The Hunger Games is back on cinema screens this month, with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes delving back into the earlier life of Panem’s tyrannical ruler President Snow. But before he was the young, dashing Tom Blyth, it was the Hollywood icon Donald Sutherland who embodied his evil. And Sutherland went to unusual lengths to get the job.
It turns out that Donald Sutherland just loves reading scripts for new movies, with The Hunger Games one of many that came across his desk in the early 2010s. He told GQ in 2014 that he wasn’t offered the role of Coriolanus Snow, but it “captured [his] passion” and he was itching to be involved in the movie. So he wrote a letter to director Gary Ross, which is an unusual approach for one of the best actors in Hollywood history.
“The role of the president had maybe a line in the script. Maybe two,” Sutherland explained. “Didn’t make any difference. I thought it was an incredibly important film, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Ross was, as you can imagine, impressed by Sutherland’s letter and he wrote a handful of extra scenes for President Snow. When the Hunger Games cast added Donald Sutherland, they simply had to give him a bit more to do. The result was a skin-crawling performance of corrupt power and one of the best movie villains of the star’s glittering career.
And fortunately for all of us, we got chance to read Sutherland’s letter as part of the 2012 DVD release of The Hunger Games (via Insider). It’s a fascinating description of power, in which Sutherland compares Snow to Ted Bundy.
“I didn’t want to write to you until I’d read the trilogy and now I have so: roses are of great importance. And Coriolanus’s eyes. And his smile. Those three elements are vibrant and vital in Snow,” Sutherland wrote.
“Everything else is, by and large, perfectly still and ruthlessly contained. What delight she [Katniss] gives him. He knows her so perfectly. Nothing, absolutely nothing, surprises him. He sees and understands everything. He was, quite probably, a brilliant man who’s succumbed to the siren song of power.”
Sutherland got right to the heart of Snow immediately after reading the books. While Snow is a terrible human being who thinks nothing of killing children, he’s also a fiercely intelligent person who approached everything – even the most violent acts – with a logical eye.
He’s fascinated by Katniss for lots of reasons, but largely because she’s driven not by tactics and cleverness but passion and a desire to do the right thing. Sutherland hit the nail on the head from day one, which is why he was such a perfect choice to play the Big Bad. When you watch the Hunger Games movies in order, his presence is enormous, even when he isn’t on screen. Tom Blyth has big shoes to fill.
For our take on the newest Hunger Games adventure, read our Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes review. You can also learn how a Hunger Games stunt left Jennifer Lawrence deaf for a week and find out why Donald Sutherland thinks he was stupid to reject a horror classic that became one of the best movies of all time.