How the ‘Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ CDs Found Their Stars

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Photo Source: Murray Close

Casting directors Debra Zane and Dylan Jury carried out a global search to find new faces for the screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” directed by Francis Lawrence; the film hits theaters Nov. 17. The “Hunger Games” prequel follows Coriolanus Snow—decades before his villainous reign as the president of Panem—as he mentors Lucy Gray Baird, a tribute from the destitute District 12. 

Here, the CDs break down how they cast the film’s two leads, Tom Blyth (“Billy the Kid”) and Golden Globe winner Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”), and explain why it became a priority for them to find the right actors for nonspeaking roles.

How did you approach casting a film that’s part of such a massive franchise?

Debra Zane: The first thing we did was read the book, because it was too early for us to read a screenplay. Francis [felt that since] there were so many young actors we were going to have to expose him to, he wanted to get a sense of who the younger actors of the moment were. So, we did some legwork [to find] them. 

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How did the audition process differ from other projects you’ve worked on?

DZ: We shot the film in Germany and Poland; and we did casting in the U.S., but also in Germany and London. The net was thrown pretty wide. People who were cast out of Germany really had to sound American. We found some good expats, but to get that German accent to be undetectable was challenging—especially with very, very young kids. 

Hunter Schafer

Did you run into any roadblocks?

DZ: We got into this phase of the process where a lot of the big decisions [had already been] made…and we thought from here, it’ll be a bit of downhill skiing. [But] Francis said, “I know it’s not currently scripted, but I think that we really need to cast all of the tributes and the mentors from all 12 districts.” These were parts that we all assumed would be extras, because they need to be there—even though, in our story, only half of them are speaking [roles]. That meant that we had to cast 24 or 25 more parts that we weren’t anticipating. 

Finding the right actor to play Lucy was pivotal. What attributes were you looking for?

DZ: She had to be a singer. The music in this movie is a big part of the story, and her singing is much different than Katniss’ in “The Hunger Games.” Katniss had this one song; but [Lucy] really sings songs, and she’s a performer in the movie. 

Dylan Jury: There was somewhat of a look described in the novel that we were aiming for, but it was pretty loose. We often said there was a Marilyn Monroe quality that was necessary [for] when [Lucy is] onstage or when she’s in front of the cameras; but then she’s obviously this survivor from the poorest district. She [had] to have that vulnerability, but also that toughness.

Donald Sutherland played Coriolanus in the original films. How did you go about finding the right person to portray his younger self?

DZ: We knew [the actor] had to be tall and have that slender, long face. We never concern ourselves too much with hair color because there’s a whole department for that sort of thing. We looked at a lot of photos of young Sutherland, of which there are some great [ones]. To this day, I feel so lucky that Tom Blyth auditioned.

DJ: The character [viewers know as] the villain [is] the protagonist of this story. It had to be someone [you would root for], so likable that you could see past your [existing] perception of [Coriolanus].

This story originally appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Backstage Magazine.