The leading actor of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Rachel Zegler, actually rejected the role before deciding to join the upcoming spin-off movie.
Based on Suzanne Collins’ newest novel that’s set 64 years before the original books, Songbirds and Snakes highlights the early days of the series’ titular tournament prior to the story of Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen.
Rachel Zegler Almost Wasn't in Hunger Games Prequel
Speaking in the latest issue of Empire Magazine before the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes director Francis Lawrence looked back to the process of casting Rachel Zegler in the film.
Director Francis Lawrence made it clear that Zegler was the team’s top choice for the role thanks to everything she brought to the table:
“We just couldn’t find anybody as good as Rachel for this role, in terms of the voice, the look, the performance ability, acting, the kind of person we needed.”
This was particularly the case due to the singing abilities she showcased in 2021’s remake of West Side Story alongside Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose.
But because Zegler met with Lawrence right before starting her work on the upcoming Snow White remake, she initially rejected the role due to her schedule being so jam-packed.
Zegler’s boyfriend, Josh Andrés Rivera, was also cast in the movie as Sejanus Plinth (Lawrence was unaware of Rivera's connection to Zegler at the time). This was one of the reasons that led Zegler to change her mind about wanting to be part of the cast.
In the final weeks of filming for Snow White, Zegler called Lawrence back asking if the job was still open as Lawrence remembered how everything “came together at the last minute” for the Hunger Games prequel:
“She was then just weeks away from finishing ‘Snow White.’ So she sees the light at the end of the tunnel. She was like, ‘Is the job still open?’ ‘Yes! It is!’ It all came together at the last minute.
Lawrence also took a moment to compare Zegler’s Lucy Gray to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, noting that both have “great survival instincts” even though Lucy’s “toolkit is different:”
“Katniss and Lucy Gray both have great survival instincts. But Lucy Gray’s toolkit is different. She can manipulate, she can use her charm. She’s headstrong, she wants to do things her own way.”
Rachel Zegler Adds to Growing Resume
Even only two years into her acting career, Zegler is already making a name for herself as one of the biggest young stars in the industry as she joins the Hunger Games franchise.
This new spin-off will mark her third official credit after playing Maria in West Side Story and the goddess Anthea in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and she’ll continue her rise to fame bringing Disney’s Snow White into live-action.
Zegler will take over leading duties from Jennifer Lawrence in this new entry with Lawrence not expected to be part of the cast. This film will also the story back more than half a century before Katniss volunteers as tribute for the Hunger Games.
And with a new era in the Hunger Games legacy starting to be told in this spin-off, only time will tell just how long Zegler will be involved after she rejected the chance to join the franchise in the first place.
Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes premieres in theaters on November 17.