Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” is an epic romance, yet one half of that starstruck duo faced sexual assault allegations prior to the film’s release.
Lead actor Ansel Elgort was accused of sexually assaulting a then 17-year-old girl in 2014 when he was 20; the allegations were made public in June 2020 via Twitter, alleging that Elgort asked for a threesome and tried to solicit nude photos, as reported by PEOPLE.
Elgort’s “West Side Story” co-stars have now spoken out about the controversy as part of a cover story with The Hollywood Reporter. Newcomer Rachel Zegler, who plays Elgort’s onscreen love interest Maria, addressed that “a lot has gone on in the world” since filming the musical over two years prior.
“There’s been a lot of awakening,” Zegler said. “You just hope that the people involved are okay, that they are asked in a respectful manner and that they are given the opportunity to answer for themselves.”
Meanwhile Rita Moreno, who shares most of her screen time with Elgort and previously won an Oscar for her turn in the original “West Side Story” adaptation, said, “I think it would have been absolutely horrendous and wrong for anyone to take sides in that matter. It’s not for me to make those judgments.”
Ariana DeBose added, “Nobody really knows what’s going on in anyone’s head. Only the people who were involved in that situation know what actually went down.”
Elgort previously denied the assault allegations on Instagram, while admitting to a “brief, legal and entirely consensual relationship” that resulted in him ghosting his accuser. The “Goldfinch” actor noted that his behavior was “an immature and cruel thing to do to someone,” but that he “has never and would never assault anyone.”
“I know this belated apology does not absolve me of my unacceptable behavior when I disappeared,” Elgort concluded. “As I look back at my attitude, I am disgusted and deeply ashamed of the way I acted. I am truly sorry. I know I must continue to reflect, learn, and work to grow in empathy.”
The woman, who uses screen name Gabby, wrote that she suffers from PTSD and panic attacks. She also alleged Elgort privately said it could “ruin his career” if she came forward earlier.
Critics and fans alike have spoken out about Elgort’s role in “West Side Story.” Variety ran an article ahead of the film’s December 25 release, titled “How ‘West Side Story’ Tried to Contain Its Ansel Elgort Problem,” and cited YouTube comments calling into question Elgort’s press appearances.
“Hollywood waited a year hoping everyone would forget to try and bring Ansel back into the Hollywood scene. They think we’re dumb?” one viewer captioned.
Another wrote, “Ask him why he preys on high school sophomores/juniors.”
Representatives for Elgort and Disney declined to comment for the previous Variety story.