There was something I didn't tell Tom Blyth during our chat. I did, of course, mention how I had caught the film and could honestly say that it was pretty good, which was the utter truth. And I know I'm not the only one who thought so.
Over opening weekend, reviews of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes have turned up generally positive. As proof, the latest movie taking the box office top reaping at USD243.9 million globally at the point of writing. No small deal for any film in these times of entertainment saturation, let alone a prequel in an era of prequel/sequel/spinoff overload.
What I didn't say was how I was never planning to watch it in the first place. Not that I wasn't a fan of the original franchise. I, along with Blyth, were among the many teens who were swept up in the wave of dystopian films of the early 2010s. (Just think—how many among the audience of the latest prequel are possibly pre-teens named Katniss!)
Perhaps it was splitting a highly anticipated finale into two segments released a year apart (a regret director Francis Lawrence has admitted to, but to his credit, a practice now fairly common). Or perhaps it was the idea that this new tale takes place 64 years before JLaw's iconic volunteering, without any of the former films' quintessential characters except Coriolanus Snow himself.
Fortunately, the deterrence to what I regarded as a plausible cash grab gave way to relief, and quickly, respect for the actor who filled those big shoes with ingenuity. It's not an easy feat. Names—that we shall not name—immediately spring to mind where movies fell flat because its leading man did. To convincingly embody a character that fans not only have to root for but carry certain expectations of from previous portrayals, sounds like an incredibly daunting task.
Interestingly, when the breakout star first auditioned for the role, he was not privy to what it was for. He thought it was a well-written script, but it was only when he got to subsequent rounds that he and his agent figured it could potentially be the new Hunger Games. The word "Gamemaker" was what gave it away.
"I was like, hang on a sec; I know that term from the original films! That started to give me clues but I had no idea there was a prequel floating around out there that Suzanne Collins had written," Blyth recounted.
The book soon became Bible to the 28-year-old actor as he never got to meet Donald Sutherland, who played the elder statesman in the preceding instalments. It was somewhat by design, from initial discussions with Lawrence, to acquaint with the character through fresh eyes and give this version of Snow an unbiased chance to share his narrative.
This process of mentally erasing existing impressions extended to his approach to the franchise. "I actually chose not to rewatch [the past films] because I knew this was going to be different tonally and visually," Blyth reveals. "It felt like a standalone film. And I think the actors' performances in those movies were such gold that the temptation is to try and recreate it."
The first time you see Blyth as Snow is also how the first chapter of the book begins, and that very opening sequence was what he found massively indicative of the 18-year-old's psyche. "His cousin and grandmother are pretty much starving, they're about to be evicted, and yet his biggest priority was how he was going to be perceived by his classmates.
"He wanted to avoid losing status at any cost. He buys into the spectacle of the Capitol and upholds it through the façade with the ornate shirt Tigris makes him. That was fascinating to me. For someone to do that when living in a war-torn, foodless society probably means they are capable of doing all sorts of mind tricks on themselves and others."
Blyth did, however, return to Sutherland's major scenes (specifically the one in the rose garden with Wes Bentley's Seneca Crane) to capture the dictator's mannerisms towards the end.
"Coryo comes back to the Capitol changed and I wanted to reflect that and leave viewers feeling like he was on the path now to becoming President Snow," he explains, "So I slowed down his speech, used his consonants a little more precisely, and made his cadence a bit more calculated."
It's hard to determine Coryo's turning point in the 157-minute runtime. Could it be in the forest when he seemingly cycles through all five stages of grief, where something breaks inside and he promises never to trust anyone again? Or even earlier while rescuing Sejanus in the arena, where he goes for that extra swing at an already motionless tribute?
The third blow was in fact, Blyth's own addition. Despite being a welcomed decision creatively, caution towards adhering to the PG-13 rating meant doing takes without it. Which is why he was surprised it eventually made the final cut.
