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Rachel Zegler cast in ‘Hunger Games’ prequel as Lucy Gray Baird

The movie is being adapted from Suzanne Collins’ 2020 book of the same name.
SiriusXM's Town Hall with the Cast of "West Side Story" Hosted By SiriusXM's Jess Cagle
Rachel Zegler attends SiriusXM's Town Hall with the cast of "West Side Story" in December 2021.Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for SiriusXM

“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.”

“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,” said Lionsgate Motion Picture Group president Nathan Kahane.

“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).

“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.”

Franchise producer Nina Jacobson and her producing partner Brad Simpson will oversee the latest “Hunger Games” installment, along with Francis Lawrence. Collins, Tim Palen and Jim Miller will serve as executive producers.

“Lucy Gray is an incredibly complex character, a performer who has to use every skill in her arsenal to survive,” Jacobson said. 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.”

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