Steven Spielberg Looks for Spanish-Speaking Actors for His 'West Side Story' Remake

West Side Story - H - 2016

The director is planning on directing a new version of the Broadway musical after he shoots a new Indiana Jones movie.

Steven Spielberg has begun the casting process for new screen adaptation of the Broadway musical West Side Story, which the 71-year-old filmmaker will tackle after he first shoots a new Indiana Jones movie.

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Spielberg plans to shoot what would be the fifth Indy installment in 2019 with a goal of having it released in 2020.

That, however, is not stopping him from actively working on West Side Story, which started its casting search this week. The move, which prompted speculation that West Side could be his next movie, is expected to take some time since Spielberg is planning an extensive search to find the right actors.

Casting notices were sent out Wednesday, as Spielberg and producers Kristie Macosko Krieger, who works regularly with Spielberg, and Kevin McCollum, the Broadway producer whose resume includes the Tony Award-winning musicals Rent, In the Heights and Avenue Q, began a search for the young leads to carry the dance-fueled story of two young lovers from opposing cultural sides in 1950s New York.

While some have been surprised that the director is tackling the 1961 musical as his next project (given that the indelible dance sequences in the version by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins are considered classics), the notices provide a clue as to what kind of movie Spielberg is looking to make.

The most striking difference is that Spielberg seems to be taking steps to cast the movie in an ethnically authentic manner, especially at a moment when Latino activists are asking for more on-screen representation.

West Side Story is set against the backdrop of a changing and simmering New York City as two gangs, a white gang called the Jets and a Puerto Rican gang called the Sharks, fight for their place in the streets. Issues of immigrant life and assimilation are touched upon as the two lovers, white Tony and Latina Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader, dream of running away and getting married.

In the original movie, Natalie Wood, a white actress of Ukrainian descent, played Maria. George Chakris, a Greek-American, played her brother and Sharks leader Bernardo. The only Latin lead in the original was Rita Moreno, who played Bernardo’s girlfriend, Anita. Moreno brought some authenticity to the proceedings since she was born in Puerto Rico.  

In a sign of the times, Spielberg is looking to cast a Latina actress as Maria (“Must be able to sing. Must be able to speak Spanish,” read the notice). Anita is once again earmarked for a Latina actress. And Bernardo would also be played by a Latino.

Another indication of the approach the movie could take: McCollum was one of the producers of a 2009 Broadway production of West Side Story, which experimented with the Puerto Rican characters speaking in Spanish and which some of their songs, like Maria's "I Feel Pretty," were sung in Spanish, with new lyrics translated by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Employing a heavily Latino cast would be a striking move for major studio. While movements of #OscarSoWhite have put a spotlight on the overwhelming white nature of Hollywood casting, much of attention has focussed on the opportunities afforded black talent. Latinos make up almost 18 percent of the population in the U.S., according to 2016 census figures, and make up an even bigger share of regular moviegoers.

Insiders says the casting process began early because the project is contingent on finding the right cast. The director spent several years actively casting his period drama The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, but ran into obstacles in doing so. Mortara told of a Jewish boy who was taken away from his parents and raised Catholic in 1850s Italy. Spielberg in the end could not find his lead youngster and pivoted to making The Post, which was just nominated for a best picture Oscar.

And while Indy 5 is the next to go for Spielberg, insiders don't rule out the miniscule chance that another project, small-ish in scale, could shoot up from the development pile and grab his interest.