It’s almost as if Rachel Zegler was chosen for the role as Maria in West Side Story. The 20-year old actress will be the star of Steven Spielberg’s feature film adaptation of the musical. She says that the role was one that she felt a deep connection to.
“Every Juliet-based character has innocence and purity. She is the Virgin Mary and can do no wrong. In reality, she’s 18. She’s learning so much about herself, and the way that she thinks about it all,” Town & Country’s actress tells Town & Country how her interpretation of Maria has mirrored her own maturing. What does it mean to be 18 years old and discovering all these things about yourself in 2019 – or 1957, when West Side Story takes places? There are many layers to being an immigrant. How long have they been here? What is her plan for staying? She wants to stay forever. Bernardo would like her to stay. “West Side Story” is a Broadway musical that was inspired by the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. It tells the story of Tony and Maria’s love story. Their friends are part of rival street gangs the Jets or the Sharks. Tony is played by Ansel Elgort.
Zegler has been in the role for more than two years, even though it has not been released yet. The film was originally scheduled to be released in December 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was delayed to December 10, 2021. Zegler’s journey to becoming Maria began with an open call for Latina actors between the ages 15 and 25. Makena, her friend, sent her the casting and said, “Thank you when you’re well-known.” The Colombian American actress, Makena, knew from the age of 12 that she wanted to be a theater performer. “The Tony Award was the endgame; that’s what I wanted. I wanted Ben Brantley’s review to be positive. She tells the magazine that it was her idea for the rest my life… Musical theater and this is it.”
Zegler is now the West Side Story remake’s director and is still trying to adjust to her newfound fame. Since then, she’s landed a role as Shazam! Fury of the Gods and as Snow White in the Disney live-action movie.
“I haven’t done any other films, but I’m constantly pinching my self — there’s no way this could be my life. She admits that it is a difficult task. “I do have moments where I feel worthy and that I got this job for some reason. But then it quickly fades into Helen Mirren!”
Although Zegler has yet to appear in a movie, fans should note that Spielberg’s version isn’t a remake. She calls it a reimagining the original musical. “We are not trying to recreate the 1961 film frame by frame. This film is an incredible piece of pop culture that everybody has seen or been affected by in some manner. She says that she doesn’t believe any of us would attempt to recreate it. There are many things that can be improved and areas to address. That film and the musical are cultural icons. When we were auditioning, Tony [Kushner], the writer, said to us, “We are making a movie about the original Broadway musical.” This is our version of a story that everyone knows and loves. “West Side Story” also stars Rita Moreno in Valentina’s role and Ariana DeBose (a musical up-and-comer who recently starred as Anita in the film adaptation Prom). Moreno portrayed Anita in the 1961 film adaptation. It also starred Natalie Wood as Maria, and Richard Beymer was Tony.
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