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Rita Moreno Talks ‘West Side Story,’ Pushes Back Against Original Film’s Dark Makeup

Rita Moreno discussed her shock at being told to wear dark makeup in the 1961 "West Side Story" film in a recent interview.

Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno

David Buchan/Variety

Rita Moreno was one of the stars of 1961’s “West Side Story” movie, but Steven Spielberg had to convince her to return for the director’s upcoming film adaptation of the Broadway musical.

“I almost wet my knickers. I couldn’t believe this was Steven Spielberg on the phone, whom I so admired,” Moreno told USA Today in an interview published on Saturday. “But then I had the courage to say, ‘I don’t think I could do a cameo. I think it would be a severe disservice to this movie — it’d be a distraction’. And he said, ‘No, no, no. This is a real part. Tony Kushner wrote this part for you.'”

Moreno will play a supporting character in Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which will premiere on December 10 and stars Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, with Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Josh Andrés Rivera, Ana Isabelle, Corey Stoll and Brian d’Arcy James. Moreno also starred in the original 1961 film, which was directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. She recalled her shock at being told to wear dark makeup in the 1961 film and noted that that film’s use of makeup, which only included one color for Hispanics, offended some viewers.

“I remember saying to my makeup man once on the original ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Why do I have to wear such dark makeup? I’m not that color,'” Moreno told USA Today. “And he literally said to me, ‘What, are you a racist?’ He really said that and I was so astonished that I shut up, because I didn’t know what to say to that. If I said, ‘No, I’m not a racist,’ I feel he would not believe me, so I let it drop. But it was shocking.”

Moreno added that Spielberg and Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming film, corrected the racially insensitive issues and said that every Hispanic character in the new film is played by a Hispanic actor.

Spielberg’s “West Side Story” will mark one of Moreno’s few acting credits in recent years; she recently appeared in the “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” documentary, which premiered at Sundance earlier in the year, and previously starred in 2014 films “Rio 2” and “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”

Moreno’s full interview with USA Today can be read here.

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