Francis Lawrence is no stranger to adapting the brutality and bloodshed of Suzanne Collins’ young adult series The Hunger Games for the big screen. After all, the director has already backed three films surrounding the world of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and both parts one and two of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Now, Lawrence and Lionsgate are telling a story filled with new characters in the upcoming prequel, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. During an interview with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff, Lawrence explained how he made the games different while also paying homage to the original set of films.

Reflecting on the past, Lawrence said that he’s always strived to keep things “different” with every film. “One of the things that is always important to me is when you’ve done Games, so I knew that the beginning of my games in Catching Fire had to be different than they were in the first one, right? So just emotionally it has to feel different. Visually, of course, very different kind of arena,” he explains. Moving onto his work in the upcoming film, the Constantine helmer adds, “What I love about [The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes] and because it’s rudimentary is instead of fancy elevators and glass pods and all of this, they’re basically walking in at gunpoint, or dragged in if they can’t, and put on their spots.” As opposed to all the bells and whistles that accompanied the fanciful killing fields during the original batch of films, Lawrence teases that the prequel will be much, much different — something he enjoyed crafting. “It’s just a basic arena, but of course, these explosions have happened and there’s rubble everywhere. That was really exciting for me.”

While the previous movies’ futuristic high-tech equipment used to get the tributes to their battle positions won’t be seen in The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, the story will still parallel that of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). As Lawrence explains, “This is actually sort of similar to Catching Fire — the draw of Rachel [Zegler’s] character trying to find her friend. If you remember from Catching Fire, it’s the same with Katniss, that Katniss is trying to find Peeta, and she doesn’t know where he is. So, sort of two parallel similarities there.” Essentially, the filmmaker is promising audiences that same feeling of sheer panic, chaos, and confusion of those opening moments when the cannon goes off and the games begin, despite not being filmed with a handheld shaky cam.

While audiences first met Donald Sutherland’s Coriolanus Snow as the tyrannical ruler of Panem in the original set of films, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes will go into the past and tell his origin story. Played by Tom Blyth, viewers will meet an 18-year-old Coriolanus who is given the task of mentoring District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird (Zegler) for the 10th annual Hunger Games. Along with Blyth and Zegler, the call sheet also includes names such as Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder), Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited), and Hunter Schafer (Euphoria).

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes arrives in theaters on November 17. Pre-order your tickets below.

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Watch Nemiroff’s full interview with Lawrence:

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