Is there a moment when you look back on the original? West Side Story what are you most proud of?
First, I think the most important part of playing in that movie for me was playing a character who had a sense of self-esteem. I played a lot of Latinos up to that point, many of whom were spitfires and ultra sexy, didn’t speak good English – some were even illiterate – and they really were kind of sex objects. Anita was the only Latina I ever played, at the time, who had an identity that made sense. I realized that the moment I read the script. I thought, “Please, God, please let me take this part.”
BuzzFeed: In your documentary, you say that Anita became a role model for you and also for someone you looked up to.
True, but that was a little later in life. I think I was 26 when I did that West Side Story“I wasn’t exactly a teenager. I don’t think any of us were. There really weren’t any other Hollywood role models that were Latina that I could look up to. So Anita became my role model.
What was it like participating in the West Side Story redo? What was it like to be involved in the story again?
It’s insane how these things work. It’s such a round moment. If you remember the movie, Doc had a candy story where the Jets hung out. I’m Doc’s widow Valentina [in the remake]. It was Tony Kushner’s idea to replace Doc, who had a very small part in the original. I always felt sorry for the actor Ned Glass, a nice man, who had nothing to play. He just had those few lines and that was it. Valentina is a whole person. It’s not a cameo as some people might think. It’s a real part. I wouldn’t do a cameo in a movie like this.
When Steven Spielberg called me about this – I didn’t know him before, by the way – he said, “We’d love to get you in West Side Story,” and I was literally like, “Who, me?!” I was so shocked. I was trying to be cool, which was really hard. I said to Steven, “I’m doing a cameo in this movie, thinking it’s not wise . I think it would be distracting.” He interrupted me and said, “No, this is a real piece. Tony Kushner wrote this part for you.” Like, this is Angels in America Tony Kushner. It turned out he was a fan, which I didn’t know. You never know who loves you and your work.
BuzzFeed: Also, hear you sing about the remakes first teaser trailer was extraordinary.
I didn’t know it would happen. In fact, I was going to host the Oscars and Steven said to me, “I’m sending you the trailer because it’s at the Oscars.” So my daughter and I sat down to watch the trailer. We look at it and we started screaming. I yelled, “That’s my voice! That’s my voice!” Like, talk about not subtle. I was screaming. My daughter screamed. I also thought no one would recognize it. But everyone recognized it. Everyone.
BuzzFeed: me right away tweeted about hearing your voice in the trailer so people noticed right away.
oh my god really?! I really didn’t think anyone would recognize it.