'West Side Story' director Steven Spielberg finds an old soul in new star Rachel Zegler

Director Steven Spielberg chose newcomer Rachel Zegler to play his leading lady, Maria, in his first musical "West Side Story."
HOLLYWOOD -- Filmmaker Steven Spielberg's take on the classic musical "West Side Story" takes him back to his childhood.

"I didn't take on this project lightly," said Spielberg. "This project has been part of my life since I was a 10-year-old and I first heard the Broadway cast album."

Spielberg is also very familiar with director Robert Wise's 1961 classic, which won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. But he's clear -- this one is different.

"We didn't remake the '61 film, my friend, Robert Wise, I didn't do that. I, we basically reimagined the Broadway show," said Spielberg.

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"West Side Story" is a story of forbidden love. It's set against a rivalry between two street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. Spielberg chose newcomer Rachel Zegler to play his leading lady, Maria.

"I've always felt like an old soul. And I get told that all the time," said Zegler. "But I was also raised on classic film. And so I feel like a lot of what I think people would call technique but I just call 'what I do,' was born by watching 'All About Eve' and George Cukor's 'The Women' and just watching movies like that, that just informed my love of what I get to do for a living. As much as I embrace modern movies, modern films, modern acting, we would not be where we are without the Joan Crawfords and the Katharine Hepburns of the world. And that's something that I try to remind myself every day."

Spielberg says he's always wanted to make a musical.

"You and I might have had conversations. And we've talked so often about all the different movies and I think you might have been one of the hundreds that have asked me, 'You've done this genre and that. What have you not done?' And I answered you, George. Well, I've always wanted to do a musical. So this time next year, I never have to answer that question again!" Spielberg said, laughing.

"West Side Story" is rated PG-13. It opens Friday, Dec. 10.

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