"It resonates so much better story-wise," he muses, "I saw the movie with my family in London and all of them in the back row winced when that happened because it was not about self-defence any more. It was callous, violent and intentional."
This gradual descent into madness is joined by a great cast, most notably EGOT-winning Viola Davis. Though naturally intimidated, the young thespian now only has praises for the acting titan's brilliant choices for Dr Volumnia Gaul on-screen and lovely, grounded persona off-screen.
One that surprised him, though, was Lucky Flickerman's Jason Schwartzman. "Oh man, I mean I know he's funny but to be quite so comedically brilliant. Like, this man will spend all his spare time writing hundreds of extra pages of dialogue, workshopping with writer Michael Lesslie, just so he's got this treasure trove of zingers up his sleeve when he has to improvise.
"That's the definition of an actor working his [butt] off to be prepared but showing up and making it look seamless," said Blyth. "That was a real reminder of the work that needs to go in to make these things look smooth, easy and quick."
This is not the Birmingham-born, Brooklyn-based actor's first time as a "tribute" in the Hunger Games that is the acting industry. There may not be a physical death but ego death is certainly part of it.
"Before getting this and Billy the Kid, I must have auditioned hundreds of times since I was 14. Most of them, I didn't get. So yeah, it can be pretty brutal... and when you're not working, it can get hungry," he chuckles at the pun.
Growing up watching the career of his late father, journalist-turned-producer Gavin Blyth, led him to realise that entertainment was viable work. There is also his love for older movies (A Place in the Sun, Casablanca, Giant; for the curious). "They're not muddied by CGI or over-the-top wardrobe, or sometimes even colour. You can really focus on the performance more."
It would ultimately be the performances of Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Adam Driver (Girls) that spurred his resolve to enrol in their alma mater Juilliard—undeterred by the fact that he had never been across the pond before.
So Blyth's first big press tour (compressed from months on average to two weeks, thanks to the interim agreement secured amid the SAG-AFTRA strike) was evidently a full-circle-pinch-me moment.
"It's so strange when I zoom out and think of myself as part of this Hunger Games universe. I've seen the film a few times and almost disassociate when watching." It was most surreal when introducing the film during the world premiere, and then looking up to see his family in the crowd waving at him.
It is when things get big and flashy that truly important things are put into perspective. "I feel like I've shaken so many hands, smiled and waved at so many people—wonderful people, each have been amazing—"he said, "but I got home and just craved for that deeper connection with my nearest and dearest."
"But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying it as well." Blyth acknowledges the trap of getting wrapped up in the whirlwind and tries not to take it all too seriously, "First of all, there are bigger things in the world than my film, and also; what I get to do is both an honour and really fun. 'Cause if you lose that, then what's the point?"
For Tom Blyth, acting used to be a form of escape. "I love accents, costumes, anything that takes me further from myself because I used to just want to be anything but me," he smiled, fully aware of how it sounded. "It was a way for me to lose myself in pretending to be someone else. The most rewarding thing was when I could get away with it."
Thankfully, the mix of teen angst, self-hatred and mischief have been processed in therapy. Now that he has proficient knowledge, confidence and expertise, acting has become more about what he can experiment with, glean from and expand on.
For now, he's excited to do more in his own British accent. Voice is often the integral inception for a character and the vulnerability that comes with acting in his own voice is a frightening challenge he anticipates in upcoming projects. Alongside having to study and speak Italian for approximately half of the next film; another hush-hush American novel adaptation.
Fear may be a powerful tool that Dr Gaul or President Snow exploit to perpetuate control in the movies but in reality, it's a test that draws him. I" like the idea of doing something that scares me 'cause that's where you learn the most," he confessed.
Blyth has always dealt with fear the same way since childhood. His adolescent (and ironic) fear of snakes derived from Indiana Jones, and unknown terrors that lurk in deep waters were both conquered through exposure therapy.
