In 1961, Rita Moreno made history with her portrayal of Anita, a Puerto Rican immigrant to New York City who sang beloved songs such “I Love Being in America” in the hit Broadway musical and movie “West Side Story.” Moreno had proved herself as the lead in several Hollywood films in the 1950s, but the role of Anita scored her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and earned her international stardom.
Now, Steven Spielberg has resurrected West Side Story in a new movie, which the award-winning director says isn’t a “remake” of the 1961 film, but a new adaptation of the original 1957 Broadway play.
During a press conference for the movie, Moreno commented on what it was like working on the film, stating, “Passing the torch is a great way to put it. It wasn’t easy. I’m not gonna say I wasn’t envious. That would be a bloody lie. I wished I could be that young again and do it again, but that wasn’t going to be. And I got this beautifully written part.”
She added, “I love me in this movie, and I don’t say things like that easily. I love every scene I’m in, therefore I love what I’m doing. But it was difficult. It was absolutely creepy to do the one scene I did with Anita. It was strange for her, but it was even more difficult for me. I just kept looking at her, and I had the toughest time getting inside the scene because I did that scene and I was really being Doc, who stopped that from happening in the original movie. It was very strange.”
Spielberg commented on the movie’s location on New York City, saying, “The city of 70 years ago actually still exists in certain boroughs. You can find the city of New York in the 1950s, alive and well in Brooklyn, in Queens, in the Bronx, in Harlem. We shot only where the buildings hadn’t changed. We went to Paterson, New Jersey. That became our ghetto neighborhood. That became San Juan Hill because that was architecturally much more what it looked like between 59th Street and 72nd Street, and between Columbus and the river.”
He added, “The other thing I want to point out is that the only digital work we used in the movie, meaning the only thing we did on the computer, was one set extension in the very opening shot. We actually physically built five blocks of the ruins of the west side, but in the far background, we added the Hudson River. The only other thing we did digitally was that we took out air conditioning units, satellite dishes, and safety bars on windows because today, New York has safety bars above the second floor. Everything else is authentic to the period because New York still is in character with that period.”