‘Hunger Games’ Star Rachel Zegler Channeled Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline and Joan Baez for the Music of ‘Songbirds and Snakes’

As evidenced in its title, music plays a big part in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

In the prequel to the original trilogy, “West Side Story” star Rachel Zegler portrays Lucy Gray Baird, the female tribute from District 12 for the 10th annual Hunger Games, who hails from a musical and nomadic people called the Covey. The film features Zegler singing several songs, including franchise favorite “The Hanging Tree.” Much of the music is folk-inspired, and Zegler sang each track live during filming. At the film’s London premiere — which came one day after SAG-AFTRA reached a tentative deal with the AMPTP to end the actors strike — Zegler told Variety who inspired her when it came to developing Lucy Gray’s voice.

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“We channeled a bunch of people: Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton and Joan Baez, to name a few. That was really the voice that we were trying to find,” Zegler said. “But getting to sing live is my bread and butter, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life and so it was really nice to get to bring that skill to my peers on set.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09: (L-R) Tom Blyth, Hunter Schafer, Rachel Zegler and Josh Andres Rivera attend "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" World Premiere at BFI IMAX Waterloo on November 09, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
Tom Blyth, Hunter Schafer, Rachel Zegler and Josh Andres Rivera attend “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” world premiere in London, England.

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” centers on a young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), who becomes infatuated with Lucy Gray after serving as her mentor in the Hunger Games. The film also stars Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman and Viola Davis.

When it came to playing Coriolanus, Blyth was intrigued by the chance to discover the layers behind the man who would eventually become a tyrannical president of Panem.

“It’s very easy to kind of paint him as the baddie because he definitely is — I mean baddie in the bad way, not the good way — not the Instagram baddie, he’s a real baddie with a capital B,” Blyth said. “But I think for me, the exciting part is getting to answer those questions that I think we all had when we watched the original films, which is ‘How did he get like this?’ And maybe look at his humanity and dig into it a little bit.”

A common thread that bonded the main cast was their love of the original trilogy growing up. “I’m a huge fan of the franchise,” Zegler said. “I would go to midnight releases of the books and midnight screenings of the movies.”

Schafer said she even dressed up in costume, something that her “Songbirds and Snakes” character Tigris Snow — who goes on to be a stylist for the Games — would certainly approve of. “I literally made my own costume to be a Capitol person when I was in middle school when I was a huge fan of the books,” she said. “So it’s really full circle, the universe is at work. Because we’re all adults now! And now all these new kids will get to experience it.”

Because the 118-day actors strike officially ended on Thursday, the stars of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” were also able to discuss other projects they have coming up. “Songbirds and Snakes” had previously landed an interim agreement with SAG-AFTRA, since it is backed by non-AMPTP company Lionsgate.

Zegler’s next big role is that of iconic Disney princess Snow White in the studio’s live-action remake. On Oct. 27, Disney shared a first-look image of Zegler and the dwarfs, revealing that they are rendered by CGI, which came as a shock to some. When asked about the dwarfs, Zegler replied: “I’m just really excited to get to share that movie with everyone in March 2025. We’ve got a lot of magic up our sleeve.”

Rivera also recently shared big casting news: He will be taking on the role of Aaron Hernandez in Ryan Murphy’s upcoming “American Sports Story.” Rivera actually scored the part after meeting producer Nina Jacobson on the set of “Songbirds and Snakes,” who also happens to have a hand in “American Sports Story.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09: Josh Andrés Rivera  attends the World Premiere of "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" at the BFI IMAX Waterloo on November 09, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for Lionsgate UK)
Josh Andrés Rivera attends the world premiere of “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” in London, England.

“He killed it on his audition, and then I was like, ‘Well I’m not going to push too hard because I want Ryan to get to have that experience too,'” Jacobson said at the premiere. “So I gave Josh the script, he read for it, I said, ‘Yeah you should check it out,’ and then just tried to keep my mouth shut until he did what I knew he would do and stole the part.”

Rivera revealed that he’s currently in the process of beefing up to transform himself into the Patriots tight end, who was later convicted of murder. “I have a trainer, I’ve been really diligent on fitness and working on and getting my body right first and foremost,” he said. “There’s a lot of studying about the NFL that has to go into something like this. We have terrific script writers, we have terrific producers.”

As for if there will be another “Hunger Games” movie, only time will tell — but director Francis Lawrence said he would “100%” return if author Suzanne Collins feels there is more to the story. “I mean, whatever she comes up with. It could be another standalone, whatever it is, or a sequel to this,” Lawrence said. “I’d be super happy to come back.”

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” premieres in theaters on Nov. 17.

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