I was out of work West Side Story legend Rita Moreno claims Oscar did nothing for career

Rita Moreno discusses starring in Spielberg’s West Side Story

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Rita Moreno became the first Latina actress to win an Oscar, which she won for her role as Anita in the 1961 musical flick West Side Story. The 90-year-old, who is now starring in the remake directed by Steven Spielberg, gushed to Harper’s Bazaar that while she was proud to have earned the accolade, her career didn’t experience any drastic changes despite her historic win. 

It did almost nothing, which broke my heart. I won an Oscar and the Golden Globe

Rita Moreno

“It did almost nothing, which broke my heart. I won an Oscar and the Golden Globe – which in that time, by the way, was respected more than it is right now,” she said.

“And I thought, for sure, ‘Wow, this is going to be incredible. First Latina ever.’ And then nothing happened. 

“I was made some offers for gang movies on a lesser scale, but I thought, ‘No, I’ve done that. I’ve done it, and I’ve done it the best I ever will and could.’ 

“So I rejected all that stuff.”

The Garden of Evil star, who had already appeared in over 20 movies before her role in the original West Side Story, continued saying she ultimately found herself out of work. 

Things had taken a turn for the worst when Rita later visited an agent named Sue Mengers, hopeful that the latter could help get her career back on track now that she was struggling to find the right film roles.

But the meeting went so bad that the Hollywood actress blotted “those words from my memory forever”.

“I went to see Sue Mengers, a very famous, powerful agent who was as tough as nails,” she explained.

“I went to her office, and she said, ‘Well, what can I do for you?’ And I said, ‘Well …’ and told her the story. And then in the shyest, most timid way, I asked her, ‘I don’t suppose you’d be interested in handling me?’ 

And without a moment’s hesitation, she said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Oh.’ She said, ‘Let me tell you something, honey. I don’t think you have it.’ She said, ‘You don’t have what it takes.'”

The mother of one went on to discuss her working relationship with Steven, who she described as someone that allowed her opinion to be heard before and during the filming of the latest flick. 

While some might assume that Rita was handed the role because she had starred in the original, she affirms that she had to audition for the part of Valentina.

Given that she was also on Broadway at the time, the Rio 2 actress recalled an incident with Steven that she deemed “the ballsiest thing I think I’ve ever done”, after telling the director she was not going to read her lines during the audition.

“Because I was starring in a Broadway show at the time and they called me at 10pm the night before and asked me to show up to audition for the movie at 10am the next day.

“He said, ‘So you’re not going to read?’ And I was like, ‘No, sir.’ He said, ‘Will you come back then?’ And I was like, ‘I’d be honoured.'”

Fortunately, Steven understood that Rita was caught up in a busy schedule, so he gave her extra time to prep for her second audition, where she would go on to read her lines before eventually getting the call that she’d been cast for the film.

Though her Oscar win didn’t do much for Rita’s career initially, she eventually signed with a new agency, which helped her secure roles in TV and film. 

In recent years, she has appeared in shows such as One Day at a Time, Jane the Virgin, Nina’s World and Happily Divorced.

Her Broadway credits include 1960’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Gantry and The Ritz, for which she won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress.

Rita is currently filming her next movie, The Prank, alongside Connor Kalopsis, Ramona Young and Keith David. 

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