Ariana DeBose on Shooting ‘West Side Story’ in Blistering Heat and the Policing of Who’s Considered Latino

There’s a staggering legacy tied to the role of Anita, the Puerto Rican girlfriend of Shark leader Bernardo in “West Side Story,” and star Ariana DeBose was well aware of it. The role represents the sole recognition of a Latina acting winner at the Oscars, when Rita Moreno took home the statuette 60 years ago.

But that wasn’t the only challenge, as the film’s most significant number, “America,” was shot during a heat index of about 108 degrees. “We’re dancing outdoors, on the streets of New York, and I burned holes in my shoes,” DeBose tells Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast. “I consider myself more of a poetic athlete. This type of dance is so physical, and the maintenance goes into it…Thank God, Steven [Spielberg] hired professional dancers to pull this off.”

More from Variety

DeBose details her experience working on Spielberg’s first musical and the Oscar buzz she’s been getting on this edition of Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast. Listen below!

As an Afro-Latina, DeBose is also grateful that the film didn’t shy away from her skin color. “She walks down the street; she’s a Black woman,” she shares. “I’m really proud that the microaggressions that she experienced were in the fabric of the film. I credit Tony Kushner greatly for being brave enough to include it and allow my physical manifestation to inform the script.”

It was just announced that DeBose would host the Jan. 15 episode of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” with musical guest Roddy Ricch. On hosting, she tells Variety: “What a way to start off 2022!!! I am absolutely beside myself. This is the type of opportunity so many folks wait their entire careers for and I’m extremely grateful to Lorne and the SNL team for taking a wild chance on me and letting me play in the sandbox with these ridiculously funny creators! All in all I just plan on going out there and letting my theatre kid self live her best life.”

Born in North Carolina, and a prolific actress of theatre, DeBose, 30, is having a dynamite year that’s garnered attention from critics and audiences. With awards season underway, DeBose has won the most critics prizes for supporting actress, and is considered one of the frontrunners for the upcoming Academy Awards. After being delayed a full year due to the pandemic, she stands a strong chance to be nominated, and perhaps even win the category. Her co-star Rita Moreno, who became the first and only Latina to ever win supporting actress for playing Anita in the 1961 version, is generating buzz herself in the newly created role of Valentina.

If DeBose does manage an Oscar nom, she would be just the tenth Latina to be nominated in the category. If Moreno manages to also join her, she would shatter two records: at 90, she would be the oldest nominee in history and she would be the first Latina to be nominated a second time.

“West Side Story” is distributed by 20th Century Studios and is currently in theaters.

Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.