West Side Story star Rachel Zegler is joining another high-profile franchise, as she has been cast in The Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The actress will play the lead female role, Lucy Gray Baird, in the acclaimed dystopian franchise’s origin story, Variety is reporting.
The upcoming movie is being adapted from author Suzanne Collins’ 2020 novel of the same name. Like the book, he action-adventure film will take place almost six-and-a-half decades before Katniss Everdeen’s journey in the original Hunger Games stories. As a result, Jennifer Lawrence, who rose to superstardom playing Katniss in the four original Hunger Games movies, won’t appear in the prequel screen adaptation.
Instead, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows the ambitious young Coriolanus Snow before he becomes the tyrannical leader of the dystopian country of Panem. The drama will feature actor Tom Blyth playing the young version of Snow. He’s taking over the role from Donald Sutherland, who played President Snow in all four of the series’ previous screen adaptations.
In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, 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 original Hunger Games book trilogy, which were developed into four feature films, the televised event randomly selects two teenagers from each district to fight to the death.
In the prequel 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, Zegler, who beat out thousands of other actresses to play Maria in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed West Side Story remake, easily landed the lead female role of Lucy Gray in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Francis Lawrence, who directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1 and 2, is returning to the franchise to helm The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The prequel, whose script was written by Michael Lesslie, will begin production later this year.
“Like everybody, I first saw Rachel Zegler in West Side Story, and like everybody, I knew I was watching a star who would command the screen for a generation,” said Francis Lawrence. “Lucy Gray is a perfect match for her as an actress: the character is bold, independent and defiant, but also vulnerable, emotional and loving. Rachel will make this character unforgettable.”
Series producer Nina Jacobson and her producing partner, Brad Simpson, will oversee the latest Hunger Games installment with Francis Lawrence. Collins, Tim Palen and Jim Miller are serving as executive producers on the upcoming film.
Lionsgate will release The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in theaters on November 17, 2023. Before then, Zegler will be seen in the superhero sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, with Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu. She’s also playing the titular role in Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of Snow White.