‘Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’ Director and Producer Break Down Trailer and Tease Rachel Zegler’s Songs
The trailer for the “Hunger Games” prequel film “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is finally here, and eagle-eyed superfans are already picking apart every frame. The movie, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, is the first new entry to the “Hunger Games” franchise since the run of its original four hits concluded in 2015.
Before the trailer officially debuted at CinemaCon, press and a small group of superfans were given the opportunity to preview it during a special event at “The Hunger Games: The Exhibition” on Wednesday night. Following the trailer screening, producer Nina Jacobson (who produced all four original films) and Francis Lawrence (who directed all but the first entry), eagerly broke down the biggest moments from the trailer for Variety and teased what’s still to come.
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“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” stars Tom Blyth as 18-year-old Coriolanus Snow and Rachel Zegler as District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird. In the first shot audiences see of Zegler’s Lucy, she curtseys sarcastically — an action that will be familiar to fans of the original franchise, as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss does just the same.
“It is such a completely original Lucy moment,” Jacobson says. “She’s such a different character from Katniss. She’s such a performer. Katniss is the opposite. This is a woman who loves and lives to perform. To see the connection there, the history that she represents, and to think that Katniss Everdeen grew up knowing about Lucy Gray and this moment, it was just a great kind of microcosm of both how much of a new ground it is and how rooted it is in what we’ve seen, but in this backward-looking way.”
“I just thought it’d be really interesting if we create a history of it so that maybe she didn’t come up with it on her own. Maybe she’d heard about this girl from a long time ago having done the same thing,” Lawrence says. “We’re also trying to find the ways of linking it to the other movies and into the things that people love.”
That’s where the similarities between Katniss and Lucy end, though. Lucy’s love of music and penchant for performing is central to her character, established early in the book as she sings upon being reaped for the Hunger Games. “One of the least Katniss things ever is to get up there and sing a song,” Jacobson says. “It’s a far cry from ‘I volunteer as tribute’ to ‘I’m gonna get up there, grab the mic and sing a song.’”
While Lucy’s songs aren’t revealed in the first trailer, Jacobson and Lawrence say fans should expect something extraordinary when they finally hear them.
“Dave Cobb did the music and he is incredible. His songs are earworms. They stick in your head. They’re beautiful,” Jacobson says. “Rachel often would opt not to do playback, and just sing it live. Often, after they would call cut, people would just go bananas clapping!”
Those live on-set vocals will be included in the final product — and there’s one scene in particular that Jacobson’s especially excited for: “The big finale moment…un-fucking-believable. Her voice is jaw-dropping.”
“Suzanne Collins is a country music aficionado and she has a vast knowledge of country music. Because District 12 is West Virginia, we sort of leaned toward the Appalachian sound,” adds Lawrence of the musical style for the film.
Also revealed in the new trailer is Jason Schwartzman’s take on television host Lucky Flickerman, an ancestor of Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman. The resemblance is immediately noticeable, but Jacobson says Schwartzman brings something all his own to the role. “He’s not impersonating [Stanley Tucci] any way — but there are moments with his laugh or his flair.”
“He was much more developed in the script than he was in the screenplay,” Lawrence recalls of the early approach to Lucky. “He and I had a chat and I said, ‘Listen, I think that the character is under-written right now. But we have a lot of opportunity to flesh him out. I would love your help if you’re game.’”
Thankfully, Schwartzman was up for the challenge. “I spent a lot of time talking to him about who this guy is, what he becomes and what he wants,” Lawrence continues. “I think he had, at the end of the day, 50 pages of new ideas and dialogue for all of his scenes. He had so much fun.”
“He spent a ton of time with Mike Leslie, the writer, coming up with some of his ad libs,” Jacobson adds. “Some of the stuff that was never scripted just slayed me.”
Lucky’s role in creating a spectacle of the tributes ushers in a new era for the Hunger Games, introducing layers of political strategy which, 64 years later, Katniss must learn to master.
“The idea of seeing the Games at a time when the ratings were down and people weren’t wanting to watch them, and they tasked these kids with make them entertaining…it’s so modern,” Jacobson says. “Snow was tasked with getting people to watch. You know, I can relate,” she says with a laugh.
The original films have enjoyed a recent surge in popularity thanks to a brief stint on Netflix. They were only available for a single month in March, but all four movies occupied spaces on the streamer’s Top 10 during that window and generated significant chatter on social media (especially TikTok).
“I was amazed, with it being on Netflix, at how many people are either just discovering or rediscovering them,” Jacobson says. “It’s been so exciting to see it in the bloodstream again.”
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” will premiere in theaters worldwide on Nov. 17.
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