Hunger Games' Rachel Zegler Reveals the OMG Story Behind Her First Meeting With Jennifer Lawrence

Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes star Rachel Zegler shared the iconic moment she met fellow District 12 heroine Jennifer Lawrence—and the pose they chose for their photo

By Brahmjot Kaur Nov 20, 2023 10:40 PMTags
Watch: Rachel Zegler Reveals Story Behind Meeting Jennifer Lawrence

The odds were ever in Rachel Zegler's favor when she encountered Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence.

After all, the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes star was the only member of the prequel's cast to meet the Oscar winner ahead of the film's Nov. 17 debut due to a chance meeting at Dior's show during Paris Fashion Week earlier this fall.

"I didn't want to be weird, and I was just kind of psyching myself up to talk to her," Rachel noted during the Nov. 17 episode of The Kelly Clarkson Show. "She was so unbelievably kind."

The Snow White actress, whose character Lucy Gray Baird competes in the Hunger Games for District 12 more than 60 years before Jennifer's Katniss Everdeen, also revealed that the Silver Linings Playbook star had some very silly suggestions as they posed for photos together.

In fact, Rachel noted Jennifer turned to her and said, "‘Let's do another photo where I'm strangling you saying, ‘you'll never take my part.' And that is exactly what I wanted from her."

The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Sneak Peek Photos

While The Ballad of Songbirds is reentering the Panem established in the original films, it's not quite the world fans are familiar with. After all, it introduces Lucy and her mentor, Coriolanus Snow—the then-18-year-old future president of Panem—in a world still reeling from a civil war.

But while this foray marks a second journey with a District 12 tribute, director Francis Lawrence—who helmed three of the Hunger Games films—stressed that the two heroines are more different than alike.

"I think the two sort of common connections between the two is they're both very smart. And they're both survivors," he exclusively told E! News on Nov. 18. "I think the way they survive, and the way that they move through life is very different."

"Katniss is more of an introvert," Lawrence continued. "She's a hunter, whereas you have somebody like Lucy Gray, she's a performer, she's charismatic. She flirts. She knows how to manipulate, she's a little more mercurial. Definitely extroverted. So the way they sort of manipulate and survive is very, very different."

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is in theaters now.

Keep reading for 20 revealing secrets about the Hunger Games movies.

1. When we tell you every young actress volunteered as tribute to play The Hunger Games' bow-and-arrow wielding heroine Katniss Everdeen, we really mean it. Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Emma Roberts, Saoirse Ronan, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jodelle Ferland, Lyndsy Fonseca, Emily Browning, Shailene Woodley, Kaya Scodelario and Troian Bellisario all auditioned, but Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence was director Gary Ross' first choice from the beginning.

"I absolutely cast the right person for the role and in my view there wasn't even a question who the best Katniss was," Ross told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. "It was the easiest casting decision I ever made in my life."

2. But Lawrence needed time to decide whether or not she wanted to take on the role, nervous about the level of fame she would be catapulted into. (See: Twilight's Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.)

"It was the middle of the night in England, and I was in bed when I got the call," Lawrence told MTV News. "And I was so in love with the books and the script, and suddenly it was right in my face—and the size of the decision was terrifying." Ultimately, it was her mom, Karen Lawrence, who helped her commit to the movie. 

"She called me a hypocrite, because when I was doing indie movies and everyone was asking why I didn't do studio movies, I said, 'The size of the movie doesn't matter,'" Lawrence recalled. "And she said, 'Here's a movie you love and you were thinking of turning it down because of its size.' I thought, 'I don't want to miss out because I'm scared. Me being scared, I never want that to stop me from doing something.' But I knew in my heart that I wanted it—it was about working out all the fears."

3. After Lawrence was officially announced as Katniss, the Internet did what it tends to do: Get mad that the 20-year-old actress was older than the character, who is 16 in the first book, and that she was (gasp!) blonde. But Ross wasn't concerned with the initial backlash, telling Entertainment Weekly that The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins, who co-wrote the script, signed off on Lawrence's casting. 

"Not only did Suzanne not have an issue with Jen's age, she felt you need someone of a certain maturity and power to be Katniss," the filmmaker said. "This is a girl who needs to incite a revolution. We can't have an insubstantial person play her, and we can't have someone who's too young to play this. Suzanne was incredibly adamant about this. Far from being too old, she was very concerned that we would cast someone who was too young."

4. Lawrence paid no attention to the response to her casting, telling MTV News, "No, because the internet to me is like a black hole. I never really go on it."

She added, "I wasn't really aware that everybody was so upset until after I got my hair dyed. Then people were like, 'Oh my gosh, blonde hair can turn brown!'"

5. Lawrence was paid just $500,000 for the first movie. For the sequel, 2013's Catching Fire, she netted $10 million. 

6. When it came to Katniss' fellow District 12 tribute and eventual love interest Peeta Mellark, Alexander Ludwig, Hunter Parrish, Lucas Till and Evan Peters read for the part, which ultimately went to Josh Hutcherson.

"When I read the book, I thought Peeta would be the hardest role to cast, and I feel so lucky that we found someone who embodies every aspect of such a complex character,"  Ross said in a statement at the time. "I can't wait to work with Josh."

