It is unfair to ask anyone to answer for someone else’s sins, especially when it’s their first time stepping into a new industry. However, this is exactly what happened to Rachel Zegler during the press tour for West Side Story.
A new fresh face on the scene, Zegler was gearing up to showcase her talents in the role of Maria. This moment is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one can only imagine the nerves and joy she felt. Sadly, some of that was hindered by her co-star Ansel Elgort and the controversy surrounding him.
For those who don’t know, Elgort was accused of sexually assaulting a younger woman in 2014 and allegedly sending nude photos to an underage girl the same year. While he did admit he had a “brief and legal” relationship with one accuser, many felt he had never paid for his alleged crimes. No criminal investigation was launched, and he was cast a year prior, so it was seemingly over. Then we entered the marketing for West Side Story, and the Internet was not letting the controversy go. These conversations eventually found their way to the media and led some press to ask Elgort’s co-stars about their feelings. Zegler recalls this situation has weighed on her since it first came about, something she didn’t stop with the persistent questions.
“It was a real gut punch, honestly,” Zegler said, always being asked to answer for Elgort’s alleged behavior. “I reverted back to this brain space I was in [back in] June of 2020 when the accusation surfaced. We were in the middle of the first wave of lockdown, and there was nothing to do but doom-scroll. Those days were some of the worst mental health days I’ve ever had, says Rachel Zegler to Elle. “I was sitting there, having just turned 19, on the precipice of what was promised to be the biggest moment in my life, and was being held accountable [by the public] for accusations that not only had nothing to do with me but were made about a situation that was said to have occurred [five] years prior to when I had met and worked with this person. With no thought to the fact that I was also 17 when I met this person, 17 when I worked with them, 17 and 18 when I had to do love scenes.”
These questions led Zegler to feel disappointed in how the media was handling it, especially when it came to asking a woman to answer for the allegations of a man. She tells Elle magazine that these questions felt like a “gut punch” and calls the situation disappointing. “[There is] inherent discomfort that comes with that realization that there are tons of people who think that you have to answer for the actions of an adult male who can speak for himself,” Zegler tells Elle.
“It is so wildly disappointing at every turn, no matter how you slice it,” Zegler said. “No matter how many times I’ve tried to justify people’s concern when it comes to me in my brain, but then realizing that it comes from a place of me having to answer for that, and not them actually caring about whether or not I was okay, was really hurtful. And also paying no mind when it came to the conversation between myself and these other incredible women in my cast, without any thought process to our experiences as women in the industry who constantly find ourselves in close encounters with men in power and a very iconic woman in Hollywood [Rita Moreno] who has spoken about her experience with sexual assault.”
SEE ALSO: Read our West Side Story review here
However, Rachel Zegler doesn’t let this stop her, as the young actress has two massive projects in the works. First, we’ll see her in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which is currently in post-production awaiting its December 2022 release. She’ll also star in Disney’s Snow White, where Zegler will play the iconic princess opposite Gal Gadot. Let’s hope she isn’t asked to answer for any of Gadot’s controversies…
An adaptation of the original Broadway musical, WEST SIDE STORY explores young love and tensions between rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks on the streets of 1957 New York.
West Side Story features a cast that includes Ansel Elgort (Tony), Rachel Zegler (Maria), Ezra Menas (Anybodys), Ben Cook (Mouthpiece), Sean Harrison Jones (Action), Mike Faist (Riff), Patrick Higgins (Baby John), David Alvarez (Bernardo), Julius Anthony Rubio (Quique), Ricardo Zayas (Chago), Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino), Sebastian Serra (Braulio), Carlos Sánchez Falú (Pipo), Ariana DeBose (Anita), Ana Isabelle (Rosalia), Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank), Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke), Curtiss Cook (Abe), and Rita Moreno (Valentina).