Woody Harrelson has just been announced as Haymitch for "The Hunger Games," and I have to say… didn't see that coming, but I like it.

I haven't gone out of my way to cover every single casting hiccup on "The Hunger Games" precisely because I knew they risked burning audiences out on this before they've ever seen a frame of film.  There are a ton of speaking roles in the first film, and as a result, Lionsgate has been careful to announce each new tribute, no matter how unknown the actor, and I've been waiting for a few key roles to write about instead.

Haymitch might be my favorite character in the books.  He was the one tribute from District 12 to ever with the Hunger Games, and he's spent every year since then trying to burn the memory out of his head with booze.  He's a ruined man in many ways, propped up by the Capitol as a symbol despite his best efforts.  When Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are picked as the tributes for this year, Haymitch is told to mentor them, and once he realizes they stand an actual chance of winning, he snaps himself out of his funk to try and teach them whatever they'll need to survive.

It's a great part, and I think Harrelson could turn out to be inspired casting.  Just look at his work in "Zombieland," which seems almost like a variation on Haymitch.  He's also one of those actors who younger actors seem to really enjoy working with, and that's important here.

At this point, I hope they're wrapping up all the casting talk and just getting ready to shoot.  After all, they've got less than a year until this thing's in theaters, and it's not a tiny little indie they're shooting.  Having just rewatched "Pleasantville" on Blu-ray about a week ago, I find myself very curious about what Gary Ross is going to do with this book, and I look forward to finding out soon.

Here's the full press release:

Lionsgate® and the filmmakers of THE HUNGER GAMES are pleased to announce that actor Woody Harrelson (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, ZOMBIELAND) has been cast in the role of Haymitch Abernathy in the much anticipated film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ worldwide smash hit novel. 
 
Said director Gary Ross of the casting decision, “Haymitch is such an unforgettable character: funny cranky outrageous, sarcastic, impatient, biting but ultimately kind.  I’m so grateful we have Woody Harrelson to play him.  I can’t wait for us to get to work.”
 
Harrelson is represented by CAA.
 
About The Role

A Hunger Games victor himself, Haymitch has assumed the role of official mentor to all future tributes in his native District 12.  Though he was strong and attractive in his youth, his years of hard living following his own experiences in the arena have rendered him jaded and unfocused to say the least.  He begins to show signs of reinvigoration when he finally sees in Katniss and Peeta a pair of spirited tributes- true contenders whose fate might actually hinge on his advice and guidance.
 
About The Film

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games.  Part twisted entertainment, part government intimidation tactic, the Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy.  If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
 
THE HUNGER GAMES will be directed by Gary Ross, and produced by Nina Jacobson’s Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. Collins’ best-selling novel, which has over 3 million copies in print in the United States alone, is the first in a trilogy of novels which have developed a global following.
 
Official Hunger Games Movie Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/OfficialHungerGamesMovie
 
Official Hunger Games Movie Twitter:
http://twitter.com/thehungergames  

My cheat sheet for "The Hunger Games" is here if you're still not sure what everyone's talking about.

"The Hunger Games" will be in theaters March 23, 2012.