interview by JANA LETONJA

Actor Josh Andrés Rivera will be starring in ‘Hunger Games: Ballads of Songbirds and Snakes’, which is coming out today (17th November). You might remember him from Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’, among his other roles. Josh is next set up to play Aaron Hernandez in FX’s ‘American Sports Story’, the limited series focusing on a prominent events and figures in the sports world.

Josh, you’re starring in the highly anticipated ‘Hunger Games: Ballads of the Songbirds and Snakes’. How excited were you to be cast on a film in ‘Hunger Games’ franchise?
To be honest, at the time I heard I was cast, it took me a few minutes to really process it. I was on the phone with my agents like “Are you sure? I mean this is a pretty big deal. Are you sure?” At some point, when I was on the plane to Berlin, it really hit me that I was part of this film now. It was a really exciting thing to be able to claim and I think we all, myself and a lot of the cast, would call it a pretty wild full circle experience, having grown up watching and reading the original instalments.

In the film, you play Sejanus Plinth. Once from the districts, now in the capitol, he has to mentor a tribute from his old district. Tell us more about your character and his story throughtout the film.
A lot of people say Sejanus is the moral compass of the movie. I’m inclined to agree, but I think that also might be a bit of an oversimplification. Sejanus is not without his own flaws and shortcomings, and what really moves me about him is that he has this unwavering belief in humanity’s capacity to be better no matter how many times he faces backlash from his convictions. He is brave, stubborn and has a massive heart.

How was working with Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth and Hunter Schafer on this film?
I’ve had such an incredible time filming with this cast. Obviously, I’ve been a very big fan of Rachel’s for a while, she’s an immense talent and has been a very important and dear person to me for a few years now, so it was a great comfort to be filming with her so far away from home. Tom and I became good friends during pre-production so by the time we actually had to shoot together, we already had several outings and a karaoke night under our belt, which made acting with him very easy. I didn’t get to shoot with Hunter that much, but I was a huge fan of hers before filming so it was a great privilege to be able to share the screen with her and hang out altogether in the days since and on the film’s press tour.

What was the most memorable part of filming this film for you? 
I have never seen such beautiful architecture as I had when we were shooting at the locations in Germany and Poland. My first day filming was in the arena and walking in there for the first time and experiencing the sheer vastness of the space was awe inspiring. It really solidified for me the caliber of the project we were working towards and made me a bit emotional to know that I had the opportunity to be a part of it. 

How did you get into acting in the first place?
I had always really loved to sing when I was growing up. In high school, some friends of mine needed a singer for an act that they were doing for my school’s pop show, so I joined the act as their singer and that was my first time performing on a stage. After that, I joined the musical the following year and the year after that. It was just something I enjoyed doing, but I didn’t think making a living of it was really possible for me. When I started applying for colleges, I decided to audition for some theatre programs as well and those ended up being the only programs to grant me a scholarship, so I ended up going that direction and I’ve gotten lucky with many blessings thereafter that led me here.

matching set GMBH

What kind of roles excite and challenge you the most to portray?
I’m fascinated by complicated people in general, but especially in the acting landscape. People who on the surface seem mean or despicable, but who have a wealth of baggage and trauma that have led them to become what they are. Roles like that are very exciting to me because they require me to ask myself a lot of existential questions about why I personally am the way I am vs. what could have happened to me in my life to lead me down a less amicable path or a path similar to whatever character I’m trying to portray.

You have Puerto Rican heritage. Have you ever encountered any challenges in the acting industry due to being Latin? How do you personally view the changes in Hollywood regarding diversity and inclusivity?
Initially when I moved to New York, a lot of the roles that were available to me were usually some archetype of how the United States sees Latin people. I’m very thankful to Irene, my agent at the time, who is Puerto Rican as well and was very dedicated to finding roles that had substance and inner life. I’m really happy to see more and more stories being told that explore the human condition from the perspective of diverse writers, storytellers and actors. I believe the industry and the world as a whole greatly benefit from these stories and I hope that this landscape creates fertile ground for the next generation of artists to create unique, nuanced subject matter told from the perspective of people from all backgrounds.

jacket and trousers FRIED RICE NYC

What are you most passionate about in life, besides acting?
I don’t know if this comes as a surprise to anyone, but I’m a pretty big nerd. In my downtime, I really like to play video games. In recent years they’ve become a real bastion of interactive storytelling and it’s really great to see how much they have flourished into a distinguished medium as someone who’s been into it for most of my life. I’m also currently working on a ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ campaign for some buddies of mine. Beyond that, I really just like learning. I’m constantly going down some rabbit hole of information about some trivial thing. Most recently it’s computers and coding, but my brain tends to be pretty fickle so I’m sure I’ll get fixated on something else pretty soon. I just like learning about the building blocks of our world and figuring out why things are the way they are and work the way they do.

You will next star in FX’s ‘American Sports Story’ as Aaron Hernandez, the tight end for the New England Patriots of the NFL. The limited series will chronicle his rise and fall. What makes this role different from the ones you’ve done so far? How are you preparing for it?
The obvious difference between this and other roles is that it’s a portrayal of a real person. With that I have to take great care in preparing. I’ve tried to be diligent about working out and getting as close as possible to NFL shape, which is, of course, an extremely tall order. In addition to that, I’m doing much more research on mannerisms, dialect and personality than I’ve had to do before. The challenge here is towing the line between imitating and emulating in a compelling and authentic way. It’s very challenging, but I’m extremely excited by it.

What can you share with us about your other upcoming projects, dreams and goals for the future of your career?
As it stands, I’m honestly just taking things as they come. I play with a lot of hypotheticals as they pertain to where things could go from here, but I really don’t know. Up until ‘Hunger Games’ came around, I admittedly didn’t think I’d ever be in a spot like this in my career where I have some wiggle room when it comes to choosing projects, so I’m just trying to do my best with the opportunities I’ve been given and see where it takes me. I’m very happy we got to promote this movie since as of a few weeks ago that wasn’t an option at all. Now that I’m seeing everyone again and getting space to admire this project that we did together, I’ve become grateful to be able to take a breath and just spend some time being proud of my friends and me.

photography BEN COPE
creative direction & styling ENRIQUE MELENDEZ
styling assistant MICHELLE THOMAS