“West Side Story” actress Rachel Zegler is set to star in “The Hunger Games” prequel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents.”
Zegler had sparked speculation about his casting after he tweeted on Monday night, “listen….. can you grow up easy? are you becoming an individual at decisive rest? As eagle-eyed fans pointed out, the first letter of every word in her tweet spells out the name of the main character, Lucy Gray Baird.
— rachel zegler (she/her) (@rachelzegler) May 31, 2022
The film is adapted from Suzanne Collins’ 2020 book of the same name, set decades before Katniss Everdeen’s adventures in “The Hunger Games.” This means that Jennifer Lawrence, who rose to superstardom as Girl on Fire, does not appear in the prequel story. Instead, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents” centers on Coriolanus Snow, an ambitious boy who eventually becomes the tyrannical ruler of the dystopian country of Panem. As previously announced, Tom Blyth (“Billy the Kid” and “The Gilded Age”) will play young Snow.
In the upcoming film, 18-year-old Snow is chosen to mentor Lucy Gray, the female tribute from impoverished District 12, during the 10th Hunger Games. As introduced in “The Hunger Games” trilogy – which has been expanded into four feature films – the barbaric TV event randomly selects two teenagers from each district to fight to the death. In the novel, the modest Lucy Gray attracts everyone’s attention by singing at the harvest ceremony. With his skill and charm, Snow thinks he may be able to turn the tide in their favor to win the matches.
Given Lucy Gray’s vocal prowess, it’s no surprise that Zegler, who beat out thousands to play the role of Maria in the acclaimed remake of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” landed the lead role. in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”. Zegler will next appear in “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” alongside Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu; and Disney’s live-action “Snow White.”
“When you read Suzanne’s book, Lucy Gray’s emotional intelligence, physical agility and fiercely powerful, determined singing voice shine through. Rachel embodies all of these skills – she’s the perfect choice for our Lucy Gray,” said said Nathan Kahane, president of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.
“Hunger Games” veteran Francis Lawrence has returned to direct the next film, which will begin production later this year. Michael Arndt, who wrote the second installment in the “Catching Fire” franchise, was supposed to write the screenplay, but he handed over his duties to Michael Lesslie (“Macbeth,” starring Michael Fassbender).
“Like everyone else, I saw Rachel Zegler for the first time in ‘West Side Story,’ and like everyone else, I knew I was watching a star who would rule the screen for a generation,” Francis Lawrence said. . “Lucy Gray is a perfect fit for her as an actress: the character is bold, independent and provocative, but also vulnerable, emotional and loving. Rachel will make this character unforgettable.
Franchise producer Nina Jacobson and her producing partner Brad Simpson will oversee the final episode of “Hunger Games,” alongside Francis Lawrence. Collins, Tim Palen and Jim Miller will serve as executive producers.
“Lucy Gray is an incredibly complex character, a performer who must use every skill in her arsenal to survive,” Jacobson said. Our casting team, Deb Zane and Dylan Jury, conducted an exhaustive search, reading through hundreds of actors looking for our perfect Lucy Gray. That search ended when Rachel Zegler blew the roof off with her depth and breadth of talent as an actress, singer, and performer. Rachel is utterly convincing; much like Lucy Gray, her voice and charisma dominate the stage as her inner strength and humanity transform those around her.
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents” hits theaters on November 17, 2023.