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'The Hunger Games': Is Jennifer Lawrence the new Katniss?

March 14, 2011 |  1:51 pm

Lawrence1 The rumor mill was running on overdrive over the weekend regarding Jennifer Lawrence and "The Hunger Games."  The 20-year-old actress, who spent much of 2010 in the spotlight due to her star-turning role in "Winter's Bone," is definitely the front-runner for the highly coveted role of Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the uber-popular dystopian series by Suzanne Collins.

But the actress has yet to be offered the part.

Lionsgate, the studio behind the publishing sensation that may have just enough romance, danger and high-concept adventure to dethrone "Twilight" from its perch as the "it" phenomenon, is being very careful as they make their selection for the lead part. And they are not talking. People with knowledge of the casting process who spoke on condition of anonymity tell us that Lawrence is loved by a few key executives at the studio but due to the importance of the property, Lionsgate wants to conduct a few more tests of the actresses in contention before making an offer.

(Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old actress who also won acclaim last year with her performance in "True Grit," is up for the role too, but there may be concern that she is too young to actually pull off the  adventuresome huntress.)

There's no denying part of Katniss is  compelling. The 16-year-old is a brave protagonist and caretaker of her family. She volunteers for the Hunger Games, an annual event where children between the ages of 12 and 18 fight each other to the death, after her younger sister is first chosen to compete. The story features a compelling love triangle but shares little else with the "Twilight" franchise.

Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit") has been hired to direct what could be a trilogy, should the first film connect with audiences. The studio hopes to begin production shortly with a release date already set for March 23, 2012.

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar party on Feb. 27 in West Hollywood. Credit:    Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images