‘Hunger Games’ Star Josh Andrés Rivera Built Sejanus Around ‘Empathy First and Foremost’

“He just leads with his heart,” the actor tells TheWrap

Josh Andres Rivera as Sejanus Plinth
Lionsgate

Spoiler alert: The following contains major spoilers from “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

“Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” character Sejanus Plinth might be the most songbird of any of the characters, besides Hunter Schafer’s Tigris, at least in terms of his morality.

Actor Josh Andrés Rivera plays Plinth, who is friends with (future President) Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blythe) at the beginning of the film.

But as ambition consumes Snow, the two friends find themselves on opposing ends of the moral compass. Snow’s ambition drives him to commit immoral acts, including poisoning Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage).

Driven by his personal goals and inner conviction that the districts system is not a fair form of government, Sejanus nearly helps a woman escape prison and ultimately District 12. When Coriolanus learns of the plan, he tips off the Capitol via Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis), and soldiers locate and execute his friend.

Rivera recently spoke with TheWrap about his character’s journey in the prequel film and how his complex friendship with Snow (played by Donald Sutherland in the original four films) unraveled due to their opposing morals.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Did you have a core element that you centered Sejanus around? What was your guiding North Star?

Rivera: The empathy first and foremost was a big component to Sejanus and something that you see that not a lot of other characters, at least say out loud, with his relationship to his district community and District 2 and his background being a little bit more humble. He came into wealth just a little bit later in his life. So I think he has a real feel for other people’s feelings and their humanity and their complexity and I tried to build off of somebody who’s a very open, sensitive, empathetic person and raw I tried to build off of whatever scenarios happened on top of it.

How would you describe the relationship/friendship dynamic between Sejanus and Coriolanus?

What I think is so beautiful and also a little bit sad about their relationship is that, initially in both the book and the film, Coriolanus claims ‘I don’t like [Sejanus]. I tolerate him.’ That’s the first thing that he says about Sejanus and it kind of puts a weird seasoning in the air going forward as they get closer and closer because you have this skepticism of the way that Coryo sees Sejanus, like whether or not he does care about him. Is that a lie that he tells his peers because they don’t like him and he cares about his perception? Sejanus’ love for Coryo I think is genuine, and he really does see good in him and he sees a leader and somebody that could make a difference and somebody with humanity and spirit. I think he’s ignorant to that kind of aspect of Coriolanus, which I think is a beautiful color to put on their relationship that makes things just a little bit more complicated, especially as things play out and you see how Coriolanus reacts to all that. It’s just a beautiful kind of melting pot of subtext and feeling and color. 

Is there a line or action or moment of the friendship between the Sejanus that changed meaning or really stuck out after we find out President Snow’s fate and what path he goes down?

When he’s in his his Peacekeeper era and he just witnessed what he witnesses at The Hanging Tree, that’s a big growth moment for him to decide to take matters … I don’t want to say ‘into his own hands,’ but he really went to the community and decided like, well, we can do this. I think it was the first time maybe in his life, definitely since he’s been in The Capitol that he was around ike-minded people who had a similar sense of justice. And when he’s talking through the jail cell windows, you kind of see that that’s a little bit different. He starts giving Coryo a little bit more sass. There’s a little bit less reverence there in that relationship. There’s kind of a split off that happens at some point, which I think signifies Sejanus’ growth as a character.

Were there any moments that you didn’t agree with such Janus decisions or you had a hard time rationalizing them and portraying some of them?

I never had a hard time rationalizing or portraying [him], but there were definitely a few moments in there that [were]] like, you know, when in a horror movie when you’re like, ‘Don’t go in there. What are you doing?’ There were definitely a few moments like that with him. But that’s sort of the charm of him. He just leads with his heart and if he knows something is the right thing to do, he just does it. He doesn’t really think it through, which I think is simultaneously beautiful and also frustrating as a viewer but yeah. I think there are a few things that I might personally have done differently.

Is there anything that stood out to you making this film years after the original four came out, after events like the pandemic, which echo the dystopian nature of the story?

I think working with Sejanus’ moral compass was a very cool, philosophical thought train that I would always go down when I would get home from filming a lot in terms of what it means to do the right thing and to be good and how do you navigate the world around you to do that effectively, in a way that matters in a way that really does make a difference? There are some things that Sejanus did that I might have done a little different, he leads with his heart and just kind of goes for it and I think I have a lot of admiration for people who can do that, but then there comes into question sort of where that fits into the actual world that you live in, and how much does that impact. It’s weird to think about, ‘Well, what is the correct way to do the right thing?’ What is the most tactical, strategic way to do the right thing? It gets nuanced.

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