Rita Moreno has always been open about her life, but she admits she was concerned about talking about her late husband in the new documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.”
“It wasn’t about him as a person, it was about us as a matrimony,” Moreno said during an interview at the Sundance Film Festival’s Variety Studio presented by AT&T TV.
Upon marrying her ex-partner, Moreno said she agreed to take on a “little girl” role. The relationship grew tumultuous after she decided to become more independent. “I also wanted everyone to understand that no one person is at fault — it’s always the two of you.”
Moreno, director Mariem Pérez Riera, and producers Brent Miller and Ilia J. Vélez-Dávila discussed the importance of telling Moreno’s iconic story, which includes a career spanning more than seven decades as an actor, dancer and musician, where she broke barriers as a Puerto Rican woman in Hollywood.
“My role model became Anita in ‘West Side Story’ because she was a Hispanic girl who had dignity, self-respect and who was strong,” Moreno said.
Moreno had to ensure the documentary wasn’t superficial — even if that meant allowing the team to film her sans makeup.
Miller echoed the team’s sentiment of portraying Moreno in an honest and raw manner, saying they weren’t looking to create a sizzle reel: “We really wanted to dig deep and have the layers that ultimately you see in the film, everything from her personal to what we see in front of the camera.”
Speaking of Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story,” Moreno said she was thrilled to be working with the director. Tony Kushner, who penned the script, wrote the part of Valentina, who provides guidance to the young people in the film, specifically for Moreno.
“To be there, when Steven is giving you directions, and Steven is jumping around like a child with his finder, saying, ‘Rita, look at this. What do you think of this shot?'” Moreno said. “He’s so enthused and happy — what a joy to work with this man. The sets will blow you away. You will really believe you’re in el barrio. It’s just astonishing.”