Thesp close to offer for Lionsgate franchise

Hollywood’s frantic search for the next “Twilight”-sized phenomenon now centers on Jennifer Lawrence, who’s first in line to play Katniss, the tomboyish heroine in the young-adult trilogy “Hunger Games.”

As Variety.com first reported Friday, Lawrence is close to an offer to play the lead in Lionsgate’s tentpole actioner. Gary Ross will direct from a script by Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins.

It’s another gritty role for Lawrence, who garnered a best actress Oscar nom for her turn as a strong-willed teen in “Winter’s Bone.” It’s also an indication that Lionsgate hopes “Games” can cross over to more mature auds; the 20-year-old thesp’s competition was mostly teens.

“Hunger Games,” based on the novel by Collins, is set in a dystopian future where a young woman joins a survival contest to save her community. Nina Jacobson is producing through her Color Force shingle, with the pic set to go into production sometime later in the year.

Variety first reported that there was strong interest in Lawrence, with Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin also in the mix. Age was a significant factor in the decision, as insiders told Variety that Ross and Lionsgate execs were weighing whether to play the role younger or older.

The choice of Lawrence (Steinfeld and Breslin are both 14) sets not only the tone of the picture, but bears upon the remaining key roles, specifically of Peeta, Katniss’ love interest.

Lawrence has not officially signed on to any other projects since her nomination. Thesp has been weighing offers, including Oliver Stone’s “Savages,” and may have had scheduling issues to settle before committing to “Hunger Games.”

Lawrence can next be seen in Fox’s “X-Men: First Class,” which opens on June 3. She just wrapped production on FilmNation thriller “House at the End of the Street.”

She is repped by CAA.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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