Rachel Zegler spoke critically to Elle magazine about how her press tour for “West Side Story” was often overtaken by questions regarding Ansel Elgort’s alleged sexual assault. Elgort was accused in June 2020 of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl in 2014. The actor responded at the time by saying he has “never and would never assault anyone” and noting that he had a “brief, legal and entirely consensual relationship” with his accuser. Elgort went on to star with Zegler in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which opened in theaters in December 2021.
Elle writer Adrienne Gaffney observed that the female cast of “West Side Story” was frequently asked to speak on Elgort’s alleged actions throughout the “West Side Story” press tour. Zegler responded to the observation by saying she did not understand why she was always on the receiving end of Elgort-related questions “even though the person in question was present.” Elgort participated in many group panels during the press tour.
More from Variety
“It was a real gut punch, honestly,” Zegler said of always being asked to answer for Elgort’s alleged behavior. “I reverted back to this brain space I was in [back in] June of 2020, when the accusation surfaced. We were in the middle of the first wave of lockdown, and there was nothing to do but doom-scroll. Those days were some of the worst mental health days I’ve ever had. I was sitting there having just turned 19, on the precipice of what was promised to be the biggest moment in my life, and was being held accountable [by the public] for accusations that not only had nothing to do with me but were made about a situation that was said to have occurred [five] years prior to when I had met and worked with this person. With no thought to the fact that I was also 17 when I met this person, 17 when I worked with them, 17 and 18 when I had to do love scenes.”
Zegler never combatted the press for asking Elgort-related questions at the time, but she told Elle that she was devastated behind the scenes and added, “[There is] inherent discomfort that comes with that realization that there are tons of people who think that you have to answer for the actions of an adult male who can speak for himself.”
“It is so wildly disappointing at every turn, no matter how you slice it,” Zegler said. “No matter how many times I’ve tried to justify people’s concern when it comes to me in my brain, but then realizing that it comes from a place of me having to answer for that, and not them actually caring about whether or not I was okay, was really hurtful. And also paying no mind when it came to the conversation between myself and these other incredible women in my cast, without any thought process to our experiences as women in the industry who constantly find ourselves in close encounters with men in power, and a very iconic woman in Hollywood [Rita Moreno] who has spoken about her experience with sexual assault.”
Zegler concluded, “In the grand scheme of things with this woman who has come forward with these allegations, I cannot imagine what she had to go through. If I’m sitting here thinking that those days were traumatizing for me, I don’t pretend to know. I could never know. I really don’t have anything to do with this conversation, and I’m looking forward to moving past it.”
Next up for Zegler are a pair of major Hollywood tentpoles: Warner Bros.’ comic book sequel “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” and Disney’s live-action “Snow White” remake. Head over to Elle’s website to read Zegler’s profile in its entirety.
Best of Variety