LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Who says youth is wasted on the young? As Hollywood gears up to shoot nearly a dozen projects aimed at the under-25 set, young actors and actresses are at the top of casting directors' lists.
DreamWorks is in full-on casting mode for "I Am Number Four," based on the young-adult sci-fi adventure book by James Frey and Jobie Hughes. The role of the title character, an alien teen attending an American high school, already has gone to 20-year-old Alex Pettyfer. And the studio and director D.J. Caruso are in the midst of filling the parts of other high school kids for a shoot that begins next month.
Meanwhile, Andrew Niccol is "meeting everybody" for his sci-fi movie "I'm.mortal," in which adults and teens look identical in a world where no one appears older than 21. The film is eyeing a summer start.
Hollywood always has been youth-obsessed, but interest in teen-oriented pics has tended to be cyclical as titles like "American Pie" and "Scream" have come and gone. The current, heightened demand for fresh faces can be traced to several factors, exemplified by a couple of films: The tween-swooney "Twilight" and, though it had nothing to do with teens itself, "The Hangover."
The success of "Twilight" has convinced studios that movies starring young'uns will work in any genre -- not just gothic romance -- if cast astutely and marketed shrewdly.
Lionsgate's "Kick-Ass," an adaptation of a comic book, could test that proposition when it opens Friday. It is one of the year's most buzzed-about movies even though its cast is headed by two new-to-the-scene actors: 20-year-old Brit Aaron Johnson and 13-year-old newcomer Chloe Moretz.
Meanwhile, last summer's "Hangover" only underscored the idea that movie stars aren't necessarily required for a pic to become a runaway hit. "Why pay people who don't open movies?" one agent asks.
At the same time, aspiring stars can't just walk into the parts now up for grabs. As they go through the audition process, relatively inexperienced actors are finding they have to bring their A-game to land a part in big movies directed by A-listers with substantial budgets and franchise prospects.
Not finding enough suitable candidates stateside, casting directors aren't afraid to look to the U.K.; that's where DreamWorks found Pettyfer, for example. Max Irons, son of actor Jeremy Irons, is among the names in the mix for Warners Bros.' "The Girl With the Red Riding Hood," the Catherine Hardwicke-directed take on the fairy tale. It stars Amanda Seyfried, who'll be playing a 17-year-old fending off the village werewolf.
Parts up for grabs include a poor woodcutter and the shy son of a blacksmith. Among the actors in contention are Shiloh Fernandez, Ethan Peck, Ed Speleers, Sam Claflin and Irons. Claflin and Irons are seen as front-runners, though they are up against each other for the same part in the fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie.
Meanwhile, Bryan Singer is on the hunt for a young actor to anchor "Jack the Giant Killer," his potential franchise at New Line, and David Chase is searching for men aged 17-22 to play rockers in "The Twilight Zones," his project for Paramount about a New Jersey band trying to make it in the 1960s.
On the female front, agents are trying to get actresses into "The Help," a DreamWorks movie set in 1960s Mississippi revolving around college-aged white women and their black maids. "Every young girl in Hollywood wants in on this," said one agent who deals with that age bracket.
Aiming even younger, Paramount is hoping to begin shooting a remake of the 1980s coming-of-age pic "Little Darlings" in August. Producer J.J. Abrams is looking to populate the cast with girls under 15.
The Holy Grail role, however, is that of Peter Parker in the Marc Webb-directed Spider-Man reboot. The movie puts Parker firmly in high school as he deals with the fact he could have stopped his uncle from getting killed but didn't. Although Logan Lerman, the 18-year-old who starred in "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," has surfaced in reports as the chosen one, Sony issued a rare denial that he has been cast. Webb apparently has been conducting private readings with actors and has a couple of other choices in mind. This latest crop of actors won't hit the screen until 2011 or even 2012, but by then, a new Brat Pack 2.0 may evolve.