Rachel Zegler Doesn’t Mind Being a Work in Progress

A press tour wardrobe has unlimited potential, if you know how to dress the part. Time and again, Hollywood stars have harnessed public intrigue to promote their projects through their clothing, whether it’s Margot Robbie re-creating the outfits of vintage Barbie dolls or Jenna Ortega channeling Wednesday Addams’s supernatural goth energy. But of all the cinematic universes to draw inspiration from, there is perhaps none quite as fantastically fashionable as that of The Hunger Games.

It’s an appeal that Rachel Zegler and stylist Sarah Tooley have embraced on the recently launched press tour for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, in theaters this Friday. (SAG-AFTRA granted Lionsgate an interim waiver to promote the film just a few days before the actors strike ended.)

The prequel’s 22-year-old star quickly made headlines at the film’s Berlin premiere, where she wore a glamorous Alexander McQueen dress that resembled the flame-engulfing gown worn by heroic protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in Catching Fire, the second installation of the dystopian franchise. And throughout the press tour thus far, Zegler has relied on corseted silhouettes, flowing fabrics, and colorful jeweled tones—all of which nod to her character, Lucy Gray Baird, a District 12 denizen who won the Hunger Games 64 years before Katniss did.

“I wanted a fresh take on looks fans would know from the original trilogy, in the world of high fashion,” Zegler tells Bazaar.

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For last Thursday’s London premiere, she and Tooley tapped Dior, a brand Zegler has a long and warm relationship with, pulling a romantic, vampy black gown from the house’s Spring/Summer 2024 runway. The dress featured delicate floral appliqué across the mock turtleneck bodice and the skirt, an allusion to Songbirds & Snakes’ rose motif.

“[Dior creative director] Maria Grazia [Chiuri]’s designs from her latest couture collection included so many pieces that made me think of Lucy Gray,” Zegler says. The dress also included yet another nod to Lawrence’s Hunger Games heroine, she adds: “It immediately reminded me of the ensemble Katniss wears to her second Tribute Parade in Catching Fire.”

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rachel zegler applies makeup

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“We loved the tactical elements and the layering of this dress. There was a feeling of deconstruction and optimism that felt very much on the nose of themes in the movie,” Tooley says. “There was something incredibly transportive about this gown that seemed to flow back and forth between the period of the movie and modern day, offering a through line that we couldn’t resist.”

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Zegler topped off the look with striking diamond drop earrings and a diamond-encrusted snake ring from Chopard, as well as black platform heels from Aquazzura. As for her glam, she relied on Dior Beauty for a dark, smoky eye look, which referenced her character’s roots in District 12, a region known for exporting coal.

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Based on Suzanne Collins’s 2020 novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the prequel tells the story of Lucy Gray’s victory in the 10th annual Hunger Games, and her mentorship under Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), who will become the bloodthirsty dictator of Panem by Katniss’s time. Lucy, a charismatic singer who comes from the nomadic Covey people, at once touches and torments Coriolanus—her humanity forces him to wrestle with the moral crisis at the center of the Games. The two fall into an intense but tenuous romance, born of their mutual need for each other, in order to survive.

“Lucy Gray’s main goal throughout the film is survival,” Zegler says. “She’s surviving her fellow tributes, surviving Snow, and surviving herself. There’s a point when I think she realizes she’s taken a wrong turn, and we see her flinch a bit at Coriolanus touching her chin … those are the moments of sobriety. Those are the moments when she wakes up from her own performance and realizes it’s do or die.”

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Of developing such a complex relationship on set, Zegler credits costar Blyth’s willingness to get deep. “Tom is such a beautiful actor,” she gushes. “He’s intelligent and intentional with his choices, and he cares so much about the language coming out of his mouth in every scene. I loved how down he was to rehearse scenes in different ways, with different perspectives and approaches to the text.”

In the book, Collins obscures Lucy Gray’s fate—an aching ambiguity the movie accomplishes with aplomb. Of course, Zegler has considered her character’s true ending, too. “I always think about what happens to my characters while the credits roll for audiences,” she says. “When it comes to Lucy Gray, I like to think she’s free. I hope one day I’ll get to hear that from Suzanne, though.”

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The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is Zegler’s third released feature film. She got her breakthrough role—playing María in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 retelling of West Side Story—at 17 years old. She has other major projects coming down the pipeline, too, like her gig as Snow White in Disney’s next major live-action adaptation.

Zegler has been subject to the kind of high-profile scrutiny that often unfairly afflicts young, talented, successful women emerging in the industry. Asked how she feels she’s grown since she got her start in Hollywood, she responds with grace and acceptance of the growing pains that are still, inevitably, coming her way. (“I can feel it,” she says.) It’s a journey she knows is necessary.

“I don’t even really know myself quite yet,” Zegler says. “I hope I like her. I hope we like each other. And I’m proud to be a work in progress.”

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Headshot of Chelsey Sanchez

Digital Associate Editor

As an associate editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com, Chelsey keeps a finger on the pulse on all things celeb news. She also writes on social movements, connecting with activists leading the fight on workers’ rights, climate justice, and more. Offline, she’s probably spending too much time on TikTok, rewatching Emma (the 2020 version, of course), or buying yet another corset.