Read The Letter From Donald Sutherland That Transformed The 'Hunger Games' Movie

donald sutherland the hunger gamesDonald Sutherland inspired his rose garden scenes after a three-page letter to director Gary Ross.

Photo: Lionsgate / The Hunger Games

The much-anticipated “Hunger Games” DVD was released this past weekend, and though void of deleted scenes, extra features on the two-discs included a few gems. Among an eight-part making-of-the-film documentary, promotional materials for the movie, and interviews with the crew, is a lengthy letter sent from Donald Sutherland to director Gary Ross under vague title “Letters from the Rose Garden.” 

Sutherland plays main antagonist Coriolanus Snow, the callous president of the Capitol in the movies based off Suzanne Collins best-selling novels.  

After reading the series trilogy, Sutherland sent a three-page email to director Ross on power, Ted Bundy, and the elements of Snow he saw as most vital to the film. 

With the novel written from Katniss’ first-person view, there’s no chance to see anything from the perspective of the Capitol or Snow. Sutherland pointed out the film offered such an opportunity, and Ross agreed. 

His response to the letter inspired three scenes of Snow in his rose gardens during the games.

“That’s the relationship you want from an actor and director, where it’s a give and take,” said Ross. “It’s collaborative, it’s one person offering something to the other who then takes it, extrapolates it, runs with it, give it back to the actor who gives the scene back to me … that’s the way film making works best.” 

Ross will not be working on the sequel “Catching Fire” after saying he didn’t have the time necessary to pen and prep the film due to a tight production schedule. Instead,  “Water for Elephants” director Francis Lawrence will be leading the show behind the camera lens in “Catching Fire.”

Read Sutherland’s letter to Ross below:  

Dear Gary Ross: 

Power. That’s what this is about? Yes? Power and the forces that are manipulated by the powerful men and bureaucracies trying to maintain control and possession of that power? 

Power perpetrates war and oppression to maintain itself until it finally topples over with the bureaucratic weight of itself and sinks into the pages of history (except in Texas), leaving lessons that need to be learned unlearned.  

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 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. 

Evil looks like our understanding of the history of the men we’re looking at. It’s not what we see: it’s what we’ve been led to believe. Simple as that. Look at the face of Ted Bundy before you knew what he did and after you knew.  

Snow doesn’t look evil to the people in Panem’s Capitol. Bundy didn’t look evil to those girls. My wife and I were driving through Colorado when he escaped from jail there. The car radio’s warning was constant. ‘Don’t pick up any young men. The escapee looks like the nicest young man imaginable’. Snow’s evil shows up in the form of the complacently confident threat that’s ever present in his eyes. His resolute stillness. Have you seen a film I did years ago? ‘The Eye of the Needle’. That fellow had some of what I’m looking for.

The woman who lived up the street from us in Brentwood came over to ask my wife a question when my wife was dropping the kids off at school. This woman and her husband had seen that movie the night before and what she wanted to know was how my wife could live with anyone who could play such an evil man. It made for an amusing dinner or two but part of my wife’s still wondering.

I’d love to speak with you whenever you have a chance so I can be on the same page with you.

They all end up the same way. Welcome to Florida, have a nice day!

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