17-Year-Old Cast in Steven Spielberg Film  

17-Year-Old Cast in Steven Spielberg Film

By Natalie Ingalls, Layout & Design Editor

After an extensive search for the perfect actress, Steven Spielberg cast high schooler Rachel Zegler as the iconic role of Maria in his remake of West Side Story. Zegler, a newcomer to film, was selected from more than 30,000 hopeful auditioners. To play the role is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but Zegler has the experience and talent to do it justice.

A self-described theater junkie, she has been performing on stage for many years. She also shares videos of her gorgeous singing on her YouTube channel, which as of now boasts 90,000 subscribers. You may recognize her from a tweet that went viral in December of her in an empty auditorium belting “Shallow” from A Star is Born. Funnily enough, the 17-year-old New Jersey native is no stranger to West Side Story, having played Maria once before at the Bergen Arts Performing Center.

Previously, the role was played by Natalie Wood in the 1961 film of the same name. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and won 10 of them, including Best Picture. Actress Rita Moreno, who won Best Supporting Actress, will be making an appearance in the adaptation as a reconceived character named Valentina. Joining her and Zegler will be Ansel Elgort, playing the titular role of Tony.

The casting of Zegler is exciting for many reasons, one being that she is relatively unknown. In recent movie-musical adaptations, the lead characters are often played by Hollywood stars who can draw in audiences but may not have the best voices. Zegler’s talent is indisputable, and the role deserves someone who can actually sing. Additionally, while Wood was white, Maria is supposed to be Latina, which Zegler is. This diversity will enhance the story, as well as inspire Latina girls around the world. Zegler is a force to be reckoned with, and it will be exciting to see her onscreen once the film comes together.