Rachel Zegler is the young actress/singer who played Maria in the 2021 adaptation of West Side Story. That role was her debut and she was cast from an open call Steven Spielberg posted on Twitter, to which she responded with videos of herself singing. West Side Story was plagued with a bit of drama — the pall cast by the male lead’s problems and Disney’s Oscars invitation snub, but Rachel is starting to fill out her IMDB with other projects. The latest: she was just cast as a lead in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the wildly popular Hunger Games books/movies.
“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.”
“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).
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” will be released in theaters on Nov. 17, 2023.
Hunger Games was a BFD when the movies came out. I read the whole series in days in college and my friend and I went to see the first movie at its midnight premiere. My interest dropped off a bit towards the end because they split the last book into two movies and so I wasn’t even aware of the prequel book, but I’m definitely interested. The author’s world-building is impeccable and unfortunately, 10+ years later, the Hunger Games dystopian future looks a lot less bleak than the one we are currently facing. Anyway, Rachel’s casting seems very appropriate, especially with the singing. The “unassuming” ingenue aspect of the character seems to fit with her vibe (as does her Snow White casting). She’ll probably be great in this role. Between West Side Story, Snow White, Shazam!, and now this, it’s a lot of big budget/big deal movies for a very new actress. It’ll be interesting to watch if that continues as her career progresses and whether most of her movies will involve singing.
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