Casting 'Catching Fire': The case against Ryan Kwanten as Finnick Odair

If you subscribe to Entertainment Weekly like I do, you know it’s pretty much an obligation for them to mention The Hunger Games in every issue. It’s a compulsion, something Sigmund Freud would love to analyze if he were still around. And if Viggo Mortensen as Freud from David Cronenberg’s 2011 A Dangerous Method wants to visit me personally so we can discuss exactly how the King of the Oedipal Complex would dissect Suzanne Collins’ novels, I’m not going to complain.

But I am going to complain about something I spotted in the April 13 issue of EW: Based on a fan poll on the magazine’s website, True Blood hardbody Ryan Kwanten, who plays hunky-but-dumb cop Jason Stackhouse on the HBO vampire softcore porn, is the fan favorite to play Finnick Odair, a new character we’ll meet in the film adaptation of Catching Fire, Collins’ second book in her Katniss Everdeen-centered trilogy. And EW writer Darren Franich also got on the Kwanten bandwagon. But get ready for spoilers, people, because I’m about to go all anti-Jason Stackhouse on you.

Finnick is kind of a golden god, a 24-year-old Hunger Games champion from District 4 (industry: fishing) who won the 65th competition at the age of 14. He’s gorgeous and alluring, like a merman come to life with “incredible” sea green eyes, bronze hair, and a voice Katniss thinks sounds like a “seductive purr.” She’s heard rumors that Finnick sells his body to Capitol higher-ups, and she theorizes that when they have to fight each other in the upcoming 3rd Quarter Quell (designed to force all previous Hunger Games champions against each other) she needs to kill him soon to eliminate the threat. During his Hunger Games, Finnick got tons of sponsors based on his beauty alone—and one of them gave him the trident that’s now become synonymous with his public image. Poseidon, you’ve got some competition.

But Finnick isn’t just a tan six-pack. His true love is Annie Cresta, a girl who went insane during her own Hunger Games. He’s sensitive and broken from his time as a boy-toy to wealthy douchebags. And his sly, self-deprecating humor is a huge part of his personality, transforming him from a straightforward jock type to a more layered, tortured soul. The dude wears a Golden Net over his junk, but still! He has feelings!

Could Kwanten, so frequently practically nude and sauntering around on “True Blood,” fit the physical necessities of the role? Of course; the legions of girls who tune in to HBO to see his butt could tell you that. But when has Kwanten, as Jason Stackhouse, ever been forced into real emotional depth? Stackhouse's entire appeal is that he’s a stupid hottie with a heart of gold, one who can easily be manipulated into really idiotic things (getting addicted to vampire blood, helping take care of some incest-created were-panthers, deciding to become a cop). He cares about his family and friends, but he’s never experienced lasting emotional upheaval or truly heart-breaking loss. He’s a former high school football player whose glory days in the past shape his constant need for pussy in the future.

In his other roles, Kwanten hasn’t been that challenged, either: He started out on an Australian soap opera and has otherwise appeared in a smattering of meh romantic comedies and horrors. Not exactly back-breaking stuff.

So who should step into the famed barely there undies of Finnick Odair? I’m gunning for Taylor Kitsch, of TV’s Friday NightLights, this year’s Disney bomb John Carter and the upcoming Battleship or Charlie Hunnam, of TV’s Sons of Anarchy and Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Pacific Rim. Kitsch also placed on the same EW poll that produced Kwanten as the fan favorite, but he was only a write-in candidate, far behind Grant Justin of Glee; Alex Pettyfer of I Am Number Four; Ryan Gosling of my fantasies and daydreams; Channing Tatum of everything this year, including the upcoming male stripper epic Magic Mike; Kellan Lutz of Twilight; and Luke Evans of this week’s The Raven. Hunnam was nowhere to be found.

But they need to be noticed. Kitsch, like Kwanten, has played a high school football star, but on "FNL" Kitsch's turn as the brooding, morose, dreamy Tim Riggins helped the show establish a definitive soul. His drawling “Texas forever” is the kind of youthful, nostalgic yearning that made “FNL” about more than just the pigskin. And while “John Carter" and “Battleship” haven't tested his acting ability, there’s an undeniable charisma about Kitsch that needs to be harnessed in a challenging way. He showed glimmers of greatness as troubled photojournalist Kevin Carter in the little-seen The Bang Bang Club, and he needs another opportunity to show off those skills.

And then there’s Hunnam, who has established himself as a total badass thanks to his leading role on Kurt Sutter’s motorcycle gang FX drama “Sons of Anarchy.” But like Kitsch, Hunnam refuses to be boxed in to a stereotypical role (despite how good he looks with all those tattoos and a slightly overgrown goatee). His Jax Teller, modeled faintly after Shakespeare's Hamlet, knows there’s something rotten in his club, and he wants to change it from the inside. But as each season passes, Jax seems to get more and more corrupted and increasingly ethically challenged—hardships mirrored in his roles as brutally unforgiving men with a fondness for violence in Cold Mountain and Children of Men. Like Kitsch, though, Hunnam has great capacity for emotional depth, seen in Jax’s development as a passionate lover to high school girlfriend Tara and proud father to his two sons. He’s the kind of guy who can torture a rival gang member in one scene and then adoringly kiss his baby mama in another. Isn’t that, like, exactly what Finnick does?

So let's abandon the idea that Kwanten can make Finnick Odair happen, and take up a rallying cry for Kitsch or Hunnam instead. Plus, have I mentioned how good the latter two look shirtless? They look really good shirtless. I understand Kwanten’s appeal, but please. Leave Jason Stackhouse in Bon Temps.