‘West Side Story’: how Ariana DeBose captivated Steven Spielberg

The director explains how the actress who plays Anita and the actor who plays Bernardo chose the two most Latino protagonists in the film.

When Ariana DeBose introduced herself to the casting from West Side Story, she was just one of thousands of actors full of dreams, ready to give their all in front of Steven Spielberg. “He did not know Ariana, she was one of the thousands of people who showed up for the tests without more. And it was one of hundreds of possible Anitas that I saw, “explains director Steven Spielberg. And yet, that mulatto girl of Puerto Rican origin, who had grown up with her single mother, had something special that captivated the director.

“When he came to the test I saw that he danced with fear. But he did not know if he knew how to act or sing, so like everyone he had to do the singing, dance and interpretation test”, says Spielberg

Each unknown candidate had to go through the process in which he demonstrated that he could defend the role in all three aspects necessary for the musical.

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And the young Ariana DeBose, 30, who had dropped out of school to forge her dream, after seeing Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge in 2001, did not disappoint. DeBose had been tanning in musicals since 2011, when he performed in Bring It On: The Musical, but he also placed himself under the orders of Lin Manuel Miranda in Hamilton, in Motown The Musical, The A Bronx Tale. And in 2019 he shared the stage in the Ryan Murphy musical The Prom, like Meryl Streep, James Corden and Nicole Kidman. So DeBose was ready for all three tests, and she didn’t disappoint the director.

“I discovered someone with tremendous charisma, very intense, and very alive in that testing room, and I couldn’t stop thinking, I’m sure that when I videotape that talent is doubled,” recalls Indiana Jones director Steven Spielberg . And remember that that was just what happened:

“The great magnetism that she had in person quadrupled, and that made her flourish on the screen. And then I said to myself: she is Anita”, concludes the director.

The same role that she has in this film served the actress who played Anita in 1961, Rita Moreno, to get the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. However, DeBose, in an interview with SensaCine, points out that her role has been a little different from Rita Moreno: “Being Latina and black, my interpretation of Anita in a natural way was going to be different, because we have lived different stories. And I was excited to be able to offer that to this character. “

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She points out that despite being originally from North Carolina, she has lived through the history of her mother’s immigration and how well she portrays Steven Spielberg’s musical. “It’s what our people do all the time: we want to be here, they don’t want us here, But we fight to show that we can continue to contribute to your society. And that is very complicated. And all that is in the movie, “concludes the actress.

Bernardo’s choice

The arrival of his partner in the film, the actor David Álvarez, who plays Bernardo, It was similar, although in reverse. In his case, what Spielberg liked the most was not his way of singing or dancing, but it was precisely his way of acting, as the director explains: “For Bernardo he needed a gang leader who inspired respect not only for his appearance, but also for its solemnity “. And adds:

When David Álvarez appeared, he was a magnificent actor. What convinced me of him was not how he sang or danced, but when he played the part. He got the role for his performance, “recalls the director.

In his case, he too He lived the American dream in his own way. The son of Cuban emigrants, he was born in Canada, and had to emigrate to the United States when his father got a job as a teacher there. The possibility of auditioning against Spielberg was already a dream come true for him, so as soon as the casting was over, he approached him and thanked him for the time he spent. It was then that he knew he had gotten the role: “He approached me and said thank you Mr. Spielberg, and I told him, start calling me Steven because I’m going to call you Bernardo from now on. And that’s how he knew he had achieved the role, “concludes the director.