She plays Maria in Steven Spielberg's lauded West Side Story remake - yet before getting the life-changing part nearly three years ago, newcomer Rachel Zegler was just a regular high school student with no film experience.
The American actress, fromNew Jersey, who was cast alongside Ansel Elgort as Tony,landed the coveted role after submitting a video of herself singing one of the 1957 musical's most well-known songs, I Feel Pretty, in Spanish to producers.
Rachel,20, was chosen from 30,000 applicants after responding to a casting call on social media for Latino and Latina actors in January 2018.
Before finding fame, Rachel, whose mother Gina is Colombian and construction worker father is Polish, worked as apart-time wedding singer and was an honor roll student.
But now, having been hailed as the 'perfect' Maria, the award-winning actress appears to be set to become a firm favorite in Hollywood - withDisney casting her as Snow White in its new live-action adaptation.
And even the late composer Stephen Sondheim said she sang 'like a nightingale' - and yet Rachel has admitted she is still having trouble believing all the hype and that her overnight rise to fame has left herstruggling with 'a lot of imposter syndrome'.
She plays Maria in Steven Spielberg's lauded West Side Story remake - yet before getting the life-changing part nearly three years ago, newcomer Rachel Zegler (pictured) was just a regular high school student with no film experience
The American actress (pictured yesterday), from New Jersey, who was cast alongside Ansel Elgort as Tony, landed the coveted role after submitting a video of herself singing one of the 1957 musical's most well-known songs, I Feel Pretty, in Spanish to producers
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Light up the night like Rachel in Elie Saab
Elie Saab Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2021 Get a closer look...
If there is one name you need to prepare yourself to hear much more of, it's Rachel Zegler.
The actress is the star of the new West Side Story movie, but she's the star of the red carpet for us at Fashion Finder.
For the L.A. premiere, she was dressed to impress thanks to Sarah Slutsky by donning this couture gown by Elie Saab.
Hailing from the Autumn/Winter 2021 collection, the champagne-hued gown is defined by the strapless bodice, dramatic skirt and scattered mother of pearl sequins.
It may not be a dress we mere mortals can shop (or borrow), but you can channel Rachel's glamour this party season in a dress from our edit. Needle & Thread is our favorite find, but which one will you shop?
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Rachel (pictured in the West Side Story), 20, was chosen from 30,000 applicants after responding to a casting call on social media for Latino and Latina actors in January 2018
In August 2021, Rachel told Town & Country about her battle with imposter syndrome - which is the belief that one's own success in life isn't deserved or has been achieved through luck, rather than as a result of one's own efforts or skills.
'I haven’t done any other film projects, but I’m constantly pinching myself - there’s no way this is my life,' she said. 'That comes with a lot of gratitude and a lot of anxiety and a lot of impostor syndrome.'
- Entertaining this Christmas? Savvy shoppers are snapping up... Three Sydney boozers - and one from Melbourne - make the cut...
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Rachel always hoped for fame, but had pictured a Tony Award over a Hollywood blockbuster when she was growing up in Clifton, New Jersey.
She was in her first production at age 12, a local theater's Fiddler on the Roof, and auditioned for Rock of Ages on Broadway at 14.
In high school, she played volleyball and saxophone, but was mostly obsessed with musical theater, even landing the role of Maria in a local production of West Side Story at 16.
Before finding fame, Rachel (pictured), whose mother Gina is Colombian and construction worker father is Polish, worked as a part-time wedding singer and was an honor roll student
Rachel was an honors student who lives in Clifton, New Jersey, with her father Craig, mother Gina and 20-year-old sister Jacquelin
In January 2019, she learned she'd scored the part of Maria in the 2021 remake - but first, she was starring as Fiona in her Immaculate Conception High School's production of Shrek the Musical that March.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is the persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or has been achieved as a result of your own efforts or skills.
It is often associated with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and self-sabotage and other traits, according to Thomas Jefferson University.
People with imposter syndrome tend to think that their achievements in life are the result of luck or circumstance, or other factors.
It affects people both in the workplace and in the classroom.
