Jessup never got a fair chance, that’s for sure. Lucy Gray Baird’s fellow tribute from District 12 was doomed from the moment he was forced to go to Panem and compete in the 10th annual Hunger Games in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. With his strength and towering presence, Jessup’s mentality from the get-go was to keep Lucy Gray safe. He never acted like a potential victor, just a protector.
Hollywood Life spoke exclusively with Nick Benson about his role as Jessup. In the film, Jessup develops rabies after being bitten by a bat on the train to Panem. He goes after Lucy Gray in the arena and falls to his death. Nick revealed how he feels Jessup would have approached the Games had he been healthy. Would he have sacrificed himself for Lucy in the end?
“That’s such a good question. In the book, they showcase his strength. He’s supposed to be a big, strong guy. He lifts his mentor up in the chair, so I think that would have been my strength if need be. But I don’t know… at least from what I read in the book, he didn’t seem like too much of an aggressive guy,” Nick said. “I think maybe the priority would have been sticking with Lucy and making sure she’s good and okay. Not even just from the tributes, but also with Snow, who I don’t really trust because he’s this Capitol scum. I think definitely the priority would have been sticking with Lucy, making sure she’s okay because she is this beautiful, young woman performer. As a bigger dude, I’m sure I’d feel the responsibility of making sure she’s okay since we have that allyship.”
Nick addressed whether or not Jessup would have been capable of killing Lucy during the Games if it had come down to the two of them. “I don’t know if he could. Genuinely. I don’t think he could go through with that,” the actor admitted.
The Big Shot alum revealed that he auditioned for Jessup and Reaper from District 11. From the jump, Nick noted that resonated more with the District 12 tribute because he is “described as a gentle giant type. I’m a big guy, but I’m genuinely nice and non-confrontational. So just at least from that alone, I was like, okay, this seems like a character that I can really get into access pretty easily.”
Most of Nick’s scenes are alongside Rachel Zegler, who plays Lucy Gray Baird. “We quite literally got tossed into the Games because she came straight from London. I was coming back from COVID,” Nick said about their first interaction. “On the first day of filming, I tested negative after a week of having COVID. After that, we both got dropped into the arena together. We got along pretty instantly. She’s so sweet and fun. I feel like it wasn’t too hard to build that relationship with her. We were just laughing and having a good time. I think that set a good foundation for the rest of the shoot.”
The 10th Hunger Games was unlike any other. Mentors were introduced for the tributes, and that’s how young Coriolanus Snow crossed paths with Lucy Gray. An explosion in the arena prior to the Games changed the stakes, giving tributes like Lucy more places to hide. The arena went from a glistening and clean stadium of death to an amphitheater of debris and chaos.
“There was little to no green screen,” Nick told Hollywood Life about the arena. “At least while I was there, we did not use a green screen to my knowledge. Everything was on location. I think maybe for reshoots they might have done green screen stuff. But other than that, it was all on location. I think the specific architecture they were looking for was pretty readily available in Germany and Berlin. The arena we used in Poland was like a multipurpose kind of space that they dressed up.”
He continued, “Across the board, the set designers did such an incredible job, but especially with the arena because it felt very real. I actually know there are a couple of moments where it wasn’t very difficult to feel like you were in the Hunger Games. I had to check where the exits were to make sure I could get out.”
Fans of the movie, Suzanne Collins’ bestselling prequel, have debated for years whether or not Coriolanus ever truly loved Lucy Gray Baird. Nick gave his two cents on the “contentious” romance.
“I think he had never met a girl like her before in his life, so there was definitely an infatuation for sure,” Nick said. “I think within that there could have been the sort of love that he felt or something that he thinks is love, but especially the part where they talk about trust, Lucy’s like, ‘Trust is everything to me. If there’s no trust, it’s dead.’ That’s such a good scene, and I feel like that’s what you see him falter a little bit. He’s in a little too deep. I don’t know if it’s more love. I think he may get caught up because her character is very enticing. I think he was definitely infatuated with her, but in the sense of true love, I don’t think that was ever there.” The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is in theaters now.