Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' Casts Unknown 17-Year-Old as Maria

Rachel Zegler
Courtesy Photo

Rachel Zegler

Steven Spielberg's West Side Story remake has found its Maria.

High school student Rachel Zegler, who responded to the production's open casting call for Latinx actors with a video of herself singing "Tonight" and "Me Siento Hermosa," will be making her film debut starring in the role played by Natalie Wood in the 1961 classic. 

“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” said Zegler. “West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

Also joining the Fox feature are Broadway veterans Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo. Theater performer Josh Andrés Rivera has been cast as Chino. They will join previously announced cast Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rita Moreno as Valentina, a reconceived and expanded version of the character of Doc.

"When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” said Spielberg. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

“I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of the remarkable women who have played Anita – including Chita Rivera and, of course, the incomparable Rita Moreno,” said DeBose, a Tony nominee whose Broadway credits include Hamilton and The Bronx Tale. “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.”

“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,” said Alvarez, who won a Tony in 2009 for originating the title role in Billy Elliot: The Musical. “I have dreamt of playing this part since I first saw the original film, and I am so grateful for the chance to bring my own perspective and journey to this role -- as an artist, a Veteran and a Latino -- and to work with this incredible cast to breathe new life into these characters’ experiences.”

Added Rivera, who most recently appeared in the first national tour of Hamilton: "West Side Story is the dream for any performer, and to tackle it with this creative team is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance. 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.”

West Side Story follows the star-crossed love between Tony, a former member of the white gang known as the Jets, and Maria, the younger sister of the leader of a Puerto Rican gang. Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner has written the adaptation of the musical originally penned by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim with music by Leonard Bernstein.

Spielberg, Kevin McCollum and Kristie Macosko Krieger are producing the feature, which is scheduled to begin filming this summer.

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.