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‘Songbirds & Snakes’ star Tom Blyth portrays Corio before he was ‘deliciously evil’

Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler star in "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds &amp Snakes." Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

1 of 5 | Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler star in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds &amp Snakes.” Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

NEW YORK, Feb. 13 (UPI) — Tom Blyth says he loved The Hunger Games movies of the 2010s, but didn’t re-watch them after booking the role of Coriolanus in the prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, because he didn’t want them to influence his performance.

Set for DVD and Blu-ray release on Tuesday, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young-adult novel also stars Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Jason Schwartzman and Viola Davis.

The dystopian drama was directed by Francis Lawrence and is set more than 60 years before the events of The Hunger Games book and film series.

It follows the enterprising young Coriolanus Snow (Blyth), who will some day serve as the tyrannical president of Panem, but for now is assigned to mentor Lucy (Zegler), a tribute from the impoverished District 12, as she competes in televised death matches to secure food for her community.

Blyth, 29, said during a recent virtual press conference that he and Lawrence agreed he should look at ways to make the role his own, as opposed to trying to duplicate the “deliciously evil” way Donald Sutherland played an older version of Coriolanus in the original four blockbuster movies.

“Obviously, the first instinct I had was to try and recreate [his portrayal] somehow, or to nod to it in a savvy way. But the thing is that’s never gonna be slick. It’s never gonna be savvy. Everyone’s gonna be like, ‘It feels like you’re copying a performance that has already been great,'” the Billy the Kid and Benediction star said.

Blyth said the key to achieving this was to focus on who Corio was when he was a boy and a struggling young man before fulfilling his destiny as a dictator.

“He is a different character in this movie and in this book. He’s a character who is a brother and a grandson and a student, and an ambitious kid who just wants to do well in his life,” Blyth said.

“By the end of the movie, he’s something totally different because of his relationship with Lucy Gray, and because of his relationship to the Capitol, in general, and what he sees and what he learns.”

The actor said he had a musical playlist that helped him get into the character’s mindset before the cameras rolled each day.

“Music’s a big way in for me. ‘Money Power Glory’ by Lana Del Rey is the first song on the playlist. And then it goes to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by the Beatles, because that song has always, since I was a kid, just made me feel really kind of kooky and crazy. It feels unhinged. When he undergoes his transformation, that was a big one,” he said.

“And then all the way to Wagner’s ‘[Ride of the] Valkyries’ when he’s kind of feeling epic and like royalty.”

The film’s sets were meticulously created to match what Collins described in her novel, and Blyth said they met or exceeded his expectations.

“The Hob, for me, was like a moment where I went, ‘Oh, I could never have imagined this in my wildest dreams,'” he recalled.

“I thought it was just a marketplace with a little shack where the music is played when I read it. But, actually, Uli Hanisch — art director, production designer — he set it in this old, disused iron mine,” he said. “They put the marketplace in there, and the stage in there, so it echoed and had all this cool paraphernalia, some of which you recognize from the first films, and some of it’s new. But that was a cool moment for me.”

The DVD and Blu-ray include audio commentary by Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, as well as a featurette titled “Welcome Back to Panem,” and others that detail the music, costumes and casting for the film.

The discs also include the music video for “The Hanging Tree” sung by Zegler.

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