Rachel Zegler to star in Hunger Games prequel ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’

Rachel Zegler is the young actress/singer who played Maria in the 2021 adaptation of West Side Story. That role was her debut and she was cast from an open call Steven Spielberg posted on Twitter, to which she responded with videos of herself singing. West Side Story was plagued with a bit of drama — the pall cast by the male lead’s problems and Disney’s Oscars invitation snub, but Rachel is starting to fill out her IMDB with other projects. The latest: she was just cast as a lead in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the wildly popular Hunger Games books/movies.

“West Side Story” actor Rachel Zegler is set to star in “The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

Zegler had prompted speculation about her casting after she tweeted on Monday night, “listen up….. can y’all grow restfully? are you becoming an individual resting decisively?” As eagle-eyed fans pointed out, the first letter of each word in her tweet spells out the main character’s name, Lucy Gray Baird.

The movie is being adapted from Suzanne Collins’ 2020 book of the same name, which takes place decades before Katniss Everdeen’s adventures in “The Hunger Games.” That means Jennifer Lawrence, who shot to superstardom as the Girl on Fire, does not appear in the prequel story. Instead, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” centers on Coriolanus Snow, an ambitious boy who eventually becomes the tyrannical leader of the dystopian country of Panem. As previously announced, Tom Blyth (“Billy the Kid” and “The Gilded Age”) will play the young Snow.

In the upcoming movie, 18-year-old Snow is chosen to mentor Lucy Gray, the female tribute from the impoverished District 12, during the 10th Hunger Games. As introduced in “The Hunger Games” trilogy — which were developed into four feature films — the barbaric televised event randomly selects two teenagers from each district to fight to the death. In the novel, the unassuming Lucy Gray sparks everyone’s attention by singing during the reaping ceremony. With her talent and charm, Snow believes he may be able to turn the odds in their favor to win the games.

Given Lucy Gray’s vocal prowess, it’s no surprise that Zegler, who beat out thousands to star as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed “West Side Story” remake, landed the lead role in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” Zegler will appear next in “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” alongside Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu; and Disney’s live-action “Snow White.”

“Hunger Games” veteran Francis Lawrence returned to direct the upcoming film, which will begin production later this year. Michael Arndt, who wrote the franchise’s second installment “Catching Fire,” was intended to write the screenplay, but he’s passed on duties to Michael Lesslie (“Macbeth,” starring Michael Fassbender).

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” will be released in theaters on Nov. 17, 2023.

[From Variety]

Hunger Games was a BFD when the movies came out. I read the whole series in days in college and my friend and I went to see the first movie at its midnight premiere. My interest dropped off a bit towards the end because they split the last book into two movies and so I wasn’t even aware of the prequel book, but I’m definitely interested. The author’s world-building is impeccable and unfortunately, 10+ years later, the Hunger Games dystopian future looks a lot less bleak than the one we are currently facing. Anyway, Rachel’s casting seems very appropriate, especially with the singing. The “unassuming” ingenue aspect of the character seems to fit with her vibe (as does her Snow White casting). She’ll probably be great in this role. Between West Side Story, Snow White, Shazam!, and now this, it’s a lot of big budget/big deal movies for a very new actress. It’ll be interesting to watch if that continues as her career progresses and whether most of her movies will involve singing.

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24 Responses to “Rachel Zegler to star in Hunger Games prequel ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’”

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  1. Wiglet Watcher says:

    So, all her roles incorporate singing? Maybe she should be on broadway.
    I skip through shows that have episodes where the characters sing. I also don’t feel dystopian storylines are what I want to watch right now. We’re nearly there in reality.
    Unpopular Opinion
    This girl really impressed the right top person and got shot straight to the top. I just wish she had more of a presence that was acting based and not singing based.

    • BlinkB says:

      It makes sense to capitalise on her skillset as she develops into a better actress. I’m sure she’ll shift into non-singing roles in the future, but it might be too exposing right now.

      • Wiglet Watcher says:

        There are screen actors that transition into broadway and broadway that transition into screen actors.
        She was discovered by Sondheim. Then approved by Spielberg. Girl is set. She’s lovey and sings beautifully.

