It is youthful actors who are the visual and characteristic embodiments of the characters that Suzanne Collins brights to life in the pages of her Hunger Games Trilogy. These actors make the decision to bring the characteristics to the screen, to immortalize the story by way of film, to give a piece of themselves, moments of their lives and take on the lasting effects forever. It is the problem that comes from an inability of those watching, those who have a stake in the narrative, who derive meaning from Collins’ words, who live and breathe and embrace those characters. The relationships that are formed are not real. The people who portray the characters are real, and they give up themselves to become that which is not true, and for some, the results last throughout their entire, lives, some their entire careers.
Jennifer Lawrence / Katniss Everdeen. As an actor with critical acclaim for Winter’s Bone before being cast in The Hunger Games was entitled to public recognition before filming began. Now, she is Katniss. Even though she has won awards for other roles, in the age group that often rules the box office, she is the girl on fire. Did she realize what would happen before she became her character? She could have watched the same thing happen to Kristen Stewart as she became Bella Swan. Walking down the street, instead of being recognized as who she really is, she can be called by a name of a fictional character. We blur the lines between what is real and what is not. Katniss Everdeen is not a real person. Jennifer Lawrence is. There is hope, in time that she will be seen as the person she is, not the person she played in one of the largest grossing franchise films and novels in history.
Josh Hutcherson / Peeta Mellark. Although a successful child actor, it wasn’t until landing this role that mass public recognition occurred. And from now, until most likely years following the release and judgement of the final Hunger Games movie, he will hear the name “Peeta” shouted or whispered in his presence. Will he mind embodying the character that plays a part in saving Katniss from others, saves Katniss from herself, keeps her safe for us and for himself? Perhaps not. The role has opened more doors and provided more roles and caused more notice.
Amandla Stenberg / Rue. Besides one other small part in a smaller movie, Stenberg’s first major appearance on film is as Rue, the doomed female tribute who aids Katniss and is sacrificed in song and flowers in the area. Not only does this child appear for mass consumption in this film, she was at the centre of racial backlash because of what she looks like and the decisions of casting directors. She will forever be Rue, at least in this piece. But she is not Rue at all. For Rue is not real, but Stenberg will carry the character and all the weight that comes with her forever.
The depiction of her likeness is also interesting to note. In comparison with the other characters whose likenesses are shown on the movie posters, Rue is thoughtful, her gaze downcast. Others are looking forward, standing ready. Rue is gaining our sympathy before we watch her perish. She is connecting to our sentimentality before the movie begins. She is beautiful and thoughtful and wise – and this is an actor who was hired to characterize her, to portray her, to be our visual representation. And for that, Amandla and Rue will forever be one. But who will we see as more real?
This blurring of identities comes at a higher price for the youth of the blockbusters. Woody Harrelson (Haymitch), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) and Donald Sutherland (President Snow) are less likely to be called by the names of those who they represent on the screen. They are not the characters who the audience is meant to build lasting connections with. They have bodies of work that demonstrate their range. We have seen them before in different roles at different times. This is not their first time at or in the show. There are reasons that big franchises will make the choice to cast unknowns into the roles that will change the trajectory of their careers and forever imprint on their identity. We embrace them as the characters we have imagined and connected with and wish to connect with further. We value them not exactly for who they are, but for who they are to us. Consider the choice of Lenny Kravitz. An rockstar bad-ass. Do we not want to see Cinna as a little bit of that as well? The purveyor of design and fashion and the one task with getting the audience’s attention. Kravitz’s persona lends credit to the fiction he is meant to portray and connects the audience with Cinna without anything more than an mention.