LONDON — At the junket for Lionsgate’s Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 in this chilly city two weeks ago, I asked Donald Sutherland again the same question I did during our first one-on-one for Hunger Games: Catching Fire (from Suzanne Collins’ best-selling trilogy with more than 65 million copies in print in the US alone) in L.A. around this time last year — I could see a parallelism between Hunger Games and what’s happening around the world. Am I right?
Shifting a bit on his seat, his silver top glistening under the klieg lights, Sutherland admitted, “Absolutely, you’re correct. Collins wrote the three books as an allegory for the United States specifically but it applies everywhere. You can’t impose austerity and nutrition on the population and hope to survive.”
Sutherland plays President Snow, the authoritarian leader of Panem trying to close his grip on a nation that is suddenly rebelling against him. In Mockingjay Part 1 (the third book divided into two movies, with Part 2 showing late next year), after she shattered the games that pitted bets from the different districts in duels to death, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence faces a new challenge of mobilizing the nation against the all-powerful Capitol (seat of Snow’s power) and of saving her friend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who is being manipulated by Snow who has brainwashed him.
Asked the same question, Francis Lawrence (no relation to JLaw), who directed Catching Fire and Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, answered, “Yeah, I think you’re right. You can sort of draw a parallel between Hunger Games and what’s happening in the world today or over hundreds of years. The trilogy deals with a universal theme that has been around for a long time.”
President Snow should be added to the long list of memorable roles played by Sutherland in more than 150 films, among them Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen, Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H*, John Schlesinger’s The Day of the Locust, Robert Redford’s Ordinary People, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alan Pakula’s Klute (with Jane Fonda) and Federico Fellini’s Casanova.
Asked who his role model is for President Snow, Sutherland broke into a wide smile. “I don’t have one. I just read the script and think about him and I have probably more than enough experience in life to understand a little bit about the process of governing a totalitarian state. I have my dreams, my imagination and that’s where it comes from.”
Has Sutherland ever entertained the idea of going into politics, running for public office?
“No,” his smile grew even wider, “I’m an actor and we have had actors who were presidents and they were disasters.”
You think so? I interjected.
“I don’t think so,” he stressed. “I know so.”
Because of a recent incident in which irresponsible users of social media victimized JLaw by uploading her nude pictures (“It’s not a scandal, it’s a crime. Those who watch [the pictures] are perpetuating the crime,” fumed JLaw in an exclusive interview with Vanity Fair), I sought the opinion of Sutherland and director Lawrence on the matter. Likewise, since the media is used in the Mockingjay movie as a warfare.
Sutherland: “Oh boy, I wouldn’t even know where to go because pretty much, media has to make money and if you have to make money, the message gets corrupted.”
Lawrence: “Definitely, social media mirrors what’s happening in the real world, with images on it manipulated by some people who use it for whatever reason. People should be careful and think twice about what they see in social media. Do I have a Twitter account, Facebook and Instagram? Oh yes, I have an Instagram account which is very private, exclusive for friends. I definitely try not to be political with it, unlike what’s shown in the movie.”
Come to think of it (and because he looks it on screen and even off it), is Sutherland as tough in real life as he is as President Snow?
“I think you should probably ask my wife that,” he replied still smiling. “She might say that sometimes I’m pretty tough but sometimes I’m pushy.”
I told Sutherland that I remembered him from most of his movies, so I wondered which of his more than 150 starrers is memorable to him?
He gave an answer similar to those from other artists (actors or singers) asked the same question.
“Oh, that’s like saying which of your children you like best. No, I don’t like that. If I say something, a lot of the directors are dead now and I would feel that I was offending them if I chose something else,” adding in reference to the Hunger Games franchise, “but I do love it. I really love it.”
Toward the end of our interview, Sutherland recalled after he learned where I came from, “I read a book called Philippine Society and Revolution. I can’t remember the name of the author. But it must have been in 1971 when I was in the Philippines. Marcos was the president there at that time.”
Asked which was more challenging to do, Catching Fire or the two-part Mockingjay, director Lawrence said, “Well, I would say, it’s tricky. Catching Fire has its own complexity because the shooting was done in the jungle and in iMax at that. We were doing Mockingjay 1 and 2 so it was probably more tricky.”
Any chance for him and JLaw working together in another movie?
“That would be great,” he said. “No plans yet but that will be fantastic.”
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Also in the same junket were other members of the Mockingjay cast including Julianne Moore (as President Coin), Elizabeth Banks (as Effie Trinket), Sam Claflin (as Finnick Odair) and Natalie Dormer (as Cressida). One question for all of them: How do they feel about irresponsible use of social media?
Julianne: It’s really all about propaganda but how do you present it is what matters, especially the use of words and images that would make people behave in a certain way. Social media is all about influencing people’s behavior, just like the purpose of advertising, so people should be careful in using it.
Elizabeth: Social media is very popular and I find it amazing that Suzanne Collins foresaw it and used it in her books.
Sam: The scary thing is that this is reality and this is exactly where our life is destined to go. We’ve kind of opened that spectrum of, you know, the way of being contacted. It’s a scary world, especially since there’s no courtesy anymore. Nothing is private anymore. The world is watching you no matter where you are and where you go.
Natalie: Yes, I agree that we are in a scary world. Social media makes us so vulnerable. But what the movie shows is that social media can be harnessed for a good purpose as well, which is the job of my character…to harness this tool for the benefit of the revolution to overthrow tyranny.
Incidentally, what probably makes Mockingjay more touching is the presence in the cast of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. As usual, he breezes through his role with casual ease (piece of pie) and he makes you miss him all the more, and grieve for a great actor gone too soon in a tragic way.
Released locally by Pioneer Films, Mockingjay Part 1 is showing nationwide starting today.
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