Josh Andrés Rivera and Hunter Schafer Talk Hangovers and Hunger Games
Josh Andrés Rivera has his head in the game. From high school ball to Hamilton to Hollywood glory, the Californian actor can’t be boxed in. After a flashy press run for his recent role as Sejanus Plinth in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, he regrouped with his dear friend and castmate Hunter Schafer to get into the wine-drunk premiere nights, dreams of cartoon villainy, and his dark new anthology, American Sports Story.
JOSH ANDRÉS RIVERA: Hey, girl.
HUNTER SCHAFER: How are you?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I’m good. I’m just in midtown hanging out at this cafe I found.
SCHAFER: Are you still doing press?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: After tomorrow I think I’m done.
SCHAFER: Aww, I miss you guys already.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Me too, man. I was at home this weekend, just bored. We were doing so much together.
SCHAFER: We were. Also, this is for Interview Magazine, where Dara works, so home base right here.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Oh, sick. I didn’t know that.
SCHAFER: So we did press together, so I’m going to try and keep things interesting and not ask questions that—
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Yeah, ’cause now you know all of my answers.
SCHAFER: Yeah. One thing that I never heard during press that I am curious to know about is, has acting been a part of your life for a long time? How did it start?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: When I was really young, I just loved attention, so I really liked singing. That’s how I started out. It’s the corniest story, dude. I was really into football and I was like, I’m going to play college ball someday—
SCHAFER: Oh, you’re like a proper Troy Bolton. Whoa.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Which is funny ’cause people kept telling me that, and at the time I hadn’t seen the movies. I watched the movies only a couple years ago. But I was playing football and some of my friends, the guys who I played Dungeons and Dragons with, wanted me to be in their band and sing with them for a show that we were putting on at school. We sang “Your Song” by Elton John and I really, really enjoyed it, and I was like, now I want to do a musical. Then I did Les Misérables my junior year and I quit football to keep doing the musical. I didn’t have very good grades, which is not news.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: But when I was applying for colleges, the only school to give me a scholarship was a musical theater program. So ultimately, that’s the reason I went, but it was all still super new. I didn’t even know that I liked acting in films until I was a senior in college and I took a class and it felt really cool. I just got to be a human being. Because in theater, it’s very grand and you have to play to a large audience in person, but in film, I can show my inner self without doing so much other stuff. You know what I mean.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I really fell in love with that. And then I got Hamilton, which you found out recently.
SCHAFER: Yes, I did. I found that out in an interview,and I felt so stupid.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: [Laughs] It was the first national tour and I was an offstage principal standby, so I just went in when people got sick or went on vacation or just didn’t feel like performing. I got to travel a lot, but that was also how I found out that I like working and free time makes me go nuts. Then I got West Side Story and bada bing bada boom, here we are.
SCHAFER: Bada bing bada boom. But wait, I want to know about the band. I’ve always had a dream of being in a band. What kind of band was this?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I guess you could call it a jam band.
SCHAFER: A jam band.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Because we just make music about nonsense. I don’t know if you ever heard me around set, but I would always make up stupid songs.
SCHAFER: Well, I know you love to write a song on the spot.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I love it. That’s sort of what we did because everybody’s really good instrumentalists and I would be on voice and we would improvise albums. It was so much fun.
SCHAFER: And this was the same group of friends as the D&D group?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Yeah, that’s my D&D group. We did our first session yesterday.
SCHAFER: For the campaign you’ve been writing?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Yes, it was so much fun. I’m excited to keep going.
SCHAFER: You’ve been doing this D&D shit since high school?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: No, this is in the last couple years. Usually we play video games and that’s how we keep in touch, but we just started doing this.
SCHAFER: Can I ask about your character for the campaign?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Well, I run the dungeon. I’m the guy who tells everybody what’s going on. But the last character I played was a cowboy named Kenny fucking Rogers.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I had this bit with Rachel on set because she has to do a southern accent, so I would give her some notes and my notes would always be terrible. He sounded like that. He was a very fun character to play.
SCHAFER: I hope I can join one of these games. I wanna try.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: A lot of people play it. I didn’t know at first, but this is why I’m on every interview being like, “I like D&D,” because maybe a bunch of people would want to play.
SCHAFER: Okay, back on topic. You got cast in Hunger Games. Say Sejanus was not the one for you. What other character in this movie would you play?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I don’t think I have a cunning enough vibe to be Coryo, but I do like characters like that. I love really messy people. They got so much stuff going on, it’s great. Morally gray people are so much fun.
