Rachel Zegler is the next big thing in Hollywood, and she’s only 20 years old. West Side Story hits theaters on December 10, and everyone is going to be talking about Rachel. She’s already earning awards season buzz for her portrayal of Maria in Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story.
The New Jersey native was just 17 years old when she landed the role of Maria, beating out tens of thousands of other applicants. West Side Story will mark Rachel’s feature film debut. From her journey to playing Maria to the next iconic role she’ll play, here are 5 key things to know about Rachel.
1. Rachel plays Maria in ‘West Side Story.’
Steven Spielberg began casting for the role of Maria in January 2018. Wanting to keep the movie as “ethnically authentic” as possible, the open casting call requested Latinx actors. Rachel responded to the call with a video of herself singing “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa [‘I Feel Pretty].” Her performances stood out from the 30,000 others, earning Rachel this star-making role.
“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast. West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character,” Rachel said upon her casting, according to Variety. “As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”
Rachel stars alongside Ansel Elgort, who plays Tony. The cast also includes Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, Mike Faist as Riff, and Rita Moreno as Valentina.
2. Rachel is set to play Snow White.
The actress will play the title role of Snow White in Disney’s live-action adaptation of the animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. “Rachel’s extraordinary vocal abilities are just the beginning of her gifts. Her strength, intelligence and optimism will become an integral part of rediscovering the joy in this classic Disney fairytale,” director Marc Webb told Deadline.
The director and Disney had been searching for their Snow White for months. Rachel’s auditions reportedly “impressed everyone” but early footage of West Side Story “blew everyone away and helped push the decision across the finish line.” Rachel reposted the exciting news on Instagram and wrote, “Well… hello to a dream come true.”
3. She has a YouTube channel.
Rachel was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, and raised in Clifton. She developed her acting chops by partaking in theatrical productions at Immaculate Conception, an all-girls Catholic high school. In June 2019, Rachel graduated from high school. Rachel started her own YouTube channel, which has over 200,000 subscribers and counting.
Rachel entertains her growing fanbase with covers of pop songs, Vlogs, and other videos. Rachel’s cover of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born went insanely viral with over 3 million views and counting. Then, when haters said it was autotuned, Rachel took to Twitter to post a soundcheck where she belted out some more “Shallow” lyrics.
4. Rachel received praise from Stephen Sondheim.
The famed Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for the original West Side Story musical. Rachel was able to meet the composer, who passed away in November 2021, after being cast as Maria in Spielberg’s remake. “I lost my mind,” she told ELLE. “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.’”
5. She will also star in ‘Shazam 2.’
Rachel already has more roles lined up. In addition to West Side Story and Snow White, she will also be part of Shazam: Fury of the Gods, the sequel to the surprise hit superhero movie starring Zachary Levi. Rachel’s role, as of early 2021, is being kept under wraps. But she did tweet, “I am in my key role in Shazam 2 era,” per Variety.