"I just remember having this thought: If you don't hold the snake now, you'd be afraid of them forever, and that's no way to live," he described how he had forced himself to interact with the serpent during a visit to the petting zoo in his youth. "And you realise it's not as scary as you thought it was. I did the same with surfing six years ago; paddling without knowing what was under freaked me out but again, the same thought came."
Between living with a crippling fear for the rest of his life and confronting it head-on, Blyth will always pick the latter. He feels the same way about comedy, which likely stems from his love for When Harry Met Sally ("It has the perfect script"). He has attempted the genre onstage and its difficulty petrifies him. In Blyth Logic: all the more reason to try.
Still, he is at peace that he will probably never get to try or be good at every single thing out there in the world. Headbutting fear may be a bit of a running theme but it's not like he has a desire to throw himself out of a plane with a parachute.
Besides surfing and tinkering with his recently bought motorcycle, tricky acting schedules do not grant much leeway in picking up new skills. Since he used to sketch, learning to be adept with oil colours and mixing paint would be one feasible pastime to accommodate between gigs.
"I just think it's interesting to experience as much as possible in life. There's so much out there to explore," Blyth paused at this point to consider and with a slight glint, went, "I guess I should throw myself out of a plane. If it scares me, I should try it, right?"
Photography: Jeremy Choh
Fashion Direction: Asri Jasman
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Styling: Michael Fisher at THE WALL GROUP
Producer/Casting Director: Even Yu at APEX COMMUNICATIONS
Production Manager: Guoran Yu at APEX COMMUNICATIONS
Grooming: Melissa DeZarate at A-FRAME AGENCY
Photography Assistant: Sangwoo Suh
Digi Tech: Joe Holtrichter
Styling Assistant: Brodie Reardon
When Louis Cartier conceptualised the Tank in 1917, few could have imagined the fame and cultural importance that have become part of the timepiece’s legacy. Today, the Tank collection remains a staple among Cartier’s offerings, with its timeless aesthetic and versatility at the heart of its near- universal appeal. Cartier continues to refresh the Tank with the 2023 editions, reimagined in ways that not only add to, but transcend the seemingly insurmountable limits of horological universality.
The Tank—as its name suggests— has its roots couched in military history. Louis Cartier derived design inspiration for the Tank from the top- down silhouette of the Renault tanks he witnessed on the Western Front in World War I. One of the first few Tanks made was given to General John Pershing, commander of the Paris-based American Expeditionary Force—underscoring its military- inspired beginnings.
Interestingly, however, the timepiece was to find fame far from the mud and gore of the battlefield. It instead went on to become the defining timepiece of Hollywood’s Golden Age, appearing on the wrists of a string of A-listers. Actor Rudolph Valentino famously insisted on wearing his Tank throughout the filming of The Son of the Sheik, despite the obvious anachronism.
Its popularity was not confined to the early 20th century, transcending eras and reaching across gender and disciplines. Personalities from diverse backgrounds—from the realms of philanthropy and politics, to sports and art—were enamoured by the Tank. Appearing on the wrists of icons the likes of John F Kennedy, Princess Diana, Muhammad Ali and Andy Warhol, the Tank became a unisex symbol of elegance. Warhol famously quipped: “I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear”, which speaks volumes of its universal appeal and cultural significance.
Today, the watch stands as a unique example of design endurance, through its timeless style, versatility and appeal to a wide range of aesthetic sensibilities.
Cartier’s latest refresh of the Tank family pushes the limits of the collection’s universality even further. While the modern Tank family retains the iconic rectangular silhouette and brancards of its predecessors, each new member is also imbued with subtle differences that cater to different sensibilities.
Beginning with the Tank Américaine, the watch’s curved, elongated case mirrors that of the 1921 Tank Cintrée, with the addition of finer, more acrobatic lines that flawlessly integrate the brancards with the extension of the strap. Coupled with the iconic Roman-numerals on the dial, the timepiece’s ergonomic approach and pure form pay tribute to the Tank’s heritage, all while incorporating a contemporary elegance.
