When rumors hit the Net last week that the highly-anticipated adaptation of The Hobbit was being delayed a full year, it wasn’t good news for fans who are dying to see this film on the big-screen. However, we were right to treat it as a rumor, as soon afterward, producer Peter Jackson debunked the rumor, saying that as far as he’s concerned there’s been no delay and the film (Part 1) is still on course for a December 2011 release.

So, with that out of the way, one of the biggest questions hovering over The Hobbit is that of who will bring the characters of the classic fantasy tale to life, most importantly (I think you’ll agree) the role of Bilbo Baggins. Clearly, with the story taking place six decades before The Fellowship of the Ring, they can’t use Ian Holm again. Ian McKellen has said in the past an actor is already signed on to play Bilbo, but exactly who that is has remained a mystery up until this point.

Well, with this report from The Hollywood Reporter’s Heat Vision Blog, it may mean that instead of being signed, the actor may have just have been kept in mind: Casting for The Hobbit is set to start this week in Los Angeles and London, reports Variety, with Jackson, Guillermo del Toro and Co. apparently set to cast the net wide to find the right actors for the roles. That means we could very well end up seeing an unknown get the role of Bilbo, as opposed to a famous actor as some might expect.

However, Bilbo isn’t the ONLY role to be cast, and Jackson says they’re casting for every role except for Gandalf, which is being reserved for he who played him in the LOTR trilogy, Ian McKellen (wasn’t he confirmed?!). Here’s what Jackson has said about the casting:

“We’re auditioning for every role… 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.”

Some very surprising info buried within THR’s report is Jackson’s denial that he’s approached any actor to reprise their role beyond McKellen as Gandalf. Where does that leave the apparent confirmation of both Hugo Weaving as Lord Elrond and the no-brainer of Andy Serkis returning to play (at least in motion-capture form) Gollum. I doubt Jackson will go with anyone else unless they absolutely knock it out of the park (being a better fit than, for example, Weaving as Lord Elrond). Jackson says that, “Apart from Ian McKellen, who we obviously want to return as Gandalf, we are not really offering any roles to anybody until we’ve done a casting sweep.”

Getting back to the possibilities of unknowns being cast, Jackson says he and del Toro have casting approval for both Part 1 and 2 of The Hobbit, and they feel no pressure to cast big name stars in any of the roles, even Bilbo:

“(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.”

Lastly, Jackson also reiterated that The Hobbit is NOT delayed, and that’s it’s still on course for its 2011 release as planned. The status on the scripts is still as we last reported: the first has been handed in already, with the script for Part 2 being halfway written, and they hope to hand in the draft to WB in a few weeks, around Christmas time.

I’d personally love for an unknown actor to be cast in the role of Bilbo Baggins. It’s not like they need a big-name star to get people interested in the project (it’s going to make serious box office bank, mark my words), and in the end there just might not be one out there that suits the role of a hobbit. James McAvoy has often been rumored to play the role, but Jackson has “pooh-poohed” that he’s approached him about it. I think casting McAvoy as Bilbo is just wishful thinking on the part of fans, me included, admittedly.  I personally think he’s an amazing choice for the role – I kind of get that vibe that everyone got when Robert Downey Jr. was announced as Iron Man: no on thought of him at first, but as soon as the announcement came it was like a lightbulb turned on.

Does McAvoy fit the role of Bilbo to you?

However, much like it was with Brandon Routh playing Superman, making Bilbo an unknown will really help you invest in the character you’re going to be following, as opposed to just seeing Johnny Depp in a hobbit outfit.

Do you think Bilbo, and the rest of The Hobbit cast, should be played by unknowns? Do you think casting big-name actors would take away from it? Or since it worked in LOTR do you think it’s fine either way? I know it’s been asked a thousand times but who would you like to see play Bilbo Baggins?

Part 1 of The Hobbit is set to be released in December, 2011, with Part 2 following a year later in December, 2012. Shooting is supposed to start filming around the summer next year.

Source: THR (Heat Vision Blog)