- 16 Jan 19
High school student Rachel Zegler has been chosen to star as Maria in the new 'West Side Story' film.
The 17-year-old played Maria in a high school production of the iconic musical and has now been chosen out of 30,000 auditionees to play the same role in the film remake directed by Steven Spielberg.
Concluding the open-casting call to Latinx actors in January 2018, the Colombian-American actress, native to Clifton, New Jersey, will make her big-screen debut opposite Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars, Baby Driver) as Tony.
it’s official! so thankful to have the opportunity to work with one of my favorite directors and this incredible cast! and to be able to learn from the best (and one of my icons) @TheRitaMoreno is just BEYOND. surreal! https://t.co/qHLTRMWWOU
— rachel zegler (@rachelzegler) January 14, 2019
Zegler will also work closely with Rita Moreno, the Puerto Rican actress who starred in the original film as Anita nearly 60 years ago. Moreno will serve as an executive producer on the project in addition to acting as the newly imagined character Valentina.
The 1961 film was infamous for casting non-Hispanic actors — Maria was originally played by the white, American actress Natalie Wood — a factor that has continuously drawn extensive criticism.
But Spielberg’s remake promises authenticity. The Oscar-winning director has ensured adequate representation in a story that prominently features Hispanic characters.
Embarking on the first musical of his directing career, Spielberg’s casting choices for West Side Story are not lost on the public, nor on the actors themselves.
In an interview with Deadline, Zegler said, "West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American woman growing up in this day and age, strong roles like Maria are so important. To be able to bring that role to life, a role that means so much to the Hispanic community, is so humbling."
Though there is no official release date yet, filming of West Side Story is set to begin this summer.