Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

We’re putting the spotlight on Rachel Zegler ahead of her silver screen debut on Dec. 10

She’ll leave you wanting an encore performance.

Rachel Zegler, playing the role of Maria in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story remake film, may have been cast as an undiscovered talent, but there’s much to know about the quickly rising star who’s now living out her theater-kid dream.

West Side Story marks the 20-year-old’s first-ever movie, after landing the lead role in 2019. Prior to production, Spielberg put out an open casting call to find a fresh-faced talent to take on Maria. After the director auditioned more than 30,000 people from around the world, Zegler secured the coveted role.

Though it’s her film debut, it’s not the New Jersey native’s first time playing Maria; she formerly played the character in her high school’s rendition of the classic musical.

Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

One prominent difference? Zegler will star alongside Ansel Elgort as Tony, Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino, and Rita Moreno (who played Anita in the 1961 film) as Valentina.

If you haven’t heard Zegler’s vocals, they are pure magic – which is very befitting for her next big film, where she’ll star as the titular character in Disney’s live-action remake of Snow White. The vocal powerhouse-turned-princess secured the role ahead of West Side Story‘s release, although production for Snow White isn’t expected to begin until 2022.

Keep scrolling for super fun facts about the rising star, between her wedding singer stint and her viral social media moment before fame!

Rachel put college on pause to film West Side Story

Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

20th Century Studios

Prior to landing the role of Maria, Zegler was set on attending Montclair State University in New Jersey. However, when she was cast in West Side Story, the drama-loving-theater kid’s plans… dramatically changed.

“I remember sending an email to the head of admissions at Montclair State University saying, ‘I know this sounds like a lie, but this is what happened, and this is why I can’t attend,'” she told Vogue.

Rachel worked as a wedding singer before fame

Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

Rachel Zegler/instagram

When the singing sensation wasn’t rehearsing for leading roles in high school or at her local theaters, she picked up occasional work as a part-time wedding singer. Zegler even listed it in her YouTube channel bio before nabbing her movie role. (Her résumé has certainly leveled up!)

She even quote tweeted an account in 2015 that mentioned how Idina Menzel started as a wedding singer before fame, in which Zegler wrote, “there’s hope for me.” Five years later, the breakout star tweeted, “Wow 2015-wedding-singer-rachel! You had no idea.”

Rachel continued with a high school show, even after she was cast in West Side Story

Seeing Beauty and the Beast on Broadway at age four started her love of theater. At 12, she made her community theater debut in Fiddler on the Roof. Since then, she’s starred in a variety of on-stage productions, including Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Thoroughly Modern Millie.

At the time she was cast in West Side Story, she was in the process of rehearsing as Princess Fiona for her high school’s rendition of Shrek. She performed the role, took her bows, then headed straight to West Side Story rehearsal, finishing the rest of her senior year studies online, according to an interview with NorthJersey.com.

West Side Story Remake Praised by Critics: ‘Spielberg Topped the Original’

Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

Rachel is recognized on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list

On Dec. 1, Forbes released its annual list honoring the upcoming generation of talent in the categories of Music, Hollywood & Entertainment, Social Media, and more. Zegler earned a slot under the Hollywood & Entertainment section, alongside other talented honorees.

Zegler tweeted her reaction when she first found out — and we think it’s safe to say that she was shocked: “I MADE THE FORBES 30 UNDER 30?!?!?!?!?!?!??!!!?!?!”

Zegler also received the National Board of Review’s top acting honors for her performance in West Side Story, alongside Will Smith who was recognized for his role in King Richard.

Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

20th Century Studios

Rachel wore Dior Haute Couture during her first Met Gala in 2021

The 2021 Met Gala was held on Sept. 13, marking Zegler’s first major red carpet. She wore a Dior Haute Couture Spring 2021 dress with “The Empress” motif in multicolored dévoré velvet.

Zegler also attended the brand’s Spring/Summer 2022 show at Paris Fashion Week later in September (and rocked a Dior veiled denim beret and handbag). Sticking to the theme, Zegler looked “oh so pretty” when she stunned in a tulle Dior gown on the red carpet of the West Side Story premiere on Dec. 1.

Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

Rachel is a huge Freddie Mercury fan

Zegler’s singing inspirations aren’t limited to Broadway stars — she’s also a huge fan of the groundbreaking late Queen frontman. Not only has she powerfully performed covers of his songs, but she even dressed as him for Halloween!

She tweeted her spot-on costume with the caption, “y’all: this is just freddie mercury/queen II/bohemian rhapsody.” She continued, “yes everything i do is inspired by that man thank u amen (ily all thank u for being so nice to me about my bone structure).”

Get to Know Rachel Zegler, Who Plays Maria in West Side Story

Twitter Ansel Elgort Reveals He Got Tips from His Dancer Girlfriend for His West Side Story Remake

She went viral in 2018 after posting a video of herself singing

One of the first posts that caught the attention of many was her pitch-perfect cover of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.” She was just 17 years old at the time she uploaded the video to her YouTube channel, and it’s received over 3 million views to date.

The video wowed viewers, but some suggested she might have been using Autotune. To clap back at the negativity, she posted another video singing “Shallow” live on her Twitter with just a microphone in hand. (She may be singing to an empty auditorium, but the video received over 11.8 million views!)

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