Rita Moreno’s Role in New ‘West Side Story’ Is More Than a Cameo: ‘It’s a Real Part’

Rita Moreno
Brent N Clarke/Invision/AP/Shutt

During her live show, “An Evening with Rita Moreno,” Saturday night, Rita Moreno told the audience she will have a “real” role in next December’s “West Side Story” remake, which recently wrapped shooting, and that she initially had concerns about the film’s production.

“At first, it was interesting when I heard there were rumors that they were going to do the movie again, I was nervous, and I have a feeling a lot of people were,” Moreno, who is an executive producer on 20th Century Fox’s “West Side Story,” said at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. “Then, when I heard that Tony Kushner, a brilliant playwright was going to do the script, I got worried because I thought, ‘Well, he’s so intense, I don’t know.’”

She continued, “Here’s another thing I can’t resist telling you. I’m going to brag one more time. It pleases me so because it is not a cameo. It’s a real part. It’s a real thing. Talk about full circle. Is that insane? Is that crazy?”

Moreno, 87, said about the upcoming Steven Spielberg-directed film, “Boy, are you in for something.”

Moreno won an Oscar for 1961’s seminal “West Side Story,” playing Anita, who will be portrayed by Tony-nominated actress Ariana DeBose, 28, in the remake. Moreno will play the newly created role Valentina in the updated version.

The bicoastal Moreno said she enjoyed her time in New York while filming, including approaches by fans asking about the movie.

“I see a very tiny but very rotund little lady looking at me, grinning and doing this (pointing),” Moreno said, of meeting a fan in a deli. “She puts her hand in the crook of my arm and says, ‘Dahling, dahling, dahling. You’re going to do that movie, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ She says, ‘Mazel Tov, dahling. … So, I suppose you’re going to get ready now. You’re not shooting yet, are you?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ She said, ‘I suppose you’re going to start working out, taking some dancing classes.’ I said to her, ‘What’s your name?’ She said, ‘Beatrice.’ I said, ‘Beatrice, do you think I’m playing Anita again?’ She said, ‘Sweetheart, you are ageless,’” Moreno said.

Saturday’s 90-minute show, which spanned 12 songs interwoven with stories of Moreno’s life, included memories of her tumultuous eight years dating Marlon Brando and impressions of a “dull” Elvis Presley, with whom she went on a handful of dates.

“I was in my 20s when I met the lust of my life. Damn near killed me,” Moreno told the full house of 500. “Have you ever felt, have you ever been so obsessed with someone that you feel like you can’t breathe without him? Yeah, that’s how Marlon [Brando] felt about himself.”

If Brando was the lust of Moreno’s life, her husband, Lenny Gordon, was the love of her life, she said, sharing stories of romantic moments between the two. Gordon passed away in 2010.

Reflecting on her favorite “diva” roles, Moreno mentioned her current character, Lydia, on “One Day at a Time,” which moved to Pop TV earlier this year after its Netflix cancellation.

“I love playing her,” Moreno said. “’I said to [creator] Norman Lear [before starting], ‘She has to be sexual.’ Norman loved it. The writers loved the idea. She’s very shameless. She will flirt with a fence post.”

“One Day at a Time” Season 4 will shoot January through May 2020, according to a mid-September tweet from showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett, with an unannounced 2020 premiere date.

Lear attended Saturday, trading pleasantries with Moreno after the show in the director’s lounge.

Also spotted at the show were the Broad’s new Artistic and Executive Director Rob Bailis, Sony Pictures’ Robert Lawson (also co-chair of the board at the Broad Stage) and Sony Pictures Television’s Jeff Frost and Chris Parnell.