Casting ‘Catching Fire’: The case against Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee

Lionsgate must hate me, because Catching Fire still hasn’t been fully cast, and Taylor Kitsch isn’t going to be Finnick, and the column I wrote gushing his praises is basically useless now. Why?! Why, Lionsgate, WHY?! I will take this frustration to my grave.[Trav's Note- Below you'll find *SPOILERS* regarding the Catching Fire plot, so read on at your own risk!]

But Lionsgate is at least moving forward with casting Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker after Seneca Crane who turns out to be a member of the rebels uprising against President Snow; an official offer was allegedly recently made to Philip Seymour Hoffman

Here are some quick stats on PSH (I literally only refer to this man by that nickname, which I pronounce “psh”): He’s 44 years old; he was Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s best film, Almost Famous; he followed up an astonishing leading role in Capote by being the bad guy in Mission: Impossible III; and he’s basically a chameleon at playing disgruntled, grumpy types, from Synecdoche, New York to Doubt to Moneyball to The Ides of March. You want a scraggy middle-aged dude who can tear you a new asshole with his verbal righteousness, that’s PSH.

But is that Plutarch Heavensbee? In Catching Fire, Plutarch becomes Head Gamemaker after Crane’s death and is charged with planning the 75th annual Hunger Games and third Quarter Quell. He’s there when Katniss introduces herself to the Hunger Games officials — she “hung a dummy and painted Seneca Crane’s name on it” to get noticed — but it’s soon hinted that he’s not necessarily a Capitol lackey. Instead, he’s some variation of a good guy (or, at least as good as a politician type can be), showing Katniss secret messages about rebellion and eventually turning out to be a major player in the movement against Snow.

Nevertheless, Plutarch, like many other characters introduced in Catching Fire and Suzanne Collins’ final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, may want Katniss for his own ends, choosing her status as a symbol over her humanity. At one point in Catching Fire, Plutarch tells Katniss, “We had to save you because you're the mockingjay. … While you live, the revolution lives.” Nice words, but it’s fairly clear that Katniss is worth more as an image than as an actual person.

So who needs to play Plutarch? Someone able to talk out of both corners of his mouth, who can promise encouragement and support while also having his own plans and motivations. Ultimately Plutarch uses people for his own devices, so he’s essentially a freedom fighter with more invested in the cause than those serving with him. He doesn’t care if you live or die, really; he just wants results.

Could PSH handle that? Probably. But he seems older than what I envisioned for Plutarch, and … how do I put this gently … um, not as pretty as what I thought? Mentally, most everyone I associate with the Capitol is young and beautiful, and while that’s fairly superficial, oh well! It’s strongly implied that most people in the Capitol are entitled while those in the Districts aren't, so while reading the books, I thought of Plutarch as a mid-30s type, a little more clean-cut than the outlandish Caesar Flickerman but sharing that same kind of twisted bombast. PSH is excellent at being a manipulative, honest, in-your-face asshole, as we saw in Almost Famous and The Ides of March, but I think Plutarch requires more subtlety and intrigue (and, uh, youth).

Who should be Plutarch, then? My top picks go a little like this: Cillian Murphy, Karl Urban, Oded Fehr and Idris Elba. And let me tell you why:

Cillian Murphy — OK, so he hasn’t really had a recurring role in a huge franchise film before. Murphy was in Batman Begins but his role was diminished in The Dark Knight, his turn in Tron: Legacy was basically a cameo, and though he was the best part of In Time, that movie was laughably bad. (I’m chuckling now as I remember Justin Timberlake pretending to be an action star; shudder.) But still, it’s CILLIAN. MURPHY. Watch 28 Days Later, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Red Eye or Sunshine and tell me he’s not a badass; he excels at being quiet and composed and then suddenly bringing the intensity. Such a swift personality change would work for Plutarch, and at 36, Murphy is about the right age for it. Plus, I would kill children to gaze into those blue eyes.

Karl Urban — Perhaps Karl Urban is a strange choice, but I’m going to ignore duds like Pathfinder and Priest and focus on him being ambitious invading Necromonger Vaako in The Chronicles of Riddick, heartless assassin Kirill in The Bourne Supremacy, McCoy in Star Trek and, of course, Éomer in The Two Towers and Return of the King, the latter two installments of The Lord ofthe Rings trilogy. He was affable as McCoy and sinister as Vaako and Kirill, and that combo will work well for Plutarch, who is somewhat genial in his rebellion role and more threatening as Head Gamemaker. At 40, Urban may be technically too old for Plutarch, but the man doesn’t seem to age. Look at him as Éomer and check him out now — zero wrinkles. I covet his skin, Buffalo Bill-style.

Oded Fehr — Look, you and I both know that Oded Fehr’s biggest roles have been in The Mummy and Resident Evil movies, and those are not fine works of cinema. Like, at all. But there is something about Fehr that makes me wish he could get a stab at something better, a certain kind of charm that has aided him in playing humanistic, empathetic mercenaries and killers. Perhaps he’s too physical for the silently conniving Plutarch, but his single-minded loyalty in his previous roles would work well for the Head Gamemaker. Fehr is a clear longshot, but he’s a nice outside-of-the-box name to consider.

Idris Elba — I don’t know what to say about Idris Elba because every time I start talking about him, my mind turns to mush and I start drooling, and it’s a real ugly sight. But the exquisitely handsome Elba himself just keeps getting better; he’ll always be Stringer Bell from The Wire for me, but he’s also been strong in American Gangster, Thor and the recent Prometheus. When Elba portrayed Heimdall, the golden-eyed guardian of Asgard, in Thor, white supremacist groups flipped out over casting a black man as a comic book character based on a Norse god; imagine how excited they’ll be when he plays a white character from Catching Fire! But seriously, all idiotic bigotry aside, Elba always seems a little bit dangerous and a little bit secretive, with a nice mix of authoritativeness and charisma, and it would be great to see him playing a cunning politician-type. I will do anything to make this happen. Any. Thing.

Would PSH be fine for Plutarch? Yeah, OK. But there are so many other options out there to play Head Gamemaker — hopefully PSH will decline the offer and Lionsgate will broaden its horizons for their search. They’re supposedly doing that for Finnick, why not for Plutarch?