After a career of iconic, empowering roles, Viola Davis is ready to be the bad guy.
The star plays the villainous head gamemaker in the new prequel movie Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, an experience that she said she “absolutely loved.”
“Just seeing how many times you can make someone squirm — like Tom Blyth, oh man it was a joy because he was very receptive to it, so I was just so happy about poking him,” Davis told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Monday. “Even in the scene when I had to inject him and give him stitches, I think, loved it.”
She added that she was drawn to the Hunger Games franchise after reading Suzanne Collins’ book and wanting to “see if I can be in this world. That’s the thing with actors, when you feel like can you do it, can you actually do it? That’s the thing that excites you because it scares you.”
The movie is set decades before Coriolanus Snow becomes the tyrannical president of Panem, and follows him as an 18-year-old (played by Blyth) who is assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (played by Rachel Zegler) from District 12 in the 10th annual Hunger Games.
Blyth noted that he and Zegler became “really close friends” throughout filming as the movie was “a big undertaking,” and “you kind of need a partner in crime to lean on when you’re doing that. And she couldn’t have been a better one.”
The actor also said he has not yet talked to Donald Sutherland — who played Snow in the original franchise — about the role, but “I’m grateful that he kind of allowed me the space to do this, whether he knew he was doing that or not I appreciate it. Now that it’s done and I’m not fearful of trying to copy his amazing performance — which is definitely something I was concerned about, I tried to give some space to that because it’s a different character at the beginning, but now that it’s said and done and it’s in the fan’s hands, I would love to touch base with him at some point.”
Another star who didn’t contact a related actor from the original franchise was Jason Schwartzman; he plays Lucky Flickerman, the host of the 10th Hunger Games who shares a familial connection to Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman.
“When I saw the first [Hunger Games] I thought to myself, Stanley Tucci in this movie is a godsend and I want to be in a part like this. I literally was just like the biggest fan of it and in my mind that’s the epitome of just a great performance and a great world,” Schwartman told THR, though noting the two have never met. “To be able to now be an ancestor, it’s pretty heavy.”
Director Francis Lawrence, who also helmed three of the original Hunger Games films, admitted that he thought the franchise was done in 2015 until Collins surprised him by writing another book. He worked a number of references to the mega franchise into the prequel, and reacted to Jennifer Lawrence’s recent comments that she would be interested in returning as Katniss.
“If Suzanne wrote something that involved Katniss again, sure, that would be amazing, but I personally feel like the Katniss story is done,” Lawrence revealed. “I love Jen, I’ve done four movies with Jen and I’d love to work with her again but the truth is I feel like Katniss is sort of done. I would probably guess that Suzanne would say so too, but you never know.”
Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes hits theaters on Friday.
Tiffany Taylor contributed to this report.