The 'Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' actor discusses his transformation into the future tyrant, bonding with Viola Davis, and the "eerie" experience of filming on a set in Poland.
Will the Real Slim Shady please stand up? According to the internet, that would be The Hunger Games star Tom Blyth, who has most definitely seen those fan edits comparing his young Coriolanus Snow to Eminem.
In prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the English actor goes through some physical transformations as his story darkens, including shaving his billowing blond locks down to a buzz cut when he becomes a Peacekeeper. And, well, the social media edits of Coriolanus and the “Lose Yourself” rapper have been plenty.
“The young British boy that I was once was a fan of Eminem, so I guess I'd take it as a compliment,” Blyth, 28, tells EW with a laugh.
Blyth actually shaved his natural brown hair down to a buzz cut, occasionally wearing a blonde wig over his bleached head since scenes were filmed out of order. “It felt freeing,” he says. “It’s a great way, both as human and actor, to shed some layers to get to the core.”
The Billy the Kid actor plays an 18-year-old Coriolanus (a role originated on screen by Donald Sutherland) in the prequel. Moviegoers find themselves at the 10th annual Hunger Games, a spectacle wherein two children from each of Panem’s 12 districts are forced to fight to the death as punishment for a past insurrection. Coriolanus must mentor District 12 female tribute Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler). Indifference between the two gives way to love, with the film presenting a softer side of the pre-tyrannical president.
For Blyth, it was an “obvious choice” to take a psychological deep dive into one of his favorite characters from author Suzanne Collins’ world. “I've heard a lot of people saying, ‘Why should we tell this man's story?’ And I'm like, 'Okay, first off, he's not real,'” Blyth quips. “The beauty of fictional characters is you get to look at parts of humanity that are difficult to understand. You're able to empathize.”
Indeed, don’t be too alarmed when you find yourself rooting for Coriolanus despite knowing how his story plays out. Blyth, too, mourned the character arc, sharing that portraying the future tyrant on the precipice of breaking bad occasionally took a mental toll — notably, when filming one particularly intense scene towards the end of the story in the woods.
“I'd lived in his body for quite a while, and he [goes] through so many different, subtle transformations,” Blyth offers. “To be with him in that moment of breaking down — that rage bubbling up inside him, which is then going to inform the rest of his life — I felt heartbroken for him. I wanted him to choose the righteous path.”
The environment also lent itself to the story's intensity. The first scene Blyth filmed was an “eerie” night shoot at Centennial Hall in Wrocław, Poland, which served as the game’s arena — and a venue previously used by Adolf Hitler to rally Nazi support prior to World War II. “There was this tangible feeling of terror in there,” Blyth recalls. “I think that energy lives in spaces sometimes, so to be there to [tell] this story about the rise of a tyrant was something I felt came into the performance.”
Throughout the film, Coriolanus is pulled in two directions: toward the goodness of loved ones, including cousin Tigris (Hunter Schafer), and toward the darkness of the game’s architects, Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) and Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage). Volumnia, particularly, shapes the man he becomes. Blyth and Davis built a rapport by bonding as former pupils of Juilliard, telling “tall tales and horror stories of training in the same intense institution,” Blyth says. “We found out that we had some of the same teachers years apart who had been there for so long.”
Though the cast was initially intimidated by the Oscar winner, Davis immediately put them at ease. “She makes every actor who works with her better, and Peter does the same," Blyth says.
As the prequel readies for release, Blyth concedes there was anxiety surrounding stepping into the franchise. But, as a fan, there was mostly exhilaration. “It's the first time I've done [a franchise], especially one of this magnitude and size, so there's that feeling of, ‘How is this going to change my life or career?’ But I was excited because I was aware that this was a rich world to step into.”
Plus, the lessons learned, including from Dinklage, were invaluable: “The advice he gave was, ‘This is going to be a big film. There's going to be a lot of noise. Just focus on the work [and] enjoy it.’”
But perhaps no lesson learned was greater than this: Blyth would under no circumstances ever bleach his hair for fun. “It burns like hell,” he says.
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes arrives in theaters Nov. 17. You can buy Entertainment Weekly's The Ultimate Guide to The Hunger Games here, or on newsstands.
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