EXCLUSIVE: Rita Moreno on 'West Side Story': "I Should've Gotten Two Oscars For It!"

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

With Twentieth Century Home Entertainment releasing the classic musical West Side Story on Blu-ray today, we caught up with legendary Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno, who remembers what it was like becoming the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar. Moreno also tells us why people love the character Anita and why she should've won two Oscars for her performance in the film. 

Why do you think West Side Story had the impact that it did?

I think there are several reasons. One being the uniqueness of the concept originally—Romeo and Juliet set to music and dance, which is really, really a very unique concept, particularly for its time. And the other {reason} is that Romeo and Juliet turns out, happens to be about the Latinos and the non-Latinos! And that really made a huge, huge difference in American movie musicals. There have been many, many great musicals in the history of film, but I think that in terms of concept and conception and performance, West Side Story really was way, way above the mark and set a brand new standard for what is a musical.

Do you remember what it felt like to win the Oscar for West Side Story?

How can I forget it? {Laughs}.  The feeling was mostly disbelief, which I think happens to a lot of people. But in my case it was really well founded, because I didn't have that kind of name, I didn't take out any ads. There may have been ads taken out in my name, I don't know. I don't think so. And I am Latina—that's the thing that really got to me. And after I accepted my Oscar and I went into the theater, I cried! I just couldn't believe it. I had flown in all the way from Manila where I was making a really awful movie—one of those World War II movies in the Philippines. It was worth the ride. [Laughs}.

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How big of a role would you say West Side Story has played in your life?

Oh, a huge role. Historically it was the first Hispanic woman who has ever won {an Oscar}. It puts me in the history books. Plus the fact that it’s also a classic movie that’s still around and is still being played all of the time—it’s amazing! The film now is 50 years old and it’s still absolutely amazing people. It’s thrilling people and moving them. This is the very, very meaning of a classic.

Is the Anita role in West Side Story your favorite role that you’ve ever played?

Yes, it is! I never even thought about that. But yes, absolutely. How could it not be? It not only got me an Oscar, it also got me a Golden Globe. And it got me world wide recognition. What could be bad? People love Anita because she’s strong and she has opinions and she doesn’t allow herself to get under anybody’s thumb.

Looking back at West Side Story, is there anything that you would have done differently in the role all of these years later?

Of course there is! Are you kidding? With all my years of acting experience now I would have done it a whole lot better. And if I had been doing it a whole lot better, I should've gotten two Oscars for it! {Laughs}.

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