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The next chapter in The Hunger Games franchise has already begun, but it's set 64 years before Katniss and Peeta ever set foot in the Capitol — or were even born — back when President Snow was just a teenager himself, already helping shape the brutal competition that lends the best-selling trilogy its name.
Author Suzanne Collins' latest novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, takes readers back to a different time, back when Panem is hosting its 10th annual Hunger Games. Today's NYCC panel saw David Levithan, the publisher behind the popular series, and Nina Jacobson, the producer behind the four films based on the books, come together to discuss Collins' latest tale, and the movie adaptation that's already in the works for it.
Immediately, the discussion turned to the hero at the center of Collins' latest book, a young singer from District 12 named Lucy Gray Baird, who both Levithan and Jacobson agree is a lot different from Katniss, who many viewers and fans will be familiar with.
"Lucy Gray has had to be a performer, already in her life," said Levithan, outlining the biggest difference between both characters and how it might affect the way they navigate the games themselves. "Katniss was thrust into the limelight and had to learn the rules of the game as she's playing it. Lucy Gray has been a performer and actually knows how to handle an audience."
He went on to add, "If you look at the history of the Hunger Games, [she] is actually one of the first contestants to understand the element of showmanship. She approaches it differently that way. Because she's always a performer, you don't always know where her thoughts or affections or strategy lies. Katniss is much more direct. If she's mad at you, you know she's mad at you ... Lucy is someone who keeps her very bright and colorful poker face on as she's thinking about the next move."
Jacobson is excited for the "connective tissue" that Lucy's presence brings to the prequel and the series set years later, and the way it expands both the history of District 12 and Snow's own history with that region by the time Katniss arrives. "I think the first movies will be even richer for living in a world with this prequel."
When it comes to Lucy and Katniss, Jacobson also feels like not only is Lucy a performer, as Levithan said, but that she uses that experience to her advantage in a way Katniss might never have gotten used to.
"Lucy's a character who is much more aware of the power of her femininity," explained Jacobson. "Katniss is much more quiet, a woman of few words. [So] Lucy as a performer is a very different kind of character. ... Katniss is very survival-oriented. She hunts for her family, she goes into the games because she promises her sister that she'll be back."
She continued, "Katniss knows exactly what she feels and what she values and Lucy is more mysterious and is playing in her own way to the crowd. Lucy is a fun, very different character to bring to the screen."
While there is no news yet on who might play Lucy when it comes to the prequel movie, Jacobson did state that Francis Lawrence would once again be returning to direct, having already helmed all four Hunger Games films before this.
But just because the movie is still very early on in its planning stage, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to get excited for — especially in terms of worldbuilding.
"They do take place in very different times," acknowledged Jacobson of the prequel and the Hunger Games trilogy. "This is the 10th Hunger Games as opposed to Catching Fire's 75th. The Hunger Games are considerably less glitzy than they ultimately become. So I think there's a lot of fun in that, in seeing what they used to be."
She also pointed out that it would be interesting to approach the world through the point of view of a Capitol character, one who isn't as sympathetic as Effie Trinket or Caesar Flickerman. "We've never seen the world through the eyes of a Capitol character or a Snow."
And while there is a movie already being produced, is there a chance there could be another trilogy in the works, with Ballad as the first installment? Well, Levithan said he doesn't know what Collins might have planned next, as this book itself came as a bit of a surprise when the author first pitched it.
"I truly don't know what the next steps are. It'll be interesting to see whatever Suzanne does next, whether it's in Panem or out of Panem."
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is already out.
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