The Tank Française has also received a minor facelift that stays true to the monobloc metal design of its predecessors. The 2023 edition notably comes with a new satin-brushed strap with tighter- fitted links that give the timepiece a streamlined and athletic integrated- bracelet aesthetic. Topped off with factory-set diamonds along the brancards, the Tank Française makes for a sporty statement embellished with sophistication.
As with all families, there is always an artistically-inclined child—the Tank family is no different. The newest additions to the Tank Louis Cartier line retain all the design elements of a classic Tank, but are fitted with dazzling new dials that pay homage to the Tank Must dials of the vibrant ’70s. Playing on the concept of echoed elements and mirror constructions, the dials feature graphic motifs in gold, yellow gold, rose gold and white gold, creating optical grids that highlight the texture of geometry and contrasts. A juxtaposition of vintage aesthetics with the bold creativity of art, the Tank Louis Cartier balances the Tank’s historic elegance with artistic inclinations.
Most significantly, however, Cartier has announced that the Tank Normale is this year’s addition to its limited-release “collector’s collection”: Cartier Privé. It is a hotly anticipated inclusion worthy of a feature of its own. It shares many of the iconic design cues from the original 1917 Tank—similar proportions, bevelled sapphire crystal, “railroad track” on the inner dial and 1917 date hidden in the VII numeral. The key difference lies in the Privé Normale’s larger 35.2mm x 27.8mm dimensions. Available in six new designs, the Privé Normale line infuses the essence of the 1917 original with modern appearances, done in true Cartier sophistry and craftsmanship. A release that will more than please the purists, the Privé Normale bridges the gap between Cartier’s past and its present, alongside the other Privé Tank variations.
In a nutshell, the refreshed Tank collection keeps the iconic timepiece in touch with contemporary design cues, while pushing the boundaries of horological universality, making it an enduring icon.
Kim Taehyung, also known as V from BTS, has been chosen as the ambassador for the latest Panthère de Cartier campaign. The brand praises the global pop icon for his captivating "creative spirit and magnetic gaze," perfectly embodying the essence of the panther-inspired collection, ultimately leading to his appointment.
In the campaign, V effortlessly radiates charisma as he wears the iconic Panthère jewellery collection. The collection includes a sculptural diamond ring, a tête-à-tête panther bracelet, and the Révélation d’une Panthère watch. Perfectly complimenting V’s mysterious and sophisticated appearance.
The senior vice president chief MKG officer says, "When it came to personifying the magnetism and aura of the panther, our choice naturally fell on V. He possesses a captivating look and a strong character, guided by creativity as a dancer, musician, and art lover. His unique style and elegance make him the perfect fit for this role." Thus, appointing him as the new ambassador was the most fitting decision.
V now joins esteemed personalities the likes of Blackpink's Jisoo as Cartier ambassadors. This appointment also marks the second luxury jewellery brand ambassadorship for BTS—Jimin was officially announced as the ambassador for Tiffany & Co. last year.
Watch snobs, hear us out: Before you turn your nose up at fashion watches for men or any piece that does not bear the prestigious Poinçon de Genève, consider the possibility that jewellery and, yes, even fashion brands have been coming out with head-turning timepieces for ages.
Luxury French fashion house Hermès, for example, made serious inroads into the horological world by putting up its very own booth at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie for the first time in 2018. French fashion brand, Louis Vuitton, produced a watch that earned the mythical Poinçon de Genève: the Flying Tourbillon, released in 2016.
Times are changing, and these fashion and jewellery brands have shown they take their watch departments very, very seriously. And there’s another thing these brands that combine savoir-faire with technical excellence can do: When it comes to producing true objects of desire, they have nailed it down to an art.
Still not convinced? Here are a few of the companies that have made some of the most beautiful timepieces over the years.
