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The Hunger Games Prequel The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes Just Cast Its Lead Actress

Rachel Zegler as Maria in West Side Story
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Next year, The Hunger Games saga will be returning to theaters with the adaptation of author Suzanne Collins’ prequel novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. With actor Tom Blyth cast as the young Coriolanus Snow, we’re starting to get a feel for who will be filling out the important roles from Panem’s past in the upcoming movie. A new piece in that particular puzzle has just fallen into place, as the lead actress in this Hunger Games prequel has been cast, with West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler now playing the role of Lucy Gray Baird. 

An official press release commemorated the news, as Zegler’s casting was praised by several key parties involved in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Included in Lionsgate’s announcement were the following remarks from director Francis Lawrence, praising Zegler’s abilities as follows: 

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. 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.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes sees young Coriolanus Snow, eventually the president of Panem played by Donald Sutherland, acting as a mentor during the 10th annual Hunger Games. Barely an adult himself, Snow kind of has his hands full, as his efforts to shepherd Lucy Gray Baird through the games could make or break his family name. As usual, politics and cunning are in the mix, with the potential for some twists in Hunger Games history along the way. 

As it turns out, this mystery had a little bit of previous teasing from Rachel Zegler herself on social media. Through a cryptic Twitter post she put into the world yesterday, the West Side Story star seemed to be priming everyone for this new announcement ahead of time. Take a look at the tweet Zegler broke down, below: 

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This is the latest high profile role to make its way onto Rachel Zegler’s dance card since playing Maria in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake. Previously, Zegler was announced as Disney’s live-action Snow White, with that project currently filming for an unspecified release date. Rachel Zegler’s casting is so perfect that it ties into the title of the Hunger Games prequel adventure rather handily. 

In the synopsis for the film/book provided, Lucy and Coriolanus Snow are teamed up after she's introduced “defiantly singing during the reaping ceremony” in Suzanne Collins’ 2020 novel. The pair might be quite effective throughout the story at hand, but knowing how ruthless President Snow can be, a ticking clock seems to be counting down to Coriolanus' ultimate, sinister rise. 

Based on his behavior in The Hunger Games movies of the past, it’s a fair assumption that Lucy Gray Baird’s fate is not a kind one. I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book yet, so I’m just guessing here. However, if I’m right, that makes Rachel Zegler’s casting even more exciting. She was able to break everyone’s heart in the end of West Side Story, so using those chops to crush the audience again in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes only feels like it’ll amp up Coriolanus Snow’s rise as even more of a bummer. 

Audiences can strike up the band for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ November 17, 2023 release date. In the meantime, the docket of 2022 movie releases is available for those looking to engage in cinematic adventure in a more immediate fashion.

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.