Rachel Zegler Says Jennifer Lawrence Joked When They First Met: Let’s Do a Photo ‘Where I’m Strangling You and Saying You’ll Never Take My Part’

Rachel Zegler is the new face of the “Hunger Games” franchise thanks to her role as Lucy Gray Baird in the prequel “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.” During a recent visit to “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” Zegler recalled what it was like meeting Jennifer Lawrence for the first time. Lawrence headlined the original four “Hunger Games” films as Katniss Everdeen, a role that turned the Oscar-winner into a global superstar.

“We were at Paris Fashion Week for the Dior show only a couple weeks ago,” Zegler said about her first encounter with Lawrence. “I didn’t want to be weird. I was just kind of psyching myself up to talk to her. She was so unbelievably kind.”

More from Variety

Clarkson threw to a clip from the event in which Zegler and Lawrence embraced while posing for photos together. Zegler could be seen laughing. What was so funny?

“In that clip, [Jennifer is] actually saying, ‘Let’s do another photo where I’m strangling you and saying you’ll never take my part!'” Zegler revealed. “And that’s exactly what I wanted from her.”

“The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is set more than 60 years before “The Hunger Games,” meaning there was never a chance that Lawrence would reprise her star-making role of Katniss. The lead female character in the prequel is Zegler’s Lucy Gray, a tribute from District 12 who is mentored by a young Snow (Tom Blyth) for the 10th annual Hunger Games.

“Katniss was an introvert and a survivor,” director Francis Lawrence told Empire magazine in August about the big difference between Katniss and Lucy. “She was quite quiet and stoic, you could almost say [she was] asexual. Lucy Gray is the opposite. She wears her sexuality on her sleeve. She really is a performer. She loves crowds. She knows how to play crowds and manipulate people.”

Jennifer Lawrence told Variety in June that she is “totally” open to reprising her “Hunger Games” role of Katniss Everdeen should the right opportunity arise. She added at the time, “If Katniss ever could ever come back into my life, 100 percent.” However, franchise producer Nina Jacobson and director Francis Lawrence aren’t counting on it because they feel Katniss’ story feels complete. Should “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins find a way to bring Katniss back, then they will entertain the idea for a movie.

“Honestly, as much as I love Katniss, I think her story is complete,” Jacobson said. “And I think that Suzanne feels that her story is complete. But if that changes, and Suzanne has something she wants to say, and it involves Katniss, then I would be thrilled. But really any chance to be back in this world, and lead with Francis and Suzanne, I would take regardless of who it was about.”

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes” is now playing in theaters nationwide from Lionsgate.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.