  2. Susanna says:

    I can’t stand her

    • LA says:

      Same, there is just something so grating about her. I think her and the problematic male lead in WSS were the two weak links acting-wise.

      • Wiglet Watcher says:

        She has 3 lead roles right away in huge productions, but is still learning to act and needs singing in parts as a crutch imo. I’m not her audience.

  3. OldLady says:

    I’m in the minority and I enjoyed this book. Found myself with unwanted sympathy for Snow at times and I was interested in the way the story worked out. Not sure it will translate into a popular film.

    • Flo FLo says:

      Me too! I felt bad for Snow at times and devoured the book. I’m looking forward to the movie but not sure how she’ll do as Lucy. Lucy in the book was a cutthroat. Zegler doesn’t seem to have the range but I’ll wait & see.

    • manda says:

      Hello! I know very very little about the stories but this story sounded interesting to me. Question–is snow supposed to be from the same district as Lucy Gray?

  4. Linabear says:

    I always think of how she bragged about her co-star Ansel Elgort being in love with her while he was in a long-term relationship with someone else. Can’t get over it.

  5. Kimber says:

    I also find her grating- personality wise. I have yet to watch WSS due to the male lead issues.
    On an aside I absolutely loved and do love the Hunger Games movies. Books too- though this is the only time I’ve actually liked movie>book. I too haven’t read the prequel. I’m not sure if I’ll watch or not.

  6. Becks1 says:

    I thought she was one of the weaker links in WSS but I think in general the character of Maria is weaker, especially if you have super strong actresses as Anita (which they did both in the original and in the new one obviously.)

    I never read this book but maybe I’ll get it out of the library for a beach read or something (just something light and fluffy, LOL.) I loved the original trilogy and I thought the movies were really well done as well. Despite thinking she was weaker in WSS, I think she has potential as an actress and as a star and I’m interested to see how she does in her next round of movies.

  7. Case says:

    Perhaps Hunger Games just isn’t my thing, but I’m surprised they’re continuing with a prequel. It just seems like it doesn’t have the cultural relevancy and interest of other franchises and I was under the impression people were kinda over it. Maybe just me!

    • Fleur says:

      It’s not just you. The new Harry Potter (fantastic beast) movies are barely limping along. the books that were cultural phenomena 10-20 years ago aren’t relevant the way they were. New generations want new characters and stories. Star Wars and Star Trek are unusual because it’s never really lagged in popularity, but most franchises have a shelf life and few works are strong enough to inspire nostalgia. There really hasn’t been a breakout book series on the cultural phenomenon level of Potter, or even 50 Shades in several years, so they keep going back to the old stuff that most people don’t care about anymore lol.

      Also I’m annoyed they cast lily pale Rachel in the role and not someone more diverse since the role could easily have been someone African American.

  8. Christine says:

    There is so much prequel stuff coming out right now, it’ll be interesting to see if anything takes.

    I’ve not read this prequel but I did like the Hunger Games series. I don’t know much about Rachel. I can’t bring myself to watch WSS because of whatshisname and his smug face. The live action Snow White looks/sounds like it’s going to be a hot mess. Someone’s pushing her into these lead roles and hopefully it doesn’t backfire when projects start to bomb. It’s so much worse for woman than men who lead failed projects.

  9. J. Ferber says:

    Christine, that’s very true. A man can be in a bomb and get a hundred more offers. A woman’s career might be done. That’s also true of women directors, of course. Elaine May, a wildly talented comedian and filmmaker (who previously made films with Mike Nichols) made ONE bomb, a movie with Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman and as far as I know, she never made another movie.

  10. Lila says:

    The book is AMAZING. At least as good as Hunger Games. Maybe as good as Catching Fire. Watching Coriolanus descend into darkness inch-by inch was a fun ride.

    Hoping the casting on Sejanus is good too. He had a good heart but a tendency to get whiny in the book. The right actor could make the part more palatable.

    • Pabena6 says:

      I agree — I really loved this book. I know there were some complaints that it was too “talky” and not as action-action-action as the trilogy, but I found it really compelling.

    • N0b0dy says:

      I’ve been debating reading because I don’t know if I want to feel sympathy for Snow. This comment made me decide to read it.