Spielberg Casts a High School Talent as Maria for ‘West Side Story’
Latinx talent will be the spotlight of the 'West Side Story,' and we are loving it
West Side Story is not building its hype based on past renditions. Instead, the film will be put in a fresh visual light that focuses more on its story rather than the spectacle.
This is the Steven Spielberg we all know and love—not the one who lost himself in the computer animated hysteria (no offense Ready Player One, but bring back the guy who made Jaws).
When news came about a remake of the Broadway production, people were skeptical. When it was announced that Steven Spielberg would be the one directing it, many went absolutely crazy. It’s understandable that worry arose, considering where his past few movies have been going. However, what we have to remember is at the end of the day…it’s still Steven Spielberg. Sure, his movies haven’t been as amazing as those of the past, but it’s because we have high expectations for the American director.
He’s not M. Night Shyamalan (who’s actually not doing too bad, but that’s another story).
Spielberg is undoubtedly one of history’s most impactful film directors ever, with successes like E.T, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List. All of his masterpieces have had some sort of influence on the development of film today— from subject matter to technical effects.
This January, his newest movie endeavor has finished casting four important roles: Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino. Spielberg states that making sure the cast of the film is diverse was a top priority; he especially wanted to scout actors and talent from Puerto Rican and other Latinx communities. By doing extensive research within the Hispanic community, Spielberg and his team took initiative in a crucial time of conflict. With the rise of racial tension within Hollywood, Spielberg is sending a clear and positive message in support of equal representation within the film atmosphere. By advocating and actively selecting a cast from different backgrounds and origins, the influential director is taking a large step in the path towards unity in hopes that other auteurs will follow.
A classic character and dream role for any actress is Maria, and it is not an easy part to play. Nevertheless, the film has found someone with the potential of fulfilling all of the expectations. Please give a warm welcome to seventeen-year-old Rachel Zegler, who is an undiscovered talent until now. Zegler found a notice for the open casting call through Twitter, and sent in a video submission in order to be considered. Blowing the casting directors off of their seats with her renditions of “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa,” the young actress is a perfect fit for the character.
“As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.” – Rachel Zegler
West Side Story has also cast Ariana DeBose as Anita, Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino, and David Alvarez as Bernardo. As an experienced group of Broadway talent, the Sharks’ cast will undoubtedly be one of the main focuses of this film that brings it to life. DeBose will play the role knowing that she has a lot on her shoulders because she is representing the character and the stars that came before her (i.e. Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera).
“I relate so strongly to Anita – a strong Puerto Rican woman who came to New York in search of opportunity – and I feel so fortunate for the chance to work with this amazing cast and creative team.” – Ariana DeBose
The 2009 Tony Award winner, David Alvarez, took a brief hiatus from Broadway to be part of the United States military. He made is return in 2014 with the the show On the Town. Coming from a Cuban ethnic background, Alvarez relates closely to the role of Bernardo and understands where the character is coming from.
“My parents emigrated from Cuba with no connections, knowing no English, driven only by the hope of a better life. I know how challenging the decision was for them, and I see a lot of that internal conflict in Bernardo.” – David Alvarez
Recently, appearing in Hamilton‘s national tour, Josh Andrés Rivera hopes that the film will represent the “Puerto Rican in New York” (Nuyorican) experience in a bright light. Furthermore, understanding the struggles that these characters face is essential to the success of the performance.
I feel very fortunate to be able to portray the Nuyorican experience alongside these amazingly talented actors. I’m confident Puerto Ricans on and off the island will see ourselves reflected in this project.” – Josh Andrés Rivera
One of the most important aspects of representation is doing the work to find people who can bring the characters to life. By keeping the cast as accurate to the heritage of its characters, Spielberg’s movie will be raw and real. Not only is the cast talented, but they offer an insight into the characters that people from every background can sympathize with.
If you’re curious on what else these actors had to say, read more about it on Deadline.