'Thor' star is the front-runner, though 'Avengers' shooting sked could interfere

EXCLUSIVE: Could the God of Thunder be protecting Snow White next?

Universal is zeroing in on “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth for the male lead in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a move that would pair Kristen Stewart with a much younger thesp than originally envisioned for the fairytale retelling.

The project has always revolved around the relationship between the title character and the huntsman, who’s ordered to kill the heroine by the evil queen (Charleze Theron). In this version, the huntsman decides intstead to help the girl escape, becoming her protector and mentor along the way … at least, that’s how it was originally envisioned.

But Universal’s search for a leading man keeps trending younger.

Back in January, Variety first reported that Viggo Mortensen was offered the part. When the 52-year-old couldn’t come to terms, they turned to Hugh Jackman (42, who passed) and then focused on the 37-year-old Joel Edgerton (who’s ostensibly still in the running).

The 27-year-old Hemsworth would bring heightened love-interest tension when played against the 21-year-old Stewart, perhaps signaling that Universal is considering taking the story in a different direction (though Snow White is supposed to pair off with a Prince Charming, at least according to the original lore. Love triangle anyone?).

To be clear, Hemsworth has no official offer is on the table, but he’s the front-runner — the role is his if he wants it. And he comes into the picture at an auspicious time for Universal: on the brink of his breakout role in “Thor,” whose U.S. premiere is Monday in Los Angeles.

But his commitment to that role could derail his involvement in “Snow White,” as he’s scheduled to begin shooting “Marvel’s The Avengers” this summer, providing a potential conflict, sources tell Variety.

Universal had no comment.

Sources have been telling Variety that producer Joe Roth had been eyeing the actors testing for the lead in “The Bourne Legacy,” including Edgerton, but was still unable to find his man, even after the “Bourne” role went to Jeremy Renner. With “Snow White” production slated for fall, there’s still plenty of time to cast key roles.

Still, Universal would do well to work around Hemsworth’s commitments to help build buzz for “Huntsman,” scheduled for a Dec. 21, 2012, release date. The project must compete with at least two other Snow White projects in the works, including Relativity’s “The Brothers Grimm: Snow White,” which comes out six months earlier, and Disney’s “The Seven,” which hasn’t yet gotten a release date.

Rupert Sanders attached to direct “Snow White and the Huntsman,” with Evan Daugherty penning the script and Roth and Palak Patel producing.

Hemsworth is repped by IFA Talent Agency and ROAR.

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