SCHAFER: We all dream of playing a villain at one point. Do you have a dream role?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I’m going to do something with a little bit of levity, maybe a comedy next, but I would love to be like, a cartoon villain eventually.
SCHAFER: Wait, did you ever watch Powerpuff Girls as a kid?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Yes. I love Powerpuff Girls.
SCHAFER: Do you remember the—
ANDRÉS RIVERA: There were a bunch of villains. Mojo Jojo-
SCHAFER: The lobster guy in the tutu?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Yeah, I think his name was Him, right? It was like…
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Like, he/him. I don’t know, but that would be fun. I’m really on a fantasy kick right now. I want to be bad. I want to be duplicitous, the guy you think is good.
SCHAFER: With the evil laugh.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: That would be so much fun. I would love to be in a dark comedy.
SCHAFER: That would be really cool.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Do you have a dream role?
SCHAFER: I want to try comedy, too. It terrifies me because I think I’m funny, but not in the “crack a clever joke” way, but more like, I’m kind of stupid. You know what I mean?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I do. You’re a goofball.
SCHAFER: But I was actually drunk re-watching Chicago with my sister because she hasn’t seen it, and I drunk-texted my agent and my manager like, “I need to play one of the bitches in Chicago on Broadway.” So right now, that’s the role I want. Do you prefer stage or film?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: That’s a hard question to answer because I haven’t done stage in a really long time, but I think they fulfill me differently. There’s no instant gratification with film and there’s a lot that’s out of your control, but it’s a different day-to-day. Sometimes it feels like a summer camp where you’re all doing this thing and then you’re done with it and you go live your lives and then a year later you get to see what you did. It’s almost like opening a Christmas present that you sent yourself a year ago, which is pretty cool. But in stage, there’s a huge emphasis on community. Obviously, you and I didn’t really get to know each other until the press tour.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: But on stage you really build a family with people and you’re doing it every single day. And what’s kind of nice about it is that if you don’t like what you did one day, you can just do something different tomorrow.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I would love to do a straight play. I’m really picky with my musicals just because I feel like of the muscles I have, show tunes is not the strongest one. The singing I like to do is more pop and R&B and it doesn’t always translate. So I really like film right now. Would you ever do a play or a musical?
SCHAFER: I want to because of the way y’all talk about it. I came in to Hunger Games three months after y’all had been filming and it was already family vibes. And one of my favorite parts of doing films is making all these new friends. It’s so summer camp, so a musical would be like summer camp times 10. Maybe I can sing, I’ve got to figure that out. You missed my Björk karaoke.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I did, but I heard rave reviews. I feel like I missed out on a huge thing. I sang mine and my voice was shot, and I realized I had a little too much to drink, so I went home.
SCHAFER: Which song did you do again?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: [Hums “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World].
SCHAFER: Oh, yeah. That was so good.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: That’s my go-to, or “All the Small Things.” Those early 2000s crowd pleasers are just money.
SCHAFER: You can’t go wrong.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Did you ever do the musical in high school? Because I kind of don’t believe that you just walked on and did it. Your instincts are very natural.
SCHAFER: Gosh, thank you. I’m dead serious when I say I never would’ve touched acting with a 10-foot pole because I was so shy and performing in front of people would’ve made me want to throw up. But I was a techie. Did you ever do tech?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: We had to do that for a semester in college. I helped build the set for our production of Legally Blonde. Very, very fun. We put on a good show, and I’m going to go ahead and take some credit by saying if it wasn’t for me, I don’t know if that show would’ve been as good as it was.
SCHAFER: That sounds fun. I remember we did Seussical the Musical and we had to build all of the loofah trees, or whatever they’re called.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I know what you’re talking about. They look like cotton candy.
SCHAFER: I still think that’s what I would do. Now we can talk about press tour stories because we’re done with the press tour.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Well, when Francis [Lawrence] told me to shut up, that was my favorite thing that’s ever happened to me.
SCHAFER: We have it on video.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: We do. So Francis thought for basically the majority of shooting that I was a wine guy because I ordered a glass of wine at dinner the first time I sat down with him and he said, “Oh, you like wine?” And I said, “Sure.” So they gave me a really, really nice bottle of wine and I left it out in the sun all day, so he found out I wasn’t a wine guy. Then we were all having dinner at this place and he was explaining this bottle of wine to everybody, and I was like, “Well, you really got to pay attention to the…” And he cuts me off like, “Shut the fuck up, Josh.” That was really funny.
SCHAFER: It was the delivery. It was a gut punch.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: So charged. Man really loves his wine.
