The evening before hitting the red carpet for their Los Angeles premiere, the young cast of The Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, sat around a table at a restaurant in the city, reflecting. Ten years ago, ahead of the franchise’s first hit film, the table may have been filled with then up-and-comers Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson, but those three haven’t been connected to Suzanne Collins’ books since their last movie premiered in 2015. No, on that Sunday night, the table was filled with new, but decidedly on-the-rise actors Rachel Zegler, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, and Tom Blyth.
“We were just discussing how close we’ve all become,” Blyth tells W the next day, just hours before stepping on the red carpet in an arm-bearing, black Tom Ford tank top. One doesn’t have to take Blyth’s word for it, however. The cast’s camaraderie has been apparent, playing out on their trio of premieres and in the TikToks created on-set. “It’s really nice to have actors who are all around the same age, all in our twenties,” he continues. “And we’re all at slightly different points in our careers, but we’re really just starting out, so we can go through it together. None of us have been doing it long enough to be in any way jaded.”
No one who has talked with Blyth about his career thus far would accuse him of being jaded. That could be because the 28-year-old actor, who plays Coriolanus Snow in the prequel film, has only been in the game a few years now, but already has a lot to show for it. After graduating from the Juilliard School in New York in 2020 with a few bit roles under his belt, Blyth landed what is a dream gig for an actor at any age, especially in his mid-twenties—the titular role in a prestige television series. Blyth was cast as Billy The Kid on the show depicting the short life of the Wild West legend, now in the middle of its second season on MGM+. But while such a part might be seen as quite the coup for a young Juilliard grad, it’s nothing compared to what came after: the lead in a franchise-backed film like The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Blyth was in his early teens when Collins first started publishing the highly popular YA series in 2008, and he never read the books growing up, though he did catch the screen adaptions when they entered theaters starting in 2012. Instead, the Birmingham-born actor spent much of his time taking in older stories, specifically action flicks screened by his father during their weekends together. “We’d sit and watch movies pretty much from Friday to Sunday night,” Blyth recalls. His dad, Gavin Blyth, was a journalist-turned-producer, who worked on classic British soap operas like Emmerdale and Coronation Street before his death in 2010. “Through watching him work, I realized it was actually possible to make a job out of these interests,” Tom says. “And that [entertainment] is a viable way to make a living.”
It was during these marathon movie sessions that Blyth discovered Quentin Tarantino and Steve McQueen, the latter who specifically left a lasting impression. When he got a bit older and started exploring both the big and small screens on his own, he came across Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, through their respective performances in Inside Llewyn Davis and Girls. “I was like, ‘Holy crap, who are these guys?’ They were both so fiery and specific, making bold choices. It just felt so honest and truthful.” Blyth saw “a renaissance of American naturalistic actors” taking place before him, and despite his Britishness, he wanted to join in. So, he headed to their alma mater of Juilliard, receiving a full scholarship for his studies.
Now, he finds himself sharing a red carpet with a fellow alum—Viola Davis, but that of course did not happen over night. Many auditions, meetings, and chemistry reads took place before Blyth was offered what he calls his “big break.” The role of Coriolanus Snow, affectionately referred to as Coryo, is a hefty one. Fans of the series know the character through Collins’ writing, as well as Donald Sutherland’s expert depiction of the Panem president in the first four films.
“I don’t like to say this because I play him, but Donald Sutherland was truly one of my favorite characters in the original films,” Blyth admits. Sutherland’s Snow is a cold-blooded dictator, a man who enjoys watching the slaughter of children, who sees youthful rebellious spirit as a cancer that needs to be eradicated lest it threaten the controlled republic he rules. “He plays the villain with such dexterity and specificity,” Blyth says of Sutherland. “It was just so easy to hate him.” The Coryo portrayed by Blyth, however, is 60 years younger than Sutherland’s in The Hunger Games. In Ballad, Coryo is a teenager struggling to survive in the still war-torn capitol, juggling his innate moral compass with the propaganda fed to him since birth.
“He’s not a villain yet,” Blyth says of his character. “He’s maybe ambitious to a slightly toxic extent, but he’s still a fundamentally good person.” Throughout the film’s 157 minute runtime, we see a change in Coryo, an indoctrination that turns him from a mostly innocent teen into a budding tyrant. It wasn’t an easy process to undertake, and the film’s director, Francis Lawrence, asked Blyth to go in blind, without chatting to Sutherland about the role, lest he inadvertently copy aspects of his performance. Six decades is a long time—people change, mannerisms change, voices change, and exploring Coryo was something Blyth had to do on his own.
In many ways, that exploration takes place on screen. Ballad is effectively split into two parts, and there’s a definite shift that occurs within Coryo following the Hunger Games in part one when he gets sent to District 12 as a military police-like Peacekeeper. He attempts to chase after Rachel Zegler’s Lucy Gray Baird, to embrace the chaos, artistry, and beauty she represents, but that isn’t easy to do when he’s been reared in a world of extreme order.
“In the beginning, I tried to empathize with [Coryo]” Blythe says. “But then, I just had to go through the experience with him. People don’t really judge themselves morally in the moment. It’s not until afterwards that you look back and go, ‘Oh shit, I might’ve done something wrong.’” There are turning points in the film for Coryo, some subtle (Blyth notes a change in posture and speech, a coldness in the eyes), and some more obvious, specifically in one of the film’s final scenes, when his love for Lucy Gray is overpowered by the unbeatable desire to not only survive, but thrive. “He realizes he put his heart on the line with Lucy Gray, which brought him nothing but chaos and a lack of control.”
It’s slightly ironic that this role, so rooted in the idea of control (both the loss and gain of it), has led Blyth to enjoy more of just that in his own career. Already his involvement in Ballad has opened doors like never before. “I’ve gotten to meet with some directors I really love,” Blyth says, and his next year is already booked up with projects. He can’t talk about many of them at the moment, but he teases the adaption of “an American classic” by one of his favorite writers. It’s good timing for Blyth, who seems ready to take on the industry, armed with a wealth of advice from the veteran actors with whom he shared the screen in Ballad. It was his costar Davis, who plays the unhinged Dr. Volumnia Gaul, who told Blyth to work hard, but not at the expense of your own—or anyone else’s—well being. “She taught me to show up, do really good work, and then at the end of the day, get everyone home in time to have a cocktail and live their life.” Of course, Blyth recognizes that such a work-life balance is easy when you’re as successful as the EGOT-winning Davis. “I guess when you’ve won every accolade, you can step back and go, ‘This is supposed to be fun.’” From the looks of those on-set TikToks, though, Blyth has already figured that out.