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It looks like half of the latest Hobbit buzz is true! No confirmation on a female leading role, but writer/producer Peter Jackson says that casting will begin this week for every role except Gandalf, which will be offered to the man who played the part in all three Lord of The Rings films, Ian McKellen.

Jackson told THR, “What we’ve done over the years is discover a lot of interesting actors, like Orlando Bloom (in Rings), Kate Winslet (in Heavenly Creatures), Saoirse Ronan (in The Lovely Bones). So if you start looking and auditioning seriously, it’s amazing what incredible talent you’ll find out there.”

Rather than go straight for the big names, the plan is apparently to look far and wide for the actor most suitable for each role.

“(These movies) have never been a star-driven vehicle. The star is (author J.R.R.) Tolkien and the world he created. We are not under any pressure. We want to find the right people. Casting someone to portray a hobbit is not as easy as you might imagine. They have to have a particular type of physical appearance and a sensibility. And the same with an elf or a dwarf. These are fantastical characters, but you’ve got to find the right people to play them, the right humans to translate these characters.”

No roles will be offered until a casting sweep is conducted, which will take place in Los Angeles and London. Jackson confirmed that he and director Guillermo del Toro were granted approval to cast both Hobbit films and denied any rumor that production has been delayed. The first script is good to go and writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and del Toro are in the midst of the second. Jackson expects both scripts to be ready for Warner Bros. ad MGM’s approval around Christmastime.

Lastly, Jackson confirmed shooting should begin around April or May of 2010 depending “on how quickly the studio greenlights the film. It’s not in our hands. But as long as we‘re shooting next year, we’re fine.”

Talk about a lot of news at once! After months of speculation we finally have some serious updates to consider. Even with Jackson’s hope to see what’s out there before offering any roles, I expect casting news could be right around the corner. And, once April/May rolls around, set photos! Fans of The Hobbit rejoice because it looks like the filmmakers have defied the odds and are making progress. Part one of The Hobbit is actually on schedule for a December 2011 release.

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