An Open Letter to Jena Malone

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Dear Jena Malone,

This is pretty awkward. I've said a lot of things about you since the July 2012 announcement that you were cast as Johanna Mason in the second through fourth Hunger Games films. Most of those things were said on Twitter, which I know is pretty shitty, because the whole world was able to see them there. Or at least the parts of the whole world that follow me on Twitter. Which is admittedly not very much of the whole world, but ultimately too much when it comes to saying mean and -- it turns out, undeserved -- things about an actress. Oh, it's not like I said anything personally offensive. Career-based stuff, really. I believe it started by tweeting a link to an article announcing that you'd been cast as Johanna and using the hashtag #STUPID. Twice. I kept going:

Bringing up Sucker Punch, the 2011 Zack Snyder girlsploitation adventure of which you were not even the lead, was a low blow. It's a terrible film to be sure, Ms. Malone, but not because of you.

And here I went bringing Paul Dano into things. I probably owe him a letter too, but that's for another day.

You have to understand, Ms. Malone: Johanna Mason is my absolute favorite character in the Hunger Games novels. She's sarcastic and mean and uses her sexuality as a weapon. She's nearly as charismatic as her 75th Hunger Games counterpart, Finnick Odair, The Panem Panty-Dropper (that's not really his nickname, but it should have been; I'll draft an open letter to Suzanne Collins soon enough, and that one will be far less apologetic in tone). When it came time to cast Catching Fire, Finnick and Johanna were the two most crucial roles, but while Finnick could ultimately be played by any sufficiently hot blond with a swimmer's build (initially maligned by fans, Sam Claflin does a very fine job in the film), Johanna was different. Johanna wasn't just a posture, she was an attitude and a jolt of energy and excitement when Katniss threatened to get a bit too morose about their awful circumstances. In the parlance of our Twitter times, Johanna is a #FlawlessQueen, and here I was calling the casting of her role #STUPID.

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In my semi-defense, Ms. Malone, you weren't the most intuitive choice to play Johanna. Over the years, your initial child-star promise had calcified into a series of roles where you played glum-faced teens, and later glum-faced twentysomethings, available to inject any film with a shot of melancholy. You were basically a slightly older Kristen Stewart. In fact, you went and took a role in Into the Wild, a film that also featured Stewart, further blurring the lines of differentiation between you. Even with the Sucker Punch role jazzing your image up to girlfighter levels, there was no indication that you could unleash the charisma necessary to pull Johanna off. Thus me bringing up your name like an epithet in conversations with fellow Hunger Games fans, and more tweets like this:

But lo! This open letter is a letter of apology, and here's why: Jena Malone, you were freaking fantastic in Catching Fire. Your performance gave sneering, defiant life to my beloved Johanna. You delivered the crucial line, "What can they do to me? There's no one left I love," with heartbreaking clarity. You managed to maintain Johanna's status as my favorite character, even while Jennifer Lawrence -- Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence -- was bringing her A-game right beside you. I've never been so happy to be so wrong.

Does a small part of me still wish there were an alternate universe where I could see what Emmy Rossum would have done with the role? Sure. I'm only human, and Emmy Rossum's performances in Beautiful Creatures and TV's Shameless basically guaranteed that she would have made a brilliant Johanna, and the fact that she wasn't even considered for the role is, frankly, insane and makes me wonder just what inmates are running the asylum over at Lionsgate, but none of this matters now, Ms. Jena Malone! You were fantastic. And I was wrong. That's on me. I'll own that one. My b, Jena. My b.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.