Say the name “Cartier” to any woman, and her eyes will no doubt light up with visions of its legendary jewellery—the Love bracelet, the Juste un Clou bangle, and the jaw-dropping Tutti Frutti and Panthère collections, just to name a few. But you, of course, will recognise that Cartier makes incredible watches, and you would be proud to have one on your wrist. Brand founder Louis-Francois Cartier did, after all, take over the workshop of master watchmaker Adolphe Picard in the 1800s, forming the company’s earliest foundations on innovative clocks and fashionable wristwatches. Thanks to the patronage of royalty that included King Carlos I of Portugal and King Edward VII of Great Britain, its reputation would later be cemented as the “jeweller of kings.”
Our pick: The Cartier Tank Solo
The Cartier Tank was inspired by the tanks used in World War I—as far as origin stories go, it doesn’t really get any cooler or more badass than that. The Solo is a modern addition to the collection, yet retains all the features that make the watch an enduring classic.
With its highly coveted handbags, such as the Kelly and the Birkin, true luxury definitely equates to Hermès. From its early beginnings as a harness and saddle supplier, the French luxury house is now best-known for its quality leather and signature silk scarves apart from branching out into perfumes, jewelry, and even accoutrements for the home. Naturally, the brand first created saddle-stitched cases for pocket watches and leather watch straps before dedicating itself fully to watches for men and women by establishing La Montre Hermès in Bienne, Switzerland in 1978.
Our pick: Cape Cod
Created by Hermès creative director Henri d’Origny in 1991 when he was tasked with making a square watch, the case and dial take cues from the brand’s distinct chaîne d'ancre motif, resulting in a shape that is unmistakably Hermès. Bonus points if you get it with the famous double tour strap, a twice-winding leather wristband designed for the house by Martin Margiela in 1998.
The Italian jewelry house was made famous by Elizabeth Taylor, who turned the Serpenti into an icon when she was photographed wearing it on the set of Cleopatra while filming in Rome. In her personal life, she was known to be a prized Bulgari client, too, care of a tumultuous romance with Richard Burton that resulted in even more gifts of diamonds and jewelry for the Hollywood star. But Bulgari’s watches are worthy of just as much admiration and awe for the way it blends the Italian flair for design with Swiss watchmaking’s technical expertise. The company showed how serious it was about the latter with the establishment in 1980 of Bulgari Haute Horlogerie in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It also acquired the Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta brands in the year 2000, leading it to introduce its own in-house mechanical movements by 2010.
Our pick: Bulgari Bulgari
You could say that this was the watch that started it all, originally intended to be a Christmas gift to the house’s top 100 clients in 1975. Recognisable by the engraved “Bulgari Bulgari” logos surrounding the bezel, it was conceptualised as a tribute to the design of ancient Roman coins.
By now, everyone is familiar with the French fashion giant’s humble beginnings as a travel trunk-maker in 1854. This later expanded into that famous monogram adorning just about everything, including a notorious punching bag designed by Karl Lagerfeld. But just as LV has a knack for turning all of the things it touches into precious objects of desire, so it goes with its watches. It’s a relatively new player, considering it marked its entry into the field with the launch of the Tambour fine watch collection in 2002. But it has certainly worked double-time and caught up since, producing many gorgeous fashion watches for men in between, leading up to the inauguration of La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton in Geneva in 2014.
Our pick: Tambour Damier Cobalt Chronograph
It’s fitting we should throw it back to the Tambour collection, but this new edition comes with a twist: interchangeable straps that allow you to quickly switch up the look, even without specialised tools. The Damier canvas is also ever-so-subtly visible on the dial, but you’ll be able to spot that eye-catching V from across the room.
Now it’s time for the American entry into this list: Tiffany and Co., whose legend will forever be tied to New York, Audrey Hepburn, breakfast, and that instantly recognisable robin’s egg blue. Though of course it is primarily known for jewellery, thanks to its association with dreamy engagement rings and the famous 128-carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond proudly displayed at the flagship store on Fifth Avenue, the company has been selling timepieces since 1847. In fact, one of the flagship’s most recognisable features is the nine-foot Atlas Clock right above the door—also the inspiration for Charles Lewis Tiffany’s coining of the phrase, “New York minute.” Tiffany also created America’s first stopwatch, the Tiffany Timer, in 1868.
