What makes Anita of “West Facet Story” so iconic? “She’s a beacon of self-respect and company. She speaks her thoughts. These sorts of characters have been sometimes described as ‘tough girls,’” says Ariana DeBose. You get the sense that taking part in the half got here considerably simply for her. “It wasn’t a stretch,” says the actress, flashing the smile that dazzled Keegan-Michael Key’s character in “Schmigadoon!,” and Jo Ellen Pellman’s Emma in “The Promenade.”
At present I’ve caught her on Zoom, wrapped in a charcoal-colored linen bathrobe, her quick hair tousled, blue-blocking glasses on. That is the calm earlier than the storm of premieres kicks up.
Steven Spielberg’s a lot anticipated tackle the basic, Fifties-set musical, with a brand new screenplay by Tony Kushner, is finally here. Capturing wrapped in 2019, however you know the way these items go within the pandemic period. The 30-year-old DeBose steps into the position Rita Moreno played in the 1961 movie, because the girlfriend of the Sharks’ chief, Bernardo, and buddy to his sister, the lovelorn Maria. Moreno received an Oscar — the primary Latina ever to take action. DeBose has large sneakers to fill, and also you don’t doubt that she is going to. Because the queer actress wrote in a Pride-themed essay, a number of years earlier than she’d get the position: “My brown, singin’, dancin’, lady-lovin’ ass is AMERICA and I’m so happy with who I’m, what I stand for, and all I’ve completed to this point.” May there be a greater performer to actually belt out “America”?
Nonetheless, the journey wasn’t with out its bumps: DeBose shot the movie whereas nursing a sprained ankle, injured whereas simply “being human,” she says. “I used to be in pre-production, and I jumped as much as hug somebody, and twisted my ankle. Man, it was so random.” However the consummate Broadway skilled soldiered on. She seems again notably fondly on taking pictures the “Dance at the Gym” number: “One of many solely occasions you actually see all of the Sharks and the Jets collectively in a single scene,” she says. “It was 5 or 6 days of sweaty, dancing bliss.” She remembers kicking again along with her foot up on a break, surveying the surreal panorama of an enormous Spielberg set: “You’ve received Steve within the nook in Video Village, sneaking a Pop-Tart, and you then’ve received the Shark women having a dialog over there, and the Shark boys and the Jet boys had this ball they’d kick round. It was like this actually cool, very costly, superior summer season camp vibe.”
She’s happy with what this model achieves, particularly its new curiosity for the realities surrounding the Sharks. “It offers the viewers a possibility to fall in love with this Puerto Rican group and reveals what was truly happening for these folks on the time, which is one thing I believe productions prior to now sort of skimmed over,” she says. “I believe the movie does a extremely lovely job of permitting that dialog available.”
When she received to set, “I had such a transparent imaginative and prescient of the character,” DeBose says. “I actually wished to attempt to discover how the viewers may witness Anita’s pleasure, and on the similar time get an excellent take a look at how hideous and hurtful her lived expertise may have been, and doubtless was, for darker-skinned Latinas of the time.” That is considered one of a number of methods during which her Anita might be distinctive: “I’m a black girl. That’s the largest distinction between Rita Moreno and me.”
Moreno’s additionally within the new film, taking part in a sage older character named Valentina. How may she not be? The movie legend raved to us about DeBose: “Boy oh boy, I believe she’s simply nice. She’s a wonderful dancer. I believe Steven Spielberg’s most impressed concept was to seek out this marvelous, proficient Afro-Latina. That’s one factor I couldn’t provide as Anita — the colour of my pores and skin.”
It’s her greatest half but, however DeBose has had a busy previous few years. “Schmigadoon!,” the Apple TV+ love letter to drama geeks, showcased her theatrical chops alongside fellow stage actors akin to Aaron Tveit and Kristin Chenoweth. “The Promenade” put her firmly on the YA map. She’s been on the rise since 2009, when she appeared on “So You Suppose You Can Dance” and made it into the highest 20. A skilled dancer, she branched into theater performing and made her debut in 2011’s “Carry It On: The Musical,” happening to garner a Tony nomination for the title position in 2018’s “Summer season: The Donna Summer season Musical.”
