Katniss Everdeen, the teenage heroine of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, is a sixteen-year-old girl with dark hair and olive skin. She's a lethal hunter who's also the head of her household and will do anything to protect her family, even if that means volunteering to take her little sister's place in the cruel annual Hunger Games in which two children from each of the nation's twelve districts face off in a battle to the death.
*Some spoilers for The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay follow.*
She's a crack shot with an arrow, resourceful under pressure, and clueless when it comes to figuring out her feelings for the two boys in her life. Katniss is also the symbol of the resistance and therefore the only hope for a nation of beaten, desperate people -- and she's the centerpiece of a potential three-film franchise in the vein of Twilight that's got the hottest young actresses in Hollywood vying for the role.
What Katniss is not is Chloe Moretz. At least, not in my mind. So why is Moretz at the top of some folks' lists to play Katniss in Lionsgate's planned Hunger Games film trilogy?
Two words: Hit Girl. Ever since breaking out in last spring's superhero flick Kick-Ass, Moretz has been the go-to gal when it comes to conjuring images of youthful female badassery; with the exception of perhaps Academy Award-nominated Saoirse Ronan, 16, who stars as a teenage assassin in 2011's Hanna, Moretz has cornered the market on combining preternatural maturity, innocent looks, and the ability to convince people that she can kill. And how! (Also see: Let Me In, (500) Days of Summer.)
But Moretz can't fit every bill, especially when it comes to the specific look of Katniss Everdeen. For starters, Moretz is fair-haired and fair-skinned. At 13, she's a few years too young. Makeup can't make up for that much, even if Moretz looks amazing as a wiry archer chick.
So we look elsewhere for our Katniss – but which direction is best?
Singer/tween TV vet Malese Jow earned fans on Nickelodeon's Unfabulous and the CW's The Vampire Diaries before appearing briefly in David Fincher's The Social Network, making her one of the better known Katniss potentials with an established following in the Hunger Games' teen demographic. More importantly, for fans who take Suzanne Collins' literary descriptions to mean that Katniss is of ethnic origin, Jow looks the part. Dramatically, however, Jow's relatively untested; she pulled off the conflicted vampire bit and star crossed romance as The Vampire Diaries' Anna, but can she convey the internal struggles and violent instincts that make Katniss such a riveting character on the page?
If you've been watching the guilty pleasure series Nikita (and we all know who we are), then you've seen 23-year-old Lyndsy Fonseca's unofficial bid for Katniss Everdeen -- namely, her ongoing turn as Maggie Q's mole, a former abused runaway now posing as an agent in training in the secret government agency known as Division. The role showcases much of what might be demanded of Fonseca as Katniss: vulnerability, athleticism, martial arts and weaponry skills, and the ability to hide her agenda from her enemies while communicating everything to the audience.
But at 23, has Fonseca already aged out of the part? The Hunger Games protagonist must look youthful enough to pass for 16 and yet possess the accelerated maturity that life in the dystopian nation of Panem has forced upon her. Even at her age, Katniss must deal with romance, marriage, pregnancy, and murder -- all of which might be difficult to pull off with a younger actress.
THE HORROR KID: Jodelle Ferland
Canadian actress Jodelle Ferland has played scary kids (Silent Hill, Case 39) and complex teens (Wonderful World) – sometimes at the same time (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse). At 16, she's currently as old as Katniss. With her slight build and dark features she resembles Katniss, but could Ferland convincingly send an arrow into another person's neck or fake romantic interest for the sake of the Hunger Games cameras? For the time being, Ferland might be too childlike to take on the role of the often cold and calculating heroine, especially once the accelerated events of the third book, Mockingjay, roll around.
THE FAN FAVORITE: Kaya Scodelario
Eighteen-year-old Kaya Scodelario may be unknown in the U.S., but dig up her work on Skins in her native U.K. and you'll see why many Hunger Games fans have championed her as their favorite. (Scodelario can also be seen in Duncan Jones' sci-fi thriller Moon, opposite Sam Rockwell; also see the Brit street violence pic Shank.) With her naturally brown hair and slim build, it's not hard to imagine her as both Katniss, the bare-faced survivor with the look of the Seam about her and Katniss, the fierce young symbol of rebellion made stunning by Cinna and his team of stylists.
As troubled teen Effy on Skins, Scodelario has shown that she can play naïve and tough, tender and dangerous; what's more, it feels as though she could make Katniss likable despite her many unsavory personality traits (selfishness, a willingness to kill, and emotional immaturity among them). At 18, Scodelario also has the advantage of being able to play slightly younger and older as the character requires, since Katniss must be young enough to invoke the tragedy of the Games and mature enough to be its destroyer, fall in love, and lead others into battle.
That leaves only a few questions. Can Scodelario drop the Brit accent and adopt a North American twang? And will Lionsgate and producer Nina Jacobsen give her a chance to go for the role?
Chime in and tell us who's your ideal big-screen Katniss below.