As portrayed by Donald Sutherland in the original “Hunger Games” film trilogy 10 years ago, President Coriolanus Snow is about as fearsomely wretched as villains come — a heartless, dystopian dictator who stops at nothing to keep the haves empowered above the have-nots.
As portrayed by 28-year-old British actor Tom Blyth in director Francis Lawrence’s new prequel feature, “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” Snow is a Capitol teen forced to reluctantly exist in a world where violence is a means of survival — full of heart but little grit, measured book smarts but sheltered naivety.
It’s after meeting a tribute at the 10th Hunger Games, a singer from the lower districts named Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), that the young Coriolanus must decide whether to push back on the pillars of fatal inequities that keep the world he knows intact, or to embrace them for the dangling carrot of security they provide him and his family.
Centering a 64-year-prior prequel story on her beloved franchise’s presiding sociopath was the eyebrow-raising conceit of author Suzanne Collins’ 2020 novel. And in Blyth’s hands, the film adaptation urgently interrogates “why someone does terrible things by going back and looking at their history and their humanity and all the things that lead them on their path to become what they become,” Blyth explained.
Speaking with TheWrap just days after “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was granted an interim agreement during the tail end of the 118-day SAG-AFTRA strike, Blyth reflected that his interest in playing “Corio,” as he called him, was never rooted in thinking that “any evil villain is deserving of a backstory or deserving of becoming a protagonist.” Instead, it was to “hold a mirror up to society and say, why do we do what we do?”
“That’s the purpose of arts, right?” he said. “For me, there’s nothing more interesting than doing that about someone who I can’t, in my life, relate to. But through the art and the storytelling I get to at least try and understand him a little bit better.”
Less a document of Coriolanus’ utter plunge into evil and more a reflection on how the world order can harden its innocent in moments of desperation, “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” dramatizes how the 10th annual Hunger Games was an early, influential turning point for Coriolanus before becoming the iron-fisted monarch we know decades later.
“By the end of the film, you get to really see the change,” Blyth said. “I want people to be heartbroken by it in the way that I was when I read the book. You want to fall in love with him and be absolutely f–king heartbroken when he breaks bad and becomes his darker self. And we should be able to relate a little bit, even though we don’t want to.”
Born in Birmingham, U.K., Blyth is today a resident of New York City after graduating from the Juilliard School in 2020. He began a career in the performing arts as a teenager, booking a minor screen role in Ridley Scott’s Russell Crowe-starring “Robin Hood” in 2010. But audiences will know him best for a memorable appearance as male suitor Archie Baldwin on HBO’s “The Gilded Age” and for top-lining two seasons of the well-liked MGM+ biographical series “Billy the Kid” from creator Michael Hirst (“Vikings”).
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” marks an enviable launchpad in an already on-the-rise career.
“Everyone keeps saying it’s a game-changer. And obviously, I think that I feel the size of the movie and the fact that fans are already really excited about it,” Blyth said of what his future might hold.
“Honestly, the main thing that I look forward to — if anything comes of this apart from just making a great movie and honoring the book and the fans — is just to be able to have access to the really great stories that people are telling and work with great filmmakers. I want to keep challenging myself.”
Read on to discover how Blyth first landed the coveted role of Coriolanus Snow, his reverence for the action-packed franchise and his admirable ease with costar Zegler.
Congratulations on this film, Tom. How and why did you first get in the running to play a young Coriolanus Snow?
I was in L.A. at the time working on something else, a small film, and I got the audition and didn’t know what it was for, because it was so secretive to begin with. So I was auditioning for this part that I was like, “Oh, this is well written, there’s some depth here.” And then two callbacks later, my agent was like, “We think this might be the new ‘Hunger Games’ installment,” to which I was obviously like, “Wait, what the heck? There’s a new ‘Hunger Games’ installment?” I was a fan of movies, but hadn’t really read the books as a kid, so I hadn’t known that Suzanne had written a new book. And then I obviously did my research and realized what I was auditioning for, even though they still wouldn’t admit it.
At a certain point, I’d done lots of Zoom auditions and self-tapes, maybe like three or four rounds. And then I started doing chemistry reads with a lot of actresses that they were considering for Lucy Gray, and eventually did a chemistry read with Rachel. She sang this beautiful song in the audition. It felt like everything clicked into place.
I think for fans of the book series it initially caused some head-scratching to know that we’re getting a fourth book, but it’s the backstory of the most evil character in the entire franchise.
Maybe in recent movie history.
I would say so. So what about diving into that backstory really intrigued you? And more broadly, why is a man like that deserving of an origin story?
I’m going to answer your second question first, because I think it leads me to the first one, which is I don’t think any evil villain is deserving of a backstory or deserving of becoming a protagonist. But I think that’s why it’s interesting to tell the story, right?
