West Side Story star Rachel Zegler is set to play the lead in The Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Zegler first prompted speculation about her casting by tweeting on Monday night, “listen up….. can y’all grow restfully? are you becoming an individual resting decisively?”. Fans were quick to point out that the first letter of each word in her tweet spelled out the main character’s name, Lucy Gray Baird.
Jennifer Lawrence originally played Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games franchise, but she is unlikely to make an appearance given the story’s setting.
The story of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes revolves around Coriolanus Snow, an ambitious boy who eventually becomes the tyrannical leader of the dystopian country of Panem. Tom Blyth will play the young Snow.
In the film, Snow will be chosen to mentor Lucy Gray, the female tribute from the impoverished District 12, during the 10th Hunger Games.
As shown in the original film series, the games — a televised event — randomly select two teenagers from each district to fight to the death.
Hunger Games veteran Francis Lawrence will direct the upcoming film, which will begin production later this year.
“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,” Lawrence said in a prepared 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.”
“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,” Lionsgate Motion Picture Group president Nathan Kahane said.
Franchise producer Nina Jacobson and her producing partner Brad Simpson will oversee the latest Hunger Games instalment, along with Lawrence.