While imposter syndrome isn't a clinical diagnosis, it is known to be a 'largely universal fear' that many experience at work.
The psychological phenomenon was first posited in an article published in 1978, who noted imposter syndrome in women 'despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments'.
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The day after her last performance, the then 17-year-old was already at work for her first West Side Story rehearsal.
Even after two months of rehearsing, she was a nervous wreck the night before her first day of filming.
'I texted [a friend]: "I think I’m going to vomit. I’ll check back with you later." I could not sleep, could not anything. I was just... Oh my god, terrified,' she said.
But even though it has yet to be released, Rachel has already scored several more big roles, and is currently living in Atlanta to film Shazam! Fury of the Gods with Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu. The
'I do have moments when I’m like, "I am worthy, and I got this job for a reason,"' Rachel said. 'But then it immediately fades into, "Oh god, Helen Mirren!"'
Speaking about her part as Maria after the casting had been announced, Rachel said in a statement:'I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast.'
She also wrote on Instagram: 'When I played Maria on stage a few summers ago, I never could have imagined that I'd be taking on the role again in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.
'As a Colombian-American woman growing up in this day and age, strong roles like Maria are so important.
'To be able to bring that role to life - a role that means so much to the Hispanic community - is so humbling.'
Rachel first went viral in 2018 after posting a video of herself singing Lady Gaga's song from A Star is Born, Shallow.It garnered almost 500,000 views.
Spielberg made clear that he would only cast Latina and Latino actors for the Puerto Rican roles. The original film faced criticism for its largely white cast who played Hispanic characters.
Now, having been hailed as the 'perfect' Maria, the award-winning actress (pictured) appears to be set to become a firm favorite in Hollywood - with Disney casting her as Snow White in its new live-action adaptation
And even the late composer Stephen Sondheim said she sang 'like a nightingale' - and yet Rachel (pictured in November) has admitted she is still having trouble believing all the hype and that her overnight rise to fame has left her struggling with 'a lot of imposter syndrome'
He previously told Deadline: '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.'
Yet for Rachel, she's still struggling to deal with the hype surrounding her despite her talked-about talent.
In a new interview with ELLE Magazine the 20-year-old performer talks about getting the life-changing part while at high school, meeting the late legend Stephen Sondheim, and battling racist trolls after being cast at Snow White.
In August 2021, Rachel (pictured) told Town & Country about her battle with imposter syndrome - which is the belief that one's own success in life isn't deserved or has been achieved through luck, rather than as a result of one's own efforts or skills
'I haven’t done any other film projects, but I’m constantly pinching myself - there’s no way this is my life,' Rachel (pictured) said. 'That comes with a lot of gratitude and a lot of anxiety and a lot of impostor syndrome.'
On meeting composer Sondheim, who passed away at 91 last month, Rachel said she 'lost her mind'.
WEST SIDE STORY'S CRITICS REVIEWS: 'A relentlessly dazzling, beautiful reworking'
Steven Spielberg's West Side Story remake has scored rave reviews from critics - with a slew of five star ratings, gushing comments and heartfelt accolades spelling out award season glory for the movie.
Following the movie's NYC premiere and LA screening on Monday, official reviews landed on Thursday, with The Guardian branding the movie 'a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival'.
Social media reactions echoed those of the experts, with widespread praise coming earlier in the week, before film critics began their glowing praise of director's adaptation of the 1957 musical, which he created alongside Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, who passed away over the weekend at 91.
The story - based on Arthur Laurents' original book - is set in 1950s New York City - loosely adapted from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - with one girl named Maria caught between two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.
Her brother Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Latinx gang the Sharks, though she has fallen for Tony (Ansel Elgort), a member of the white gang, the Jets.
Here, MailOnline reveals some of the reviews for the film so far...
