‘Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Star Josh Andrés Rivera Will Play Aaron Hernandez in ‘American Sports Story’

It’s always fun to watch a star break out. Josh Andrés Rivera played in the ensemble in “West Side Story,” but when he landed the role of Sejanus Plinth in “Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” it was news to producer Nina Jacobson that he was the boyfriend of his “West Side Story” costar Rachel Zegler, who had initially turned down “Hunger Games” because she was absorbed in tackling the live-action “Snow White” feature.

“After we cast him,” said Jacobson, “we get a phone call from Rachel’s agent saying, ‘Is it too late for you to reconsider her? Can she still read?'”

More from IndieWire

That’s how Zegler became the star of “The Hunger Games” prequel. For another project for Colorforce, Jacobson’s production company, “American Sports Story: Gladiator,” Jacobson gave the script to Rivera while shooting “Hunger Games” in Germany. They were casting for the young Aaron Hernandez, the late NFL star who caught passes from Tom Brady with the New England Patriots, but was later found guilty of first-degree murder and ultimately took his own life.

“I wanted Ryan [Murphy] to have a discovery process. So I was just, ‘Yeah, this guy’s good. Check him out.’ And we just threw him in the mix. And he stole the part, just like he did ‘Ballad,'” Jacobson said. “Especially having watched him on set, he is a grounded, likable, natural, and compelling presence, super-prepared. I was thrilled once they brought in a bunch of people, and let Josh rise to the top, which I knew he would. And we had him all tatted out. He was trained to be huge and muscular; he loved lifting weights.”

Broadway alum Rivera, who toured in the original company for “Hamilton” and also appeared in indie film “Cat Person,” celebrated his two-year anniversary with Zegler in October 2023. And he has a whole lot celebrate about his career too.

Best of IndieWire

Sign up for Indiewire's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.