To me, it’s way more interesting to tell the story about why someone is evil or why someone does terrible things by going back and looking at their history and their humanity and all the things that lead them on their path to become what they become. And so it’s not a question of whether or not the character deserves to be given more screen time. I’m like, “Well, that’s the purpose of arts, right? To hold a mirror up to society and say, ‘why do we do what we do?'”
It’s also cool that, you know, it’s not real. It’s dystopian fiction, and a very entertaining one, that happens to also ask big questions about the world, because that’s what Suzanne does really well — to take an important theme that focuses on certain social questions, but then make it entertaining and filter it through this young adult fiction so that, for the audience, it’s more palatable. It’s asking big questions in a more palatable format that you can walk out and still be entertained, but also have your humanity questioned a little bit.
And your Coriolanus does have goodness in him. You see his blossoming relationship with Lucy Gray. You see the way that he mourns what he ends up having to do in that arena. Was it interesting working with those layers? Because you still need to be moving towards the end goal of knowing how this guy turns out.
I definitely had to undergo a process of forgetting what I already knew about the older President Snow. I know something that Francis and I talked about really early on was just like, we have to look at him with new eyes. Because if you go in judging him from the start, you’re not giving this version of the character a fair chance for the story to be told. So there’s an element that Francis and I both latched onto of almost treating him like he’s a new character, because it’s literally 64 years before the events of the first series. And so we tried to imagine all the things that haven’t happened yet and how that would change him into the character that Donald Sutherland portrayed. And say, like, “OK, we haven’t gone through all of that stuff yet.” So at this point, he is this 18-year-old kid in the Capitol trying to get by.
The themes that these films are exploring of the haves and the have nots — you see the first trilogy is such a hit on Netflix now that it’s made available for streaming, and with this new movie, do you feel these kinds of stories are resonating even more today? We live in a time 10 years later where young people seem more aware of the imbalance in access, imbalance in wealth.
They obviously resonated, and for me, it’s always a question about what comes first: art or reality? You know, which mimics which? And obviously, Suzanne is pulling on so much human history, dictatorships and power dynamics, all those things. But she’s also predicting the future at the same time, because humans are cyclical.
I think people more than ever, because it’s at the forefront of conversation, feel that we’re living in dystopia a little bit — a dystopia of our own making. When you see a movie like this,I think people go knowing that they’re being entertained, but also that they’re being challenged. And how cool to present a challenge like that to teenagers, the main audience of these movies? We might not have the Hunger Games in our lives, but there are other versions of that.
Was there at all a learning curve to leading a project of this scale? Or acting-wise, to working on green screens, in the genre space — what were the challenges for you?
With something of this scale and budget, it’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve done to date. I feel I went in with some preconceptions and maybe some misconceptions about it being, I don’t know, somehow less on the artistic scale because it was so big. And I definitely had that expectation blown away. Francis Lawrence is incredibly skilled and only someone so skilled could make something of this scale that was still so meaningful to so many people.
And honestly, I came in thinking there was going to be green screens all over the place. We all know about certain other big franchises where you hear stories about how it’s just green screens everywhere and they have to imagine everything. To Francis and [producer] Nina [Jacobson’s] credit, they make it so palpable and tangible because it’s all on location. I think we pretty much shot everything but two scenes on location in Europe and Berlin and Poland. And we had one soundstage, which was the Snow apartment, because it was so specific geographically and they wanted to make it very visually distinct. But apart from that, the whole film was on location. I don’t think I ever stood in front of a green screen.
Especially being in Europe — we’re in Berlin right now doing press, and we shot here, and you can’t help but feel the history of Berlin and the history of Poland. And I mean, we shot in this massive arena in Poland where Hitler gave speeches. And we’re telling a story about the coming of age of a young, dystopian dictator. I’m there, and it feels palpable and I can’t help but kind of draw parallels and let it charge the story a little bit.
The chemistry with Rachel was paramount to making this relationship work and to making the movie work. But is it true you didn’t meet in person until actually going into production? How did you get to know each other and build up the relationship that we see on screen?
We we first met on our Zoom chemistry read. Francis really wanted to get us together in the same room, but she was filming something else in London, and I was in New York and Francis was in Europe, scouting locations. So we actually didn’t meet in person until the shoot had already begun, and she came and joined us after she finished this other job. So we both ended up being cast, it became official, and then Rachel and I basically like, texted and sent each other video messages and voice notes for the next month and a half.
She’s incredibly outgoing and charismatic, she would probably get along with anyone. But I do think we clicked really quickly. We both were fans of the franchise and felt very honored to be able to do this together. Out of our love for the characters that we’re portraying, it was really easy for us.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Styling by Michael Fisher for The Wall Group with Kirsten Alvarez and Brodie Reardon. (Jacket: Acne Studios | Shirt: Officine Generale | Pants: Officine Generale | Shoes: Burberry)
The post ‘Hunger Games’ Star Tom Blyth Says He Wanted ‘People to Be Heartbroken’ by His Portrayal of a Young Monster appeared first on TheWrap.