Rita Moreno Talks ‘Surreal’ Experience Filming ‘West Side Story’ Remake: ‘I’m Beside Myself’

Rita Moreno Talks Surreal Experience Returning to 'West Side Story'
Rita Moreno poses for portraits during the Winter 2020 Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, CA on January 13, 2020. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Can’t wait to see Rita Moreno in Steven Spielberg‘s new adaptation of West Side Story? She’s more excited than anyone.

“Can you believe it? I’m beside myself,” the EGOT winner, 88, told Us Weekly exclusively at the Television Critics’ Association’s winter press tour on Monday, January 13, while promoting One Day at a Time. “It was thrilling. It was surreal to talk to the young girl who’s playing Anita, Ariana DeBose, who, by the way, is a fierce dancer. She’s fierce — way, way, way superior to what I was as a dancer. I wasn’t so much the dancers I was the dancer/actress kind of thing.”

In the original 1961 film, Moreno portrayed Anita Palacio. In the movie remake, the icon will appear as Valentina, an expanded version of Doc, the owner of the corner store Tony works in. However, that’s not the only thing that’s updated in the new movie.

Rita Moreno Talks Surreal Experience Returning to 'West Side Story'
Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno in ‘West Side Story.’ Mirisch-7 Arts/United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock

“The kids playing Latinos are Latinos. Can you stand it?” Moreno said. “You know what, they are their own colors. Some of them are light-skinned, some are Afro-Latino. It’s thrilling. And the kids are so thrilled themselves.”

Spielberg, 73, introduced the King and I star to the cast when she headed to New York to film her scenes — and they had a lot of questions.

“I shared everything. I shared the bad stuff too — the fact that [in the past,] nobody was consulted about color and race,” she told Us. “Steven had somebody lecturing these kids at least three times a week, somebody different every time.”

The Puerto Rico native also opened up about the filming process and how the set is a bit updated now, compared to the film.

“We literally rented like four blocks square blocks of Madison, New Jersey, which became San Juan Hill in the most amazing way,” she shared, explaining that what now is Lincoln Center in New York City used to be San Juan Hill in the fifties. “This set designer is killer and part of the demolition has started for Lincoln Center. When the movie opens, part of the demolition has started.”

In the original movie — that wasn’t the case, but screenplay writer “Tony Kuschner is a very political person,” so changes have been made.

The adaptation of West Side Story, which includes Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in the leading roles, is set to hit theaters in December 2020.

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