A role like Maria in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And for many of us, it’s been the movie we’ve been waiting for to make its comeback or resurrection, especially with the push of inclusivity that has only gotten bigger in Hollywood. That’s where Rachel Zegler, who is playing Maria in the remake of the 1961 classic, comes in.
A lot has changed since that time and we’re all hoping that this version of West Side Story sticks to the points we love about the OG version while improving on parts that don’t fit in 2021. A Latina playing Maria is part of that change and one of the reasons why we wanted to speak with Zegler herself about the movie before it premieres this December.
Remezcla: Were you a fan of the original movie? If so, what parts of your character were important to keep from the original character?
Rachel Zegler: Yes – I am a huge fan of the original film. In preparing for the role there were a lot of conversations with Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg about incorporating a new sense of strength to Maria.
Remezcla: How did it feel stepping into a role that was always meant for a Latina?
Rachel Zegler: It felt like coming home while also acknowledging we have a lot of work to do in terms of Latinx representation in Hollywood.
Remezcla: What’s your favorite on-set experience with Rita Moreno?
Rachel Zegler: She’s so funny and she used to tell us a lot of stories from her experience on movie sets and all of her favorite stories came from Singing in the Rain, which happens to be my favorite movie.
Remezcla: Who inspired you and kept you going on set?
Rachel Zegler: Being able to laugh with my friends in the cast is what kept me inspired and having fun. I spent a lot of time with David Alvarez [who plays Bernardo] and he always made me feel super calm about working on my first movie set. He’s an amazing big brother.
West Side Story premieres on December 10, 2021.