Rachel Zegler in West Side Story

Rachel Zegler to Star in ‘Hunger Games’ Prequel

Zegler will play Lucy Gray Baird in 'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes'.

May the odds be ever in Rachel Zegler’s favor. The West Side Story star has been cast in the highly anticipated Hunger Games prequel, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The film, based on Suzanne Collins’ 2020 bestseller, follows the adventures of young Coriolanus Snow, long before he would become the villainous president of Panem. Snow was played by Donald Sutherland in the original films, and will be played by Tom Blyth (Billy the Kid, The Gilded Age) in the new film. Zegler will play new tribute Lucy Gray Baird.

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The synopsis for the film reads, “Years before he would become the tyrannical President of Panem, 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow is the last hope for his fading lineage, a once-proud family that has fallen from grace in a post-war Capitol. With the 10th annual Hunger Games fast approaching, the young Snow is alarmed when he is assigned to mentor Lucy Gray Baird, the girl tribute from impoverished District 12. But, after Lucy Gray commands all of Panem’s attention by defiantly singing during the reaping ceremony, Snow thinks he might be able to turn the odds in their favor. Uniting their instincts for showmanship and newfound political savvy, Snow and Lucy’s race against time to survive will ultimately reveal who is a songbird, and who is a snake.”

Zegler tweeted a coded announcement of her casting:

Lionsgate Motion Picture Group president Nathan Kahane said, “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 those skills — she is the perfect choice for our Lucy Gray.”

“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 director 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.”

Lawrence, who directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as well as Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, will return to direct The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Michael Arndt (Catching FireStar Wars: The Force Awakens) will write the screenplay.

Zegler’s casting does spark plenty of interest in a film I genuinely didn’t care much about to begin with. I love The Hunger Games franchise, but was honestly puzzled that the prequel would focus on the worst character. And given that the franchise has such a deep bench of fascinating characters (Mags, Johanna Mason, Finnick) it’s surprising that Snow is getting his own film and potential spinoff.

As our own Princess Weekes said of the choice, “Why not use this prequel series to deal with any other the oppressed people that were affected by the Capitol or literally any people of color? Instead, we revisit the story of a privileged white man who turns to evil for … reasons.”

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

(featured image: 20th Century Studios)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.