SCHAFER: I’ve never been friends with wine people before. He really does know what he’s talking about.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I might be totally butchering this, but he just got a level three sommelier license or something. He’s taking courses on wine, it’s kind of incredible. Do we have any other stories?
SCHAFER: It’s all a blur because we were going a hundred miles an hour, but also these executives and film people, they know how to party. Every dinner, I had two glasses of wine and a cocktail in front of me at the same time, which is warranted for press because your brain is fried by the end of the day and all you want to do is dissociate.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Some of these people got stamina, man. I had to be the bummer who went home early.
SCHAFER: We were not okay for Good Morning America.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: That was truly our last hurrah. We had just done the New York premiere and everybody went out for drinks. And I remember it being 3 AM and you had to get up in three hours, and I looked at you like, “we fucked up, huh?”
SCHAFER: And I just remember sitting in the studio while a lady 10 feet away from us is showing the morning weather while we’re literally about to die. I felt ill.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: But what kept me going was imagining the shenanigans that go on in between the takes of Good Morning America, ’cause everybody is so polished. Like, I want to know the raunchy gossip at Good Morning America ’cause everybody is too perfect in there.
SCHAFER: I don’t believe it for a second. And you’ve been pumping out the looks. I loved seeing the suits and the colors.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Shout out to Enrique Melendez [Andrés Rivera’s stylist]. He’s been helping me out a lot ’cause I’m not a fashion guy. Very jeans and a T-shirt with New Balance sneakers, suburban dad fashion over here.
SCHAFER: You get to create an elevated version of yourself for the world. It’s kind of like making a character again. Did you have fun?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I had a blast. I got to put in my input, too. There was a time in L.A. when we were trying on this lime green suit and we had these shoes for it, and I was like, “Enrique, I think this would actually go better with sneakers.” And he was like, “Wow.”
SCHAFER: Fashion killer.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: But it’s exactly like you said. I had this one cardigan press look and I was like, “Yeah, this guy, he writes poetry and he listens to Bon Iver.”
SCHAFER: That was a really good look.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Yeah, it was so much fun ’cause I felt supremely elevated in these outfits and I’ve never gotten to do anything like that before. I totally get why people are so into fashion now. You and Rachel [Zegler] are so fluent with brands and the different aesthetics that they have. It’s very cool.
SCHAFER: I love fashion, Josh! My favorite was the coat you wore for the radio interviews we did with the harness on the back. I was like, we’re pulling up to a club in Berlin right now.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: We weren’t even going to wear that one, it was just ’cause I was cold.
SCHAFER: There’s a cool thing that you just announced, but I don’t know how much you can talk about it.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: American Sports Story?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I can tell you a little bit about it. Most people know the story. It’s about Aaron Hernandez—
SCHAFER: I don’t, actually.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: He was an NFL player who played for the Patriots and he got into a lot of legal trouble because he allegedly murdered a few people during the pinnacle of his career. He was going to be one of the best players out there, and he had just gotten a $40 million contract. It’s a really meaty and multifaceted story. There’s a documentary on Netflix about it called Killer Inside.
SCHAFER: And you’re playing the guy?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Yeah, I’m playing the guy. It’s been a real fulfilling challenge because I’ve never had to play a real person. There’s existing media of this person and before all these things came to light, he was considered one of the best players in the league. So I have to work out a ton and I have to look like I’m in the NFL, which is…
ANDRÉS RIVERA: Working out is fun when it’s studio-subsidized. I wanted to get into shape anyway and now I have all this help. I feel that this guy is really different and I have to do a lot of work to internalize his disposition and what he is.
SCHAFER: What’s the biggest difference between playing fictional and real people?
ANDRÉS RIVERA: It’s quite a bit more pressure because obviously people who knew him can see it. We’re doing scenes that we know happened, but we don’t know exactly what was said, and I have to toe the line between emulating and imitating. It’s a real challenge.
SCHAFER: But it must be comforting that Ryan Murphy is like, the king of camp, so it can be extra to some degree.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I am really curious to see how Ryan does it because he’s done dark stuff before and put a twist on it.
SCHAFER: I’m so excited to see.
ANDRÉS RIVERA: I’m really appreciative that you did this with me, Hunter. I’m very, very happy. I’m meeting Rachel in a second ’cause we got this thing we’re going to, so I have to go.
SCHAFER: All right. Give Rachel a big hug and a kiss for me. I love you guys.
Styling Assistant: Michelle Thomas
Grooming: Abraham Esparza using Tatcha and Nars Cosmetics.