Rita Moreno: It ‘Was So Bizarre’ to Watch Ariana DeBose Play Anita in ‘West Side Story’

Ariana DeBose portrays Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, a role which won Rita Moreno an Oscar 60 years ago

Rita Moreno says it was “so bizarre” to watch Ariana DeBose bring new life to the character of Anita, 60 years after she won an Oscar for the same role in West Side Story.

In a PEOPLE exclusive clip of tonight’s NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Moreno and DeBose both sat down with Lester Holt ahead of the film’s debut in theaters this Friday.

“She is a beautiful Anita in the movie,” says Moreno in the clip, above. “It was so bizarre because suddenly I was playing another role and she was playing Anita.”

When Holt asked DeBose, 30, if she was in “awe” of Moreno, 89, she said, “Oh, absolutely.”

“She means a lot to me. She means a lot to the Puerto Rican community, to the Latino community at large, and to the entertainment industry at large,” DeBose continued.

Learn More About Ariana DeBose, Who Plays Anita in West Side Story — and Is Blowing Audiences Away

The actress, who has also starred in The Prom and Hamilton, said she didn’t try to play Moreno’s version of Anita in the new Steven Spielberg reimagining of the iconic musical.

Rita Moreno: It 'Was So Bizarre' to Watch Ariana DeBose Play Anita in 'West Side Story'

Ariana DeBose and Rita Moreno. NBC

“I was very adamant that whatever interpretation I delivered for this performance was massively different,” she said. “But by virtue of being a black woman that makes it a different portrayal.”

Earlier this month, Moreno praised DeBose’s take on the character, saying the actress is “marvelous. She’s a ferocious dancer, way better than I was.” And her dancing is what initially caught director Spielberg’s eye as well, though her “tremendous personal charisma” is what sold him on her for the part, he said. And their raves are being echoed by reviewers and audiences alike.

In November, DeBose revealed that Moreno had offered her a tip for portraying Anita, saying, “She told me, ‘Niña, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.'”

Rita Moreno: It 'Was So Bizarre' to Watch Ariana DeBose Play Anita in 'West Side Story'

Ariana DeBose as Anita in West Side Story (2022). 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett

“She empowered me, encouraged me to do my own thing,” DeBose said. “She did tell me one note, but I won’t tell you what it was.”

DeBose did say, “She said, ‘I think there’s more power in a different delivery,'” adding, “I took the note, it was a good note.”

More of Moreno and DeBose’s interview will air tonight on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.

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