Warning: This podcast contains spoilers about the ending of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
“In 2015, we thought she was done.”
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That’s what filmmaker Francis Lawrence thought about the finale of the $3 billion-plus grossing The Hunger Games franchise with Mockingjay Part 2, that is until author Suzanne Collins gave him and series pic producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson a heads up in late 2019 that a prequel manuscript set 64 years before the original film, and focusing in on the origin story of main baddie Coriolanus Snow, was coming their way.
But rather than just more bows and arrows and fierce arena battles, there was a whole other sublime element to the prequel and that was in its country music underpinnings, taking inspiration from the early turn-of-the-century Bluegrass and folksy sounds that draw their lineage from Scotland, England and Ireland. Such lyrics written in the book help paint the story of scrappy, District 12 member, Lucy Gray Baird, played by Rachel Zegler, who is part of a traveling musician group. She becomes a tribute in the first inaugural Hunger Games, and Snow her mentor. Opposites attract; the two turning each other’s worlds upside down as the posh scion realizes his purpose in the world following his father’s death years ago.
Similar to when it came to putting the cast to the original Hunger Games together, Lionsgate went with a fresh face cast on Songbirds & Snakes, Zegler’s big cinematic debut being Steven Spielberg’s 2021 feature musical remake West Side Story as Maria.
But the lead role of Snow went to British Juilliard alum Tom Blyth, who “came out of the blue” says Lawrence. The filmmaker of Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Mockingjay Part 1 & 2, caught the actor’s audition tape on a train ride through Germany where he was scouting to shoot the prequel. Lawrence tells us here why Blyth was ripe for the role, and their decisions to veer from doing a cutup of young Donald Sutherland. A key part of Blyth’s prep: Literally getting in and walking around in his character’s shoes.
But with some serious romance scenes here between Zegler and Blyth, rivaling the interludes of Love Story‘s Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, where and what is it that makes Snow turn for the worst, specifically into a man who poisons his rivals to move up the government ladder?
Explains Blyth: “If there’s a crux where it changes, it’s when he meets Lucy Gray. She challenges all of that. She represents freedom, liberty, and music and love and hope, and she challenges his notions and he starts to fall in love with her.”
He also tells, “And then in letting his guard down, he lets chaos in. And in letting chaos in, he learns that the capitol was right all along, and he was right to be fearful of chaos and he needs to control it.”
Blyth also chats about that mysterious ending in Songbirds & Snakes and what’s next for Snow. In terms of deciphering that enigma in his acting process, the actor says “I’m way more interested in not knowing.”
Songbirds & Snakes opened to $99M at the global box office this past weekend.
Listen to our conversation with Lawrence and Blyth below on the first Crew Call of the 2022-23 awards season:
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