• Golden Globe Awards

Winners Circle 2022: Nominee Profile 2022: Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”

While Ariana DeBose just scored her first Golden Globe nomination for her electrifying performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s cinematic rebirth of the classic musical West Side Story, it was a role the North Carolina native initially wanted to pass on.
“I remember thinking this was definitely not a role for me,” she revealed during the press for the film. “I just kept thinking that I am definitely not getting the role.” Though she herself is half Puerto Rican on her paternal side, raised by her single white mother, the now 30-year-old confesses she didn’t speak Spanish fluently and never felt a part of the community. “I felt like I was a little bit everything.”
But the gift of her participation in the vibrant retelling of the classic Shakespeare drama Romeo and Juliet, set during the gentrification of New York’s Upper West Side in the 1950s, has been the ability for the actress to accept not only who she is but for the Latin, and more specifically the Puerto Rican, community to accept her. “It is something I never really thought I was going to find.”
As any musical theater junkie can testify, the role of Anita has a rich history of extraordinary inhabitors; first given life on the Broadway stage by Chita Rivera and then so memorably immortalized in the 1961 film by Rita Moreno. The film garnered multiple Academy Awards and Golden Globes, including Best Supporting Actress wins for Moreno, the first Latin actor to ever win the Oscar.
It was that vibrancy of character that DeBose fell in love with. “I remember telling Steven at one of the callbacks who I thought Anita is. Like she knows her own mind. She’s strong, she’s fiery. But she deeply loves life. She is the life of the party but also the peacemaker.”
All of that impressed Spielberg who knew the undertaking would be daunting for his young actor.
“Ariana had the difficult task of finding her own version of Anita, who had been incarnated so magnificently in the first film by Rita, who was going to be on set in a new role. It was mind-blowing, watching the two of them together, talking, discussing, laughing. Rita embraced Ariana’s performance, and Ariana made it clear how inspired she was by Rita. And Ariana is a great actress, a great singer and dancer – it’s a cliché but she really lights up the whole screen, and when the story gets tragic, she breaks our hearts.”
It was that achievement in dance that kick-started her career. After making her television debut on the series So You Think You Can Dance where she went top twenty, DeBose segued to Broadway and appeared in such musicals as Bring it On, Motown, Pippin and the cultural groundbreaking Hamilton, where it is her character that foreshadows the fate of the show’s namesake. A few years later, it was her take on as one of the title characters in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical that landed DeBose her first Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Subsequent appearances in the film The Prom and the TV series Schmigadoon have further cemented her versatility in the industry. Now it seems that just like Anita, Ariana has become the life of the party as well.