Rita Moreno Says Watching Ariana Debose Play Anita in ‘West Side Story’ Was ‘So Bizarre’

by Samantha Whidden
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

With Steven Spielberg’s musical West Side Story set to debut in theaters on Friday (December 10th), Rita Moreno is opening up about how her reaction to Ariana DeBose playing her iconic role of Anita. 

Moreno, who played Anita in the original 1961 version of West Side Story, is now playing the role of Valentina. While chatting with People, Moreno stated it was actually bizarre watching Debose play Anita. “She is a beautiful Anita in the morning,” Moreno explained. “It was so bizarre because suddenly I was playing another role. And she was playing Anita.”

Speaking about Moreno, DeBose declared she was absolutely in awe of her co-star. “She means a lot to me. She means a lot to the Puerto Rican community. To the Latino community at large. And to the entertainment industry at large.”

DeBose also stated that she actually didn’t try to play Moreno’s version of Antia in Spielberg’s version of the musical. “I was very adamant that whatever interpretation I delivered for this performance was massively different,” she explained. “But by virtue of being a black woman that makes it a different portrayal.”

Last month, DeBose spoke about how Moreno actually empowered her to portray Anita. “She empowered me, encouraged me to do my own thing. She did tell me one-note, but I won’t tell what it was.” 

DeBose further shared that Moreno said she thinks there more power in a different delivery. “I took the note. It was a good note.”

Rita Moreno Reveals How Steven Spielberg Convinced Her to Join the New ‘West Side Story’ Cast

During a recent interview with Parade, Rita Moreno spoke about how Steven Spielberg convinced her to join the new West Side Story cast. “I remember saying to Steven, ‘Look, if you’re offering a camera, I have to say no, right off the bat,’” she recalled. The 89-year-old actress told him that if she did a camera, it would only distract people.

Moreno continued, “He said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, it’s not a cameo. It’s a real part.’ I said, ‘OK, then I would like to read the script.’ And that’s how it happened. But I can tell you, going back to the past in the present – it’s incredible.”

When asked what she loved about playing Valentina, Moreno said for one, the name is beautiful. And the second reason is Valentina has. Close relationship with Tony. “It’s very, very different than the relationship that Doc had with the kids. And there is one major surprise with Valentina that of course, I’m not going to divulge. But it’s a doozy.”

Moreno went on to add that Valentina is nothing like Anita “It’s been the joy of my life to play her. I could not believe it when Steven called me and then I talked to Tony Kushner.”