However DeBose should still be finest recognized for her position in “Hamilton” because the Bullet, the curl-topped character who augurs dying for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton. DeBose was within the off-Broadway manufacturing, and continued on with the present to Broadway.
Mystifyingly, the Tony-nominated actress was by no means invited to audition for the 2020 Broadway revival of … you guessed it, “West Facet Story.” However given the best way issues labored out, DeBose — who was forged in Spielberg’s film shortly afterward — is fairly sanguine concerning the slight. “I believe all the pieces occurs for a cause,” she says. “That was not my blessing. That was someone else’s blessing. And you recognize, I used to be actually completely happy to see the 2 productions exist in the identical time interval. That’s a testomony to the facility of the piece.”
DeBose is a New Yorker now, however she grew up in North Carolina, the daughter of a white mom and an Afro-Latino dad. “I grew up in a really white group,” she says. “Doesn’t make me any much less Latina, doesn’t make me any much less black.” She’s proud to be from the South, though she’s additionally fast to name it out. “I select to establish as a Southerner. I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t love that we now have plantations, and that slavery was rampant.”
She got here out to her supportive mom when she was 13, and has been open about her sexuality all through her years within the highlight, even giving an interview to Playbill in 2015 along with her then-girlfriend, Broadway props grasp Jill Johnson. (The 2 have since cut up.) Her dwelling state just isn’t all the time pleasant to the LGBTQ group. “There are elements of North Carolina I’d not stroll down the road holding my girlfriend’s hand,” DeBose says. “However then, there are elements of New York the place I wouldn’t try this. They’ve that all over the place.
“Can I get a vaccine for prejudice and oppression and racism?” she yells into the ether. “That may be superior!”
She thinks again to the films and reveals she grew up with, and the way “main characters have been synonymous with whiteness for a very long time. That was only a reality.” Considered one of her favorites is “The First Wives Membership” and he or she loves “The Golden Women.” “I watched ‘Frasier’ as a child. A bizarre child … There was nobody I noticed who seems like me. I’m very grateful that my mom instilled a robust work ethic in me. And my grandmother was additionally extremely influential in my life. They each taught me to observe my desires and that I may very well be profitable if I labored actually laborious.”
She offers props to the A-list girls of shade working to alter the ratio within the business. “Thank God for folks like Regina King and Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay and Kerry Washington. Girls beginning their very own manufacturing corporations, telling their very own tales. It’s actually essential.”
DeBose hints at her personal plans alongside these strains: “I’m excited to share them when the time is true.” In the meantime, she’s received designs on taking part in all method of characters, queer and cis. Will Hollywood be onboard with this? “I don’t really feel like I’m in Queer Purgatory, by any stretch of the thoughts, however I’d be mendacity to you if I didn’t say I believe individuals are ready to see what occurs with ‘West Facet Story.’”
For an actress who needs all of the choices, Alexa supplied a wardrobe to match. “For the shoot,” she says, “it wasn’t only one kind of gown. There have been so many issues. Which I believed was a enjoyable idea, given who I’m: I’m a giant ol’ path combine.”
She nonetheless wonders what, precisely, queer and BIPOC actors need to do to get Hollywood to present them main roles. And he or she’s going to maintain bringing it up with the individuals who could make it occur. “I believe should you have been to ask Steven Spielberg about me, he’d say, ‘She’ll let you know what she thinks!’” she says. “I’ll say it with respect, however I’ll let you know what I believe.”
Trend Editor: Serena French; Stylist: Anahita Moussavian; Picture Editor: Jessica Hober; Trend Assistant: Sean Rodriguez; Hair: Mitchell Ramazon utilizing Oribe; Make-up: Quinn Murphy at The Wall Group utilizing Nars; Manicure: Leonobi Galvez
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