Recently, 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.