Rachel Zegler to Lead ‘Hunger Games’ Prequel ‘The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’

The “West Side Story” actress will star in the latest entry in the successful franchise

rachel zegler
Photo: Nathan Johnson

Fresh off her commanding performance in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated “West Side Story” (and ahead of starring roles in “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” and Disney’s live-action “Snow White”), Rachel Zegler has been tapped by Lionsgate to lead “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” as Lucy Gray Baird for director Francis Lawrence and producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson. The prequel film in the franchise that has grossed over $3 billion globally is based on the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins and slated to hit theaters on November 17, 2023.

The film’s official synopsis is as follows: “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 herself teased her character on Twitter recently, with a tweet where every word’s first letter spelled out her character’s name (truly, a Taylor Swift move if there ever was one). Fans caught on but the official announcement was held until now.

“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, who is also producing the new film and directed earlier “Hunger Games” installments “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay Part One” and “Mockingjay Part Two,” in an official statement. “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.”

“Lucy Gray is an incredibly complex character, a performer who has to use every skill in her arsenal to survive. Our casting team, Deb Zane and Dylan Jury, spearheaded an exhaustive search, reading hundreds of actors in search of our perfect Lucy Gray. That search ended when Rachel Zegler blew the roof off with her depth and breadth of talent as an actor, singer, and performer. Rachel is utterly compelling; just like Lucy Gray, her voice and charisma command the stage while her inner strength and humanity transform those around her,” said producer Nina Jacobson in an official statement.

Suzanne Collins, Tim Palen, and Jim Miller will serve as executive producers on the new project. The latest draft of “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is being written by Michael Lesslie, who worked with Justin Kurzel on “Macbeth” and “Assassin’s Creed,” based on the work of writers Collins and Michael Arndt (who also co-wrote earlier “Hunger Games” film “Catching Fire”).

The last film in the original “Hunger Games” series, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, debuted on November 20, 2015, and made more than $658 million worldwide. Sounds like the odds of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” being another massive hit are forever in their favor.