‘West Side Story’ remake casts 17-year-old newcomer as Maria

15 January 2019, 13:31 | Updated: 16 January 2019, 17:06

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Rachel Zegler will make her film debut as the female lead in Steven Spielberg’s remake of ‘West Side Story’, alongside American actor Ansel Elgort.

Steven Spielberg has cast 17-year-old high school student Rachel Zegler as Maria, in his upcoming remake of West Side Story.

The Latina actress will make her film debut alongside 24-year-old Baby Driver actor Ansel Elgort, who will play Tony. Award-winning Broadway actress Ariana DeBose has been cast as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo, Maria’s brother and the leader of the Sharks.

Spielberg has already cast Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for playing Anita in the 1961 film, as new character Valentina. She will also be an executive producer on the film.

Ansel Elgort, who will play Tony, pictured at Tribeca Film Festival - 'Jonathan'
Ansel Elgort will play Tony in the remake of West Side Story . Picture: Getty

“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,” Spielberg said.

“I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community. 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.”

Originally a 1957 Broadway musical scored by Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story sets the love story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet against a backdrop of warring gangs in 1950s New York. When Jets gang member Tony falls for Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks, tensions rise and disaster ensues.

Executive producer Rita Moreno pictured at YWCA GLA 125th Anniversary Gala
Rita Moreno will be an executive producer on the film. Picture: Getty

The casting team put out a call last year for Latina and Latino actors that received more than 30,000 submissions.

Zegler saw the call on Twitter and submitted a video of herself singing ‘Tonight’ and ‘Me Siento Hermosa’ (‘I Feel Pretty’).

“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.”

Zegler found Internet fame last year when a video of her singing ‘Shallow’ from A Star is Born went viral on Twitter, gaining 7.63 million views.

17-year-old Rachel Zegler has been cast as Maria
17-year-old Rachel Zegler has been cast as Maria. Picture: Courtesy of subject

In the original 1961 film, Maria was played by Natalie Wood with Richard Beymer as Tony, Rita Moreno as Anita and George Chakiris starring as Bernardo.

The musical will be readapted for the screen by 20th Century Fox, and will represent Spielberg’s first musical project in his lengthy career.

Filming is expected to begin in the summer of 2019.