There's been a lot of speculation that the two Hobbit films have been delayed and that casting has been going on, but Peter Jackson tells Moviefone that until MGM gives the project the green light, no start date can be set and no actors can be brought on board. We're not expecting that green light from MGM until the studio is either bought or restructured, but here's the latest from Jackson:
We've just delivered the script. Literally last week, we delivered the second of the two screenplays -- the first draft. So the studio's got both scripts now, which is a milestone; and if anything was holding it up, it was us doing the screenplays, because we'd just been writing as fast as we can, but it took us this long to get them finished. So we take whatever responsibility there is for the speed. And we're now in the process of budgeting the films, and then hopefully we'll get to a budget the studio [people] are happy with, and they'll greenlight the movies and we'll announce the shooting dates. I'd be pretty optimistic that we'll be shooting before the end of the year. I would imagine October, November, we'd be shooting by. I'm not announcing it, though.
You can read what else he had to say about the casting here.