Mike Fleming

I’m hearing that Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence has emerged as the front-runner for the lead role of Katniss Everdeen in Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games, the first installment of the novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Neither her reps nor Lionsgate would confirm, but talks should start next week. Gary Ross is directing a script by Billy Ray. Color Force’s Nina Jacobson is producing. A wide search came down to the wire this week, with Lawrence up against True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld, Little Miss Sunshine and Zombieland‘s Abigail Breslin, and Suckerpunch‘s Emily Browning. Katniss Everdeen has been the most sought-after role for a young actress since Rooney Mara won Lisbeth Salander in the David Fincher-directed adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for Sony Pictures.

The 20-year old Lawrence is coming off a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone. She’d play the 16-year old Katniss, whose hunting skills with the bow and arrow give her a fighting chance when she volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in The Hunger Games, a deadly televised competition that takes place in the futuristic ruins of North America. Two teens are plucked by lottery from each of 12 districts that replaced the United States, and the competition is a fight to the death. Her teammate is a baker’s son who has also been chosen from her dirt-poor home district. The book has been a bestselling phenomenon that gives Lionsgate hopes for a Twilight Saga-like hit.

I’m told the role will not impact her negotiations to star in Savages, a drama that Oliver Stone will direct from a script by Shane Salerno and Don Winslow, based on Winslow’s novel. Lawrence, who wrapped House at the End of the Street and plays Mystique in X-Men: First Class, is repped by CAA.

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