Peter Bradshaw writes: 'Steven Spielberg's West Side Story 2.0 is an ecstatic act of ancestor-worship: a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival. No one but Spielberg could have brought it off, creating a movie in which Leonard Bernstein's score and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics blaze out with fierce new clarity... West Side Story is contrived, certainly, a hothouse flower of musical theatre, and Spielberg quite rightly doesn't try hiding any of those stage origins. His mastery of technique is thrilling; I gave my heart to this poignant American fairytale of doomed love'
Helen O'Hara writes: 'It's Spielberg who is the MVP. He keeps the expressionist colours and bold shapes of the '61 film but opens out the stage to the real world, mixing showy shots, like the stretching shadows of the Jets and Sharks meeting on a battlefield, and lived-in communities, like the giant street party that is 'America', without losing sight of the emotion. Let's hope this is the first and not the only Spielberg musical... Heartfelt and heart-breaking, this feels like Spielberg has made an adaptation faithful to its roots but also, always, alive to the modern world.'
Robbie Collin writes: 'West Side Story is, I believe, Spielberg's finest film in 20 years, and a new milestone in the career of one of our greatest living directors. A little less than a month before his 75th birthday, he has delivered a relentlessly dazzling, swoonily beautiful reworking of the 1957 Manhattan-set musical by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, which feels just as definitive and indestructible as the previous screen adaptation, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins'
Phil De Semlyen writes: 'There's a substrata of genius-level artists at work here: from Spielberg himself, who delivers his best film in nearly 20 years, to the late, great Stephen Sondheim (lyricist), Jerome Robbins (choreographer), Leonard Bernstein (arrangements) and William Shakespeare (most of the rest of it) – and you can really feel it'
NEW YORK POST
Johnny Oleksinski writes: 'It's the 'ET' director's most visually exciting film in a zillion years. Still, it's not gonna become a classic in the way the 1961 original did. Where this 'Story' occasionally walks into West Side Highway traffic is screenwriter Tony Kushner's many needless additions to the script. The 'Angels in America' scribe has never met a plot he couldn't stretch out like a medieval torture victim'
Matt Maytum writes: 'Steven Spielberg's West Side Story is that curious kind of remake: impressively put together, but so reverentially similar to the original it doesn't quite warrant the effort...By modernising elements without drastically shaking up the whole, it draws attention to some of the film's conspicuously old-fashioned elements. Sixty years of history allows the original film some slack for some of its shortcomings, like the aforementioned inauthentic casting. But time is also forgiving of the sanitised take on gang culture and simplistic character motivations. Those elements just don't ring as true in 2021. For all the finger-snapping, this West Side Story doesn't quite click'
Owen Gleiberman writes: 'Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' has a brash effervescence. You can feel the joy he got out of making it, and the kick is infectious. Directing his first musical, Spielberg moves into the big roomy space of a Broadway-meets-Hollywood classic, rearranges the furniture (the film's screenwriter, Tony Kushner, has spiced up the dialogue and tossed out the most cringe-worthy knickknacks), and gives it all a fresh coat of desaturated, bombed-out-city-block, gritty-as-reality paint. He makes it his own. At the same time, Spielberg stays reverently true to what generations have loved about 'West Side Story': the swoon factor, the yearning beauty of those songs, the hypnotic jackknife ballet of '50s delinquents dancing out their aggression on the New York streets'
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'I just sank to my knees next to him instinctually. He said, "I've heard you sing on YouTube. You're like a nightingale." And I was like, "Shut up. Fully, no, absolutely not."'
However, she's already faced negativity early on in her career, after it was revealed she had been cast as Snow White in Disney's new live-action adaptation of the classic,expected in 2023.
Rachel took to social media to celebrate the news earlier this year and hit back at a handful of haters who questioned her casting as the historically white character.
'Yes I am snow white, no I am not bleaching my skin for the role,' she wrote in a since-deleted tweet.
Addressing the backlash, she tells ELLE: 'These are a bunch of faceless people that you'll never encounter in your real life.
'They will never have the gall to come up to you at a Starbucks and say, "You're not white enough to play Snow White," I've got a responsibility for young people in the future, who [can] say, "This Latina was able to play Snow White - I can do anything."'
Marc Webb, director of the Snow White adaptation, said Rachel's 'strength, intelligence and optimism' makes her the right choice for the iconic role.
