Exclusive: Ana Isabelle Brings Puerto Rican Spice to West Side Story
Ana Isabelle always dreamed of one day working with Steven Spielberg. So much so that starting in middle school, the Puerto Rican singer, actress and dancer had the award-winning director on her vision board.
"I grew up with Jaws and Jurassic Park, all these amazing movies that he has done. So, to me, growing up as an actress, singer, dancer, I was like: 'My dream is to work on one of this man's movies,'" she tells People Chica. "I thought that was going to happen when I was 70 years old or something like that, you know?"
But her dream came true much sooner than expected when she was cast in the role of Rosalía in the upcoming remake of West Side Story.
"I got an email from the casting director, Cindy Tolan, saying: 'Steven Spielberg loved your audition and he wants to see you in person;' that was the last audition that gave me the role," she gushes. "It was two days with the man himself and it was just so magical, so fun, so incredible to be there with the Sharks creating, dancing, acting. It was really special to me."
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, the winner of Viva el sueño was passionate about bringing Rosalía to life like never before, ensuring the Latina "spice" was present in her character.
"In this version, Rosalia has more opportunities to pop, to be there. She is the best friend of Anita and María, so she's always by their side, and I feel like I'm bringing the authenticity of being Puerto Rican," she explains.
The Mi sueño singer also emphasized the importance of properly representing the struggles Latinos face after they leave their places of birth.
"This baggage of many, many years going through different experiences and not getting in a room because I have an accent or maybe I'm too much.... In this remake, Steven and Tony Kushner gave us total freedom to be us, to bring what a Latino is, to bring the spice of a Latina without thinking we're too much," she says. "I think that's what we'll highlight in Rosalía's character and in me as Rosalía. I was so hungry for an opportunity like this that I played her so passionate, always being the sidekick of the two protagonists. It's so exciting because you'll see her in the