The 72-year-old ET director is helming the modern adaption of the classic musical, and felt New Jersey student Rachel Zegler would make a ideal Maria, once made famous by late screen siren Natalie Wood in the 1961 original.
"I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this fantastic cast", said Zegler, who will star opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony, Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino and Rita Moreno (Anita in the 1961 film) as Valentina: a re-conceived and expanded version of the character of Doc, the owner of the corner store in which Tony works. "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".
"I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this wonderful cast", Zegler said.
When he needed a Tony for his West Side Story remake, Steven Spielberg went with a name: young Ansel Elgort. Zegler submitted an audition video singing "Tonight" and "Me Siento Hermosa" ("I Feel Pretty") to the open casting call. She will also be an executive producer on the film.
Ariana said: 'I'm honored to follow in the footsteps of the remarkable women who have played Anita - including Chita Rivera and, of course, the incomparable Rita Moreno. Tony Kushner (Munich, Lincoln) is writing the screenplay, which is being adapted from the original 1957 Broadway musical.
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Seventeen-year-old unknown Rachel Zegler has been cast as the pivotal female lead Maria.
The up-and-coming star maintains a popular YouTube channel where she posts covers of songs and answers questions about everything from her daily life to her impressive vocal range. Maria ends up falling in love with Tony, a member of her brother's rival gang, and since the musical is based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, you can probably figure out how this thing ends.
She beat out 30,000 wannabes to land the role.
Moreno, who won an Oscar for her original role as Anita, will also star in the remake as an expanded version of the character Doc.
Filming for the new feature is scheduled to begin this summer.