In The Hunger Games, adapted for the big screen from the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins, actor Donald Sutherland plays Coriolanus Snow, the president of Panem who rules over the twelve districts with his own brand of brutality. He is the architect of the nation’s oppressive rule and the man who senses the danger in 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becoming a heroic underdog in the Games.
At the film’s press day, Donald Sutherland talked about what he looks for in roles now, the parallels he sees between this film and Occupy Wall Street, how he views President Snow, what he thinks of Jennifer Lawrence as an actress, and how he plans to do a father-son cowboy film with his son, Kiefer Sutherland. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
For those not familiar with the story, here’s the synopsis:
Each year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete in The Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and on ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which Tributes must fight with one another until one survivor remains. When the young Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) has her name called, her 16-year-old sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to enter the Games in her place. Once there, she is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts and, if she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
DONALD SUTHERLAND: Whatever starts my heart. I read The Hunger Games and I couldn’t believe it actually could be true, so I pushed it away. I sat back and said to my wife, “I think I’ve just read something that could change everything.” I had no idea about The Hunger Games. I knew nothing about the books or the fascination with them. I only discovered that, in the dermatologists office. At my age, you get barnacles taken off your head. They’re not actual barnacles, but my wretched dermatologist calls them that. She said, “What are you doing?,” and I said, “I’ve just finished shooting The Hunger Games.” I got maybe the “m” of The Hunger Games out, and office was suddenly filled with people jumping up and down in hysteria, and those were adults. So, I figured it out then.
When this script came, it seemed to me that it was a game-changer. It had the possibility, if it were properly done, to catalyze, motivate and mobilize a generation of young people who were, in my opinion, by and large, dormant in the political process. You have Occupy Wall Street, but that seems to have a limited base. I felt and I hoped that maybe this could spread out across the country. I don’t care what they do, just so long as they stand up and do something, and identify the political situation they’re in. I was thrilled at that possibility.
And then, when (director) Gary [Ross] asked me to play the President, at that time, it was a very peripheral part. We were in North Carolina, talking about the nature of these oligarchies of the privileged, and how to administer them, and he said, “I’m going to write a couple of scenes.” He’s brilliant. He’s an amazing man. He really is. You’re loathe to use the word genius, but he’s quite extraordinary, from my point of view. So, he went away and then came back with a couple of scenes of such economy of language and such specificity. He said, “I think what we have to talk about is hope and fear.” Those scenes are not in the book. He wrote them, and (author) Suzanne Collins loves them. It so perfectly defined what an administrator or bureaucrat, like Coriolanus Snow, has to do. How do you keep that underclass under control? You offer them a little hope.
How do you view President Snow?
SUTHERLAND: He expects someone to come and challenge his position. He’s very confident. His main priority is roses. You see that he looks different from the people in the community. He’s much older and he comes from a different generation. In the same sense that my parents didn’t really like Elvis Presley and I was crazy about him, it’s the same with President Snow. I don’t know how much he approves of all that’s going on, but it’s okay. Now, young people have loads tattoos. I don’t have a tattoo.
Do you have a sense of understanding of President Snow, as a character?
SUTHERLAND: Any actor gives a character a little piece of DNA. You have the script and you put it into the Petrie dish inside your belly, and out comes this fella. So, he’s part me and he’s part the script.
Do you think President Snow is afraid of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence)?
SUTHERLAND: At my age, the only thing you’re really afraid of are Depends. I think he sees challenge, and I think he sees something in Katniss Everdeen that’s been let loose. He sees the challenge that he’s been waiting for. You know that somebody is going to come up sometime, and this particular girl is someone who you can’t just kill. You have to find some other way of controlling and containing her.
What did you think of Jennifer Lawrence in the film?
SUTHERLAND: I didn’t know Jennifer Lawrence. I hadn’t seen Winter’s Bone. But, as evidenced by that picture and this picture, I would say that she’s one of the very best actors working today. She’s just wonderful. I said to her, “You should change your name to Jennifer Lawrence Olivier.”
Any chance you’ll work with your son, Kiefer?
SUTHERLAND: Yes, in about three weeks, we’re going to make a cowboy film in Saskatchewan, as a father and a son. I’m going to play the father. It’s thrilling. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.
For more Hunger Games interviews from the recent Los Angeles press junket:
And if you missed it, here’s 2 clips and over 6 minute of behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the film