Welcome, welcome. Over a decade after The Hunger Games first hit shelves, a cinematic return to its brutal world of survival, betrayal, and Capitol folly is upon us—and getting closer than ever, now that Viola Davis has officially joined the cast as villainous Dr. Volumnia Gaul.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the 2020 novel that serves as a prequel to Suzanne Collins’s original trilogy, is being adapted for the big screen. The novel is set decades before we ever meet Katniss Everdeen, and primarily follows a young Coriolanus Snow (the tyrannical president previously portrayed by Donald Sutherland) during and after the 10th annual Hunger Games. For context, the Games that Katniss volunteers for in the first novel and film are the 74th.
Snow, at this age, is far from the cutthroat political titan we know he’ll one day become. And though the franchise’s most beloved characters don’t appear in the narrative (those pesky logistics!), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes introduces a sprawling cast that contains references to—and echoes of—some that may surprise you. Here’s everything you need to know about the project:
When will it be released?
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is scheduled to hit screens on November 17, 2023. The film is currently in production, with Francis Lawrence, who helmed Catching Fire and both Mockingjay installments, returning to direct.
What do I need to remember?
Not much! As we said, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes takes place too long before the original trilogy for much crossover, beyond the basic premise: some indeterminate time in the future, the North American nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts and a Capitol. As a consequence of a failed uprising, each district must offer up two children between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete and fight to the death every year. The lone survivor returns home with wealth, fame, and unimaginable trauma. As we said, this prequel story takes place only 10 years after that war. Songbirds and Snakes is able to show off its aftershocks in a visceral way that The Hunger Games never could.
Who’s in it?
Tom Blyth as Coriolanus Snow
Tom Blyth (Billy the Kid, The Gilded Age) has been cast as a young Coriolanus Snow, the unlikely protagonist of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. You know Snow as the insidious president who oversaw the Hunger Games and repeatedly threatened Katniss in his quest to quell rebellion, but in the prequel, his once-wealthy family is living in near poverty. Coriolanus lives with his grandmother and cousin, Tigris, in a lavish Capitol apartment they can no longer afford.
Despite all that, Snow attends a prestigious Capitol high school and has scored himself a mentor position in the upcoming Hunger Games. (But no, they aren’t what you’re imagining. More on that later.) He is assigned District 12’s female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, and initially sees her victory as a way to ensure his own future success. After all, she has the charisma, and he has the cunning. But as the twists and turns of the Games draw him and Lucy Gray closer, Snow’s ambition endears him to the nightmarish Gamemaker, Dr. Gaul. Might he pursue a life he never imagined with this free-spirited girl? Or will his sociopathic tendencies give way to one of YA fiction’s most ruthless villains?
Well, this is a prequel, so you know the answer. But Snow’s journey is less a mystery than a tour de force in depicting how deadly self-victimization can be when deployed by the privileged.
Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird
Katniss wasn’t the first girl from District 12 to cause trouble for Coriolanus Snow. West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler will star as Lucy Gray Baird, the young woman selected to compete as District 12’s female tribute in the 10th Hunger Games.
Lucy Gray is a member of the Covey, a group that had, before the war, roved the country as a musical clan. We’ll spare you most of the details. What is important is that, when her name is called at the reaping, Lucy Gray’s loved ones support her with a song. She joins in, suppressing her tears and fortuitously convincing Snow of her potential. Though she isn’t prepared for the Games in the way Katniss was, she’s more clever than most presume, and her unique vision of freedom gives her (and maybe Snow?) something to fight for.
Hunter Schafer as Tigris Snow
Tigris Snow, soon to be portrayed by Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer, is one of the few characters to appear in both the main series and the prequel—though we wouldn’t fault you for forgetting her. In Mockingjay, Tigris is a Capitol ally who looks like, well, a tiger. Face tattoos, whisker implants, you name it. She’s the owner of a small boutique, and she cares for and feeds Katniss’s squad while they are on their quest to assassinate the president. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, it’s revealed that the president is her cousin. Tigris acts as both a confidante and foil to Coriolanus for much of the novel, with her better instincts at odds with his burgeoning ruthlessness.
Josh Andrés Rivera as Sejanus Plinth
Snow is, obviously, not the only mentor in the 10th Hunger Games. Josh Andrés Rivera (another West Side Story alum) will portray Sejanus Plinth, another foil to the future president. The Plinth family is not Capital-born; rather, they are “new money,” having made their wealth during the war. Having been raised in District 2, Sejanus has a moral compass that most of his classmates lack. Despite that, he and Snow form a genuine, if not slightly contentious, friendship.
Peter Dinklage as Casca Highbottom
Casca Highbottom is both dean of the Academy and the man credited with creating the Hunger Games. As such, he personally oversees the mentorship program that Snow and his classmates partake in—though he’s noticeably a shell of the man he once was. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones, Cyrano) will portray him in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul
If Lucy Gray is the angel on Snow’s shoulder, Dr. Volumnia Gaul is the devil on his other. Gaul, who will be portrayed by Viola Davis, is the Head Gamemaker and mastermind behind the Capitol’s experimental weapons division. (Think Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane in The Hunger Games, or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee in Catching Fire—but with a much more imaginative mean streak.) Like Highbottom, Gaul is closely involved with the mentorship program.
What’s going to happen?
Though The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is being touted as a “return to the Games,” you shouldn’t expect a survival thriller in the vein of The Hunger Games. The Games depicted in the prequel are far from the futuristic, awe-inspiring spectacles we’ve already seen onscreen. In fact, they take place entirely in a condemned amphitheater.
But, without giving too much away, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is less about the Games than how they became a phenomenon. The story starts before the reaping and continues after a victor is crowned. It takes us through the Capitol, into the arena, and, yes, back to District 12. There are gnarly deaths (hey, Panem hasn’t changed that much) and plot twists likely to make your head spin. But at its core, it is a story of privilege, of exploitation, and of power. It is the story of Coriolanus Snow. And you already know the ending.
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