Rita Moreno graces the cover of Town & Country for their March issue. Executive Style Director Erik Maza chronicles Moreno’s career from playing Zelda in “Singin’ in the Rain” in 1952 to her second role in “West Side Story” as Valentina in the 2021 remake (Moreno was also an executive producer on the film). Maza spoke with 90-year-old Moreno about her longstanding career, how she wants to be known for more than “West Side Story” and what her legacy on Hollywood is: “Let me just say, first of all, that I’ve never in my life thought of myself and the word legend in the same breath.” Beat. “I guess I am one.”
Moreno is honored as one of 150 people in Town & Country’s inaugural ‘O.G. List’ that honors the living style and arts figures whose gritty dedication to their own originality and point of view has made them into our cultural touchstones. They’re everywhere: on the runways, on our screens, in our collective consciousness. And if not them literally, we see their indelible imprints on all we deem cool and captivating right now.
On the pin Moreno wears when speaking with writer Erik Maza for the interview that says “No whining”: “That’s my badge for the day,” she tells me, “when something amuses me or affords me the opportunity to tell people to shut the f**k up.”
On when the Academy Museum opened in the fall, she was one of six pioneering women, alongside Barbra Streisand (79) and Sophia Loren (87), whose names were engraved on the walls for posterity and how she was touched by the tribute: “Let me just say, first of all, that I’ve never in my life thought of myself and the word legend in the same breath.” Beat. “I guess I am one.”
On how she just doesn’t waste much time looking back and hasn’t shed her immigrant grit: “When I started out, I wanted to be an actress in the movies. I wanted to be a star. That’s all I wanted out of life from the time I was five. Legacy is not something I associate with myself, and I never related to it. I don’t relate to it now. I don’t know—that’s a word I always associate with white people. It’s like a $50 word.”
On how she is back in the spotlight at an age when most actors would just bask in all the adulation “I still don’t have what I want. People aren’t exactly knocking my door down, you know. This West Side Story connection is wonderful, but that’s just one job. That’s not ongoing work. That’s not somebody saying, ‘There’s this part in the script that I think would be just wonderful for you. Would you consider it?’ It’s not happening.”
On how she hesitated when Spielberg approached her, convinced he wanted her for a minor walk-on and how she ended up being blown away by the script: “I thought, Okay, be nice, Rita. You be polite. I said, ‘I don’t want to tell you how to make your movies, but I just don’t do cameos,’” She was floored when the director reassured her, “Tony wrote this for you.” Kushner got permission from Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the musical’s lyrics, and from the estates of composer Leonard Bernstein and book writer Arthur Laurents, to give her something else.
On her initial emotional reaction to the song ‘Somewhere’: “When I read the script for the first time and I saw the song and I read the lyrics, I started to cry. I burst into tears.”
On the question of what she learned from playing Valentina in West Side Story: “I don’t think she taught me anything that I don’t know. She didn’t teach me anything I don’t know, because I know a lot,” she says, pleased. “If anything, Valentina would take lessons from me, because I am more sophisticated, and I’ve been around more than she, and I could dance circles around her.”
Interview by Erik Maza
Photographs by Ruven Afanador
Styled by Bernat Buscato
[Photo Credit: Ruven Afanador/Town & Country Magazine]
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