I have to admit, the casting of Donald Sutherland as The Hunger Games trilogy’s main villain President Snow was a head-scratcher for me. To the book series’ audience he’s not as well-known as other villain types like, I don’t know, Christoph Waltz or Daniel Day-Lewis, and yet he was pretty fearsome in the first movie because he completely subverted his Santa Claus look and was quietly terrifying. Yet we don’t know how many of those choices belonged to author Suzanne Collins, who advised on the film, or director Gary Ross. However, we now know one specific part of Sutherland’s performance that came from the actor himself: All of Snow’s scenes in the Capitol rose gardens.
With the release of the Hunger Games DVD, Lionsgate also published the three-page email that Sutherland sent Ross after he finished reading all three books. You should most definitely read the whole thing at Business Insider, where he talks about power and compares Snow to Ted Bundy. This excerpt really grabbed me because it shows how much Sutherland grasps Snow’s strange, cat-and-mouse relationship with Katniss Everdeen:
Power corrupts, and, in many cases, absolute power makes you really horny. Clinton, Chirac, Mao, Mitterrand.
Not so, I think, with Coriolanus Snow. His obsession, his passion, is his rose garden. There’s a rose named Sterling Silver that’s lilac in colour with the most extraordinarily powerful fragrance – incredibly beautiful – I loved it in the seventies when it first appeared. They’ve made a lot of off shoots of it since then.
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 [sic] eyes. And his smile. Those three elements are vibrant and vital in Snow. 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.
How will you dramatize the interior narrative running in Katniss’s head that describes and consistently updates her relationship with the President who is ubiquitous in her mind? With omniscient calm he knows her perfectly. She knows he does and she knows that he will go to any necessary end to maintain his power because she knows that he believes that she’s a real threat to his fragile hold on his control of that power. She’s more dangerous than Joan of Arc.
Her interior dialogue/monologue defines Snow. It’s that old theatrical turnip: you can’t ‘play’ a king, you need everybody else on stage saying to each other, and therefore to the audience, stuff like “There goes the King, isn’t he a piece of work, how evil, how lovely, how benevolent, how cruel, how brilliant he is!” The idea of him, the definition of him, the audience’s perception of him, is primarily instilled by the observations of others and once that idea is set, the audience’s view of the character is pretty much unyielding. And in Snow’s case, that definition, of course, comes from Katniss.
Sutherland’s letter is what inspired the three scenes of Snow tending to his rose garden while Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) updated him on the progress of that District 12 upstart Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as, unbelievably, she wasn’t killed in the Games. In the books, we don’t learn the true function of the roses til Catching Fire, and it’s a pretty stomach-churning reveal, but I like how the filmmakers have now planted that seed (pun intended) in the first movie. Here’s hoping that the new director Francis Lawrence reads this letter and takes to heart all of Sutherland’s insights into his villain, because he’s gonna need to up the ante where Snow is concerned in the next movie.
[via HG Girl on Fire]