7. For Gale Hawthorne, Katniss' brooding childhood best friend, Liam Hemsworth beat out David Henrie, Drew Roy and Robbie Amell. "Gale is a young man who uses words very sparingly, so the onus was on the actor we cast to capture him by showing, not telling," producer Nina Jacobson said. "This was accomplished so beautifully in Suzanne's writing, and Liam was able to translate it so naturally to the screen."

8. All three leads had to dye their hair for the movie, with the naturally blonde Hemsworth going dark, Hutcherson bleaching his locks and Lawrence going brunette after an extensive process to find the right brunette shade. 

Hair designer and head stylist Linda Flowers revealed to Cosmopolitan in 2014 that they rented six $5,000 wigs in a range of brown colors, with Ross ultimately picking the darkest hue to use as a guide when dyeing Lawrence's hair even though his star preferred the lightest. 

9.  To prepare for the physically demanding role, Lawrence underwent various workout methods. 

"It's lots of training but the training's actually really fun," she told MTV News. "I've done archery for about six weeks, and rock climbing, tree climbing, combat, running and vaulting. But also yoga and things like that, to stay catlike."

10. Lawrence had an accident on the last day of her six-week training program, hitting a wall during an exercise that almost delayed production. 

"I ran at it and my foot didn't go up, so I caught the wall with my stomach," Lawrence revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. "My trainer thought I had burst my spleen. I had to get a CAT scan and go into a tube where they put this fiery liquid in your body." Fortunately, nothing was broken and a bruised Lawrence was able to continue. 

11. Hutcherson also trained extensively prior to filming, telling Collider in 2012, "I'd never really done that for a movie. I put on about 15 pounds of muscle, so that was a lot of eating chicken, and a very high protein, low carb diet."

12. As for Hemsworth, he revealed his older brother, Thor's Chris Hemsworth, offered him some surprising advice to prep for the movie.

"My brother texted me before shooting and told me to lose weight," Hemsworth revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. "He said, 'It's called The Hunger Games, not The Eating Games!'"

13. Several weeks into filming, Lawrence knocked Hutcherson unconscious when she accidentally kicked him in the head.

"She was being a real show-off, thinking that she was Jackie Chan or something," Hutcherson recalled in an interview with Yahoo. "[She was] throwing these air kicks and was like, ‘Josh, I can kick over your head!' And then crack! She clipped me in the temple…I don't really remember, because I got knocked out." When Hutcherson came to again, he said, "She was crying. She felt terrible. I woke up with her [crying], laying over me."

14. While filming in North Carolina, the cast and crew faced 100-degree heat, daily rain showers and bears that would wander onto set when they smelled food.

15. Woody Harrelson initially passed twice on the role of Katniss and Peeta's drunken mentor Haymitch Abernathy, admitting to The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, "I didn't have any idea it would be that big, but I didn't think it was a good part. I was wrong. It was a terrific part and it was a terrific thing, but thank God Gary Ross called me."

16. Elizabeth Banks required daily manicures for her look as Katniss and Peeta's Capitol escort Effie Trinket and the intricate nails proved to be quite impractical on-set.

"I literally didn't function," Banks told Collider in 2012. "I had ladies-in-waiting that did everything for me. I couldn't type on my phone. I couldn't go to the bathroom. I couldn't get in and out of [my costume]. By the time I got to the lunch line, everybody was back in their trailers, done with lunch. I was like, 'There's no one to eat with! I just got here!' It took me 25 minutes to get in and out of my costume."

17. Lenny Kravitz, who was cast as Katniss' stylist and confidant Cinna, actually had a relationship with Lawrence prior to filming, thanks to his daughter Zoe Kravitz.

"They were doing X-Men: First Class here in London, I live in Paris so they'd take the train and my house was basically the flop house for the cast," he told HeyUGuys in 2012. "So I would bring different people for the weekend to hang out in Paris, so I met Jennifer and immediately just fell in love with her. She's just amazing. Super funny, really funny, at all times she keeps you cracking up. So I got to know her like that. It was quite funny when I asked Gary 'So who's playing Katniss?' and he said 'Jennifer Lawrence,' and he liked the fact that we already had a relationship. He thought that'd help because I already kind of look at her like a daughter in a way, so it's going to be good."

18. "Safe & Sound," the film's original song co-written and performed by Taylor Swift featuring the Civil Wars, won Best Song Written for Visual Media at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in 2013.

19. When the film was released in March 2012, it set records for opening day (grossing $67.3 million) and opening weekend for a non-sequel ($152 million). It went on to become the third highest grossing movie of the year.  

20. While he was initially set to return, director Ross ultimately stepped away from the franchise, with Francis Lawrence directing the three followup films.

"Well, it was a very hard decision," Ross explained to Variety in March 2022. "I think what people didn't realize is that I had two jobs. I wrote and I directed, and you do one of those things before you do the other. There was honestly no time to do both well in the three-and-a half months between movies, so I moved on. I got to make Free State of Jones, which not many people saw but remains one of my favorite pieces of work, so—all good."

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