'Rachel's extraordinary vocal abilities are just the beginning of her gifts,' he said in a statement to AFP.
'Her strength, intelligence and optimism will become an integral part of rediscovering the joy in this classic Disney fairytale.'
Rachel celebrated the announcement on social media, as a 'dream come true'. 'well... hello to a dream come true,' she wrote on Instagram.
Production on Disney's untitled Snow White film is expected to begin next year, with the studio promising to 'expand upon the story and music from the original'.
The remake has been in the development since 2016. The queen and prince have yet to be cast whileBenj Pasek and Justin Paul have been brought on board to write new songs for the movie.
Pasek and Paul worked together on blockbusters including 'La La Land,' 'The Greatest Showman' and 'Dear Evan Hansen.'
The movie's classic songs including 'Heigh-Ho,' 'Someday My Prince Will Come' and 'Whistle While You Work' are expected to feature in the remake.
The original animated Disney film first hit theaters 69 years ago back in 1937, telling theBrothers Grimm fairytale of a princess given a poison apple by her wicked stepmother.
It was a huge hit and Walt Disney was awarded an honorary Oscar at the 11th Academy Awards in 1939.
Meanwhile, Rachel also spoke to ELLE about her pride in West Side Story having Latino and Latina actors play the characters.
'There's a sense of pride having so many incredible Latine performers in this movie - people who are from all over - because it's a real testament to the fact that we all come from so many different places.
'That's the point of the story, that we are all coming from our own backgrounds, our own conversations, our own upbringings. And what do we bring to the table if we can’t talk to each other about it?'
Spielberg discovered Rachel on the first day of casting, and she quickly became known as 'the girl who got the movie,' at school she says.
'My principal was like, "You can come into my office whenever you need to just take a deep breath," because it was really overwhelming,' she revealed.
Rachel added that she was someone who had 'decided that I was going to survive high school and not love it'.
The E.T. director has heaped praise on Rachel, revealing that he was moved to tears by her singing.
'When she began singing [Tonight] live, it was just, tears,' he told Entertainment Tonightrecently. 'Not just me. Everybody around me, tears. It's extraordinary to watch her do that.'
'Everything that Rachel sings, comes from in here,' he said while motioning to his gut. 'This is just a gateway, it really begins inside.'
Yet it hasn't all been plain sailing for the actress during her West Side Story journey either, with Ansel Elgort's 'fans' labelling her a 'homewrecker' shortly after filming on the movie wrapped.
The actress even took a break from Twitter after trolls came for the young star, who had tweeted her love and appreciation for her famous co-star.
But her comments came after Ansel told The Sunday Times about his interest in pursuing non-sexual relationships with more than just his high-school sweetheart Violetta Komyshan - and fans who called out Rachel suggested the timing appeared off.
Rachel had wrote in October 2019:'There really aren't enough words to describe the pride I have in Ansel's growth and beauty and literal magic he possesses on screen and off. Falling in love with him was easy. Happy wrap mi amor; catch ya on a fire escape sometime soon.'
Later she wrote 'The internet has made me upset so goodbye for a bit be nice to each other,' before taking a step back from social media.
'The fact that I have to say something is absolutely absurd,' she also said before deleting the post and adding that she was being called a 'homewrecker' and it was 'heartbreaking.'
The future already looks bright for the actress, who will be making the leap to the superhero realm for her next film, starring in an unspecified role in Shazam: Fury of the Gods, slated for release on June 2, 2023.
'[It] is the greatest cast of all time,' she tells ELLE about the project. 'I've never had such a loving group of people, ever. I feel I've become dependent on them for my happiness, which is going to be really tough when we wrap it up.'
After earning rave reviews for her first ever film performance in the West Side Story remake, Rachel also took home her first award this month.
The star was named Best Actress by the National Board of Review on Thursday, one of the major early indicators for awards season.
'Oh my God. Thank you, @NBRFilm,' Zegler tweeted on Thursday afternoon, which received over 2,000 likes.