Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' Casts Newcomer as Maria, Adds Three More in Key Roles

New Jersey High School student Rachel Zegler lands the female lead role and will star opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony.

AceShowbiz - Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" has found its Maria in a total unknown. 17-year old New Jersey High School student Rachel Zegler has been cast in the female lead role for the remake, marking her film debut, Deadline reports.

Zegler will star opposite Ansel Elgort who is cast as the male lead, Tony. Celebrating her casting in the movie, she took to Twitter to express her feelings, "it's official! so thankful to have the opportunity to work with one of my favorite directors and this incredible cast! and to be able to learn from the best (and one of my icons) @TheRitaMoreno is just BEYOND. Surreal!"

Lily Collins also commented on the news. "Couldn't have found a better Maria for West Side Story!!" she gushingly tweeted after watching a video of Zegler sing. "Your voice is unreal, I can't stop watching this. Congrats and can't wait to see it. Get ready girl! @rachelzegler."

The movie has also rounded out the principal Shark roles with three additional actors. They are Broadway veterans Ariana DeBose, who is cast as Anita, and David Alvarez, who is tapped to play Bernardo, as well as theater performer Josh Andres Rivera who is set to portray Chino.

Spielberg's "West Side Story" found the actors after an international casting call that saw more 30,000 people sending their submisions. The filmmaker said, "When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I'm so happy that we've assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America's multifaceted Hispanic community. I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they'll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that's more relevant than ever."

Zegler also said in a statement, "I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast. 'West Side Story' was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community."

DeBose feels "honored" and "so fortunate for the chance to work with this amazing cast and creative team." Alvarez said that he's "so grateful for the chance to bring my own perspective and journey to this role - as an artist, a veteran and a Latino - and to work with this incredible cast to breathe new life into these characters' experiences."

Calling it "the dream for any performer," Rivera said that he feels "very fortunate to be able to portray the Nuyorican experience alongside these amazingly talented actors." Rita Moreno, the original Anita depicter who returns to play Valentina, the owner of the corner store in which Tony works, "simply cannot wait to get on set to work with this group of young actors" and pass "the baton to this next generation of Sharks!"

Adapted from the original 1957 Broadway musical, the script is written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. The story revolves around the rivalry between two warring street gangs, the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The tensions get higher as Tony falls for Maria, the younger sister of the leader of the Sharks, and the two forge a forbidden bond. Filming will start in the summer of 2019.

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