Our pick: Tiffany Atlas
An homage to the Atlas Clock that has been standing guard since the 1850s, the Atlas watch uses the same Roman numerals that New Yorkers have used to check the time over the years. In two-tone rose gold and stainless steel, it could prompt you to create a New York minute of your own.
From: Esquire Ph
Jaeger-LeCoultre has installed a cylindrical rain shower, TAG Heuer brought in a vintage Porsche 911, Hublot has a giant LED planet glowing in different colours while Oris set up a teddy bear. Some of the installations built by horology brands to grace their booths at Watches & Wonders 2023 are almost as impressive as their watches sitting in gleaming display cases.
You might expect the French gem specialists Cartier to welcome guests with a huge diamond sculpture perhaps, or maybe a platinum panther in homage to their famous feline mascot. But instead, Cartier has relied on their astonishing products to do the talking – and really nice, thick carpet underfoot.
Cartier has not one but two areas at the Geneva watch fair, filled with timepieces and high jewellery. Walking into either of them is a trip to a place of rarefied luxury where extraordinary jewellery and watches carry price tags in the neighbourhood of AED 2 million. Here, knowledgeable experts in black silk gloves present Cartier’s latest novelties, including the talked-about green dialled Santos de Cartier.
Black, blue and white dials have graced this elegant watch in the past since its 2018 relaunch and now green makes its debut, seemingly a couple of years after the boom of emerald dials across the industry. But when you have that shimmering metallic green dial and dynamic sword hands on a watch as sophisticated and sporty as the Santos de Cartier, a little tardiness can be forgiven.
Available from June 2023 in medium and large sizes (35mm and 40mm), the stainless steel Santos de Cartier has a distinctive case that is kind of round yet kind of square and bolted by its trademark eight screws.
First introduced in 1904 but launched by Cartier as a sports watch in the 1970s, the Santos case is said to mimic a bird’s eye view of the Eiffel Tower – Google it, and you’ll see what Louis Cartier meant.
Presenting the pieces in Geneva in 2023, a Cartier watch expert explains, “The green dial is an example of the bold design that embodies the pioneering spirit of the brand,” before adding with a grin, “it also just looks super nice.”
No one does it quite like Cartier. Watches & Wonders tends to feel like some kind of tournament – especially in these opening stages - with the brightest and best of the industry competing for the biggest splash; the obvious standout that gets everyone talking. Early frontrunners include Tudor’s 37mm Black Bay 54, or Patek’s 6007G (available in three colours; indicative of an early trend at the show), and others will emerge over the next few days.
But then you visit the Cartier stand and the competition fades away. Like the Sunday night legend at Glastonbury, the jeweller/watchmaker seems to exist on another plane altogether, offering elegance, quality, artistry and timeless style in abundance.
Take the Tank Normale, the latest inductee to Cartier’s Privé collection, which features limited edition, nuanced riffs on the marque’s existing pieces. First unveiled in 1919, the Tank is undoubtably Cartier’s most famous design, indeed one of watchmaking’s most iconic creations, and the Tank Normale pays homage to the original watch with matching proportions and a bevelled sapphire crystal glass.
The new Privé edition is available in three iterations, and in a range of finishes. There are yellow gold and platinum models, with blue sapphire cabochon and brown alligator strap, and a ruby cabochon winding crown and black alligator strap, respectively. Then there are two skeletonised models – also in yellow gold and platinum – limited to just 50 pieces each. But the standout winners are those on the new bracelet in – you’ve guessed it – yellow gold or platinum. So far, we’re yet to see a more inherently cool watch at the show.
Elsewhere, following on from last year’s Crash, Cartier has extended its mastery of the tiny timepiece with a diamond studded Baignoire. Nothing would look better with the right tuxedo, or even a T-shirt and jeans. But again, it’s not really a competition.