Now that we’re finished waiting for The Hunger Games to arrive in theaters, we can begin the important work: waiting for Catching Fire to arrive in theaters. The sequel is slated for a Thanksgiving 2013 release — although there remains the outside possibility that Lionsgate will split the book into two movies for artistic reasons, and let’s theoretically call those movies Catching Fire Part 1: Love Takes a Victory Tour and Catching Fire Part 2: Back 2 the Arena. You can bet that casting updates for the sequel aren’t too far away, since the book introduces a few fan-fave characters. Yesterday, we asked you who should play tortured golden boy Finnick, and you responded with a resounding cry of “Ryan Kwanten!” along with a slightly-less-resounding-but-nevertheless-impressive-for-his-weight-class cry of “Grant Gustin!” Today, though, we’re going to ask the really tricky question: Who should play Johanna Mason, the cunning, nihilistic victor from District 7? (Warning: A few SPOILERS from Catching Fire follow.)
Johanna is a tricky character to pin down. She won her own Hunger Games using a bit of guile — “by very convincingly portraying herself as weak and helpless so that she would be ignored.” But Johanna isn’t just a stealth assassin. She’s also an axe-murdering warrior from Lumberjackland, possessed of what Suzanne Collins describes as “a wicked ability to murder.” Subterfuge or not, there are elements of free-spiritedness to Johanna: The first time Katniss and Peeta meet her, Johanna strips down to nothing but her green slippers. (That might just be how you say hello in District 7. District 7 is so weird, you guys.) Collins doesn’t offer much in the way of physical description of Johanna. She’s got spiky hair and wide-set brown eyes. She’s roughly in her early 20s, and since she’s supposed to be a bit older than Katniss, let’s say that the actress playing Johanna can be anywhere from 1 to 10 years older than Jennifer Lawrence, giving us a rough age range of 22 to 32.
When I read the books, I was visualizing a Michelle Rodriguez-ish character — think Rodriguez circa S.W.A.T. — which unfortunately describes absolutely no other actress, since the finest engineers in Hollywood have struggled for over a decade to invent anyone else who can play the Michelle Rodriguez character. (Rodriguez is probably a bit old for the part. Additionally, if she’s cast, she may accidentally tear off Josh Hutcherson’s head.) Kristen Bell has reportedly campaigned for the role, an idea which would have seemed much cooler before her curve-ball career turn into rom-coms. Still, Bell’s not a bad choice — there’s something of Johanna Mason in Uda Bengt, the half-fascist captain of the Valhalla Catering team that Bell played on Party Down. Likewise, Naya Rivera has been playing a very Johanna-like character on Glee. (It’s not hard to imagine Santana wielding an axe.)
While we’re talking cheap up-and-coming TV actresses who wouldn’t mind taking a showy supporting role in a big franchise, Emilia Clarke‘s dragon queen on Game of Thrones has the wide-set eyes, the ability to balance internal struggle with external badassery, and a pro-nudity policy. Margarita Levieva had a recurring role on Revenge as a bananagrams-crazy homicidal maniac. Nikita star Lyndsy Fonseca came up frequently in initial conversations about casting Katniss, but Fonseca was always a little too old (and maybe too glam) to play the girl from District 12 — it’s worth throwing her into the mix, if only because mentioning Lyndsy Fonseca in a post about The Hunger Games makes me feel like it’s 2010 all over again. And speaking of 2010, that’s the year that Friday Night Lights star Jurnee Smollett became Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and besides a supporting role in the gone and forgotten The Defenders, she’s been mostly absent from the screen. Maybe that should change.
Then again, maybe focusing on TV actresses is too limiting. After all, Johanna is one of the showiest roles, and she’s a presence in both Catching Fire and Mockingjay — which means the actress playing Johanna will be in two or three or four or even five of the biggest movies of the next few years. (No doubt in 2016, we’ll all be saying, “Man, Mockingjay Part 3 is so depressing, it makes Mockingjay Part 2 look like Mockingjay Part 1!”) So maybe the better comparison here is to a role like Black Widow in Iron Man 2 — so we should be looking at an established movie actress who could use some franchise credentials. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has done a few action movies, although she doesn’t quite have the Johanna thousand-yard stare. That’s not a problem for Rooney Mara, whose Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would fit right into the post-apocalypse of The Hunger Games. As a left-field choice, I’d like to throw in Gemma Arterton, who managed to seem evil in two movies where she was nominally playing the heroine love interest (Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia. Wow, 2010 again!)
Still, my personal choice might seem even a bit more left field, at least in the sense that it’s as far away from Michelle Rodriguez as humanly possible. What about Mia Wasikowska? The young Australian actress has mostly avoided big Hollywood productions ever since Tim Burton forced her to make faces at green screens in the absurdly popular Alice in Wonderland, and she’s never once done a movie that seems to indicate she could handle carrying an axe. But Wasikowska has a peculiar quality that strikes me as perfect for Johanna — she can seem simultaneously tortured, headstrong, and self-loathing. (Just go back and watch her incredible performance in season 1 of In Treatment.) True, Wasikowska also has a slightly demure Paltrowvian quality, but that could just play into the double nature of Johanna: She looks unthreatening right up until she buries an axe in your stomach.
But don’t take my word for it! Readers, who’s your Johanna? Vote in the poll below, and be sure to tell us the actress who we didn’t mention who is clearly perfect for the role in the comment boards.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich