbase for “The Hunger Games” is a fiercely loyal one whose ferocity and dedication to Collins’ source material have drawn comparisons to the “Twilight” fans, although “Hunger Games” readers tend to skew slightly older.

The film is slated to hit theaters March 23, 2012.

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