The Ballad of Songbirds Snakes Director Compares Viola Davis’ Character to Willy Wonka

The world of The Hunger Games is getting a major expansion next month, when The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes arrives in theaters. The prequel film will dive into the lore around the 10th Hunger Games, both with regards to a younger Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), and the allies and adversaries in his orbit. This includes Dr. Gaul, the Games’ gamemaker who will be portrayed by Viola Davis. In a recent interview with, director Francis Lawrence and costume designer Trish Summerville dove into the inspiration for Gaul — Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka.

“There was this wild, kind of quirky creativity and joy in creativity that character had but with this kind of sinister underpinning,” Lawrence explained. “I have to admit, I was a bit nervous to tell her that reference. But she got it immediately, luckily.”

“[Dr. Gaul] may appear to be sort of the villain in this, but she actually really believes in these things and thinks it’s the right thing to do…” Lawrence continued. “It was really fun to see that come together. Obviously the character from the book informs it … then you get into hair, makeup, wardrobe, all of that. And Viola puts it all together and came up with this version of Dr. Gaul.”

“Willy Wonka mad scientist, Dr. Frankenstein kind of vibe” Summerville echoed, adding that there’s a “whimsical feel” with a “dark side to her that’s devious… She has to have this jovial side where she draws you in, but then she is really terrifying at the same time.”

What Is The Hunger Games Prequel About?

In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, years before he would become the tyrannical President of Panem, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) is the last hope for his fading lineage, a once-proud family that has fallen from grace in a post-war Capitol. With the 10th annual Hunger Games fast approaching, the young Snow is alarmed when he is assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), the girl tribute from impoverished District 12. But, after Lucy Gray commands all of Panem’s attention by defiantly singing during the reaping ceremony, Snow thinks he might be able to turn the odds in their favor. Uniting their instincts for showmanship and newfound political savvy, Snow and Lucy’s race against time to survive will ultimately reveal who is a songbird, and who is a snake.

The ensemble cast for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also includes Hunter Schafer, Jason Schwartzman, Laurel Marsden, Viola Davis, Peter Dinklage, Jose Andr?s Rivera, Ashley Liao, Mackenzie Lansing, Irene Boehm, Cooper Dillon, Luna Kuse, Kjell Brutscheidt, Dimitri Abold, Athena Strates, Dakota Shapiro, George Somner and Vaughan Reilly, Lilly Maria Cooper, Sofia Sannchez, and Max Raphael. Nina Jacobson will executive produce alongside her producing partner Brad Simpson, as well as Lawrence, Collins, and Tim Palen.

Will There Be Other Hunger Games Spinoffs?

For years, fans have campaigned for other expansions of the franchise’s lore, including a deeper look at the 50th Hunger Games won by Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), and the 65th Hunger Games won by Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin). In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lawrence hinted that he isn’t opposed to the possibility, but any future chapters will probably have to be rooted in an idea from Collins herself.

“I liked being part of the series originally because the stories are great,” Lawrence explained. “But what was always gratifying was that they were always about something. Suzanne always writes from a thematic foundation. The original ones were all about the consequences of war. [Songbirds and Snakes is] about the state of nature. That’s what makes them feel rich and not superficial, and I think it’s why they’ve stood the test of time, honestly… If Suzanne has another thematic idea that she feels fits into the world of Panem — whether that’s with new people [or] familiar characters [like] Finnick, Haymitch, whoever — I’d be really interested in looking at it and being a part of it. But I don’t have any pull of just going, ‘I would love to do Finnick’s games.’ He’s a great character, but what’s the thematic underpinnings that make it worth telling and relevant?”

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The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set to be released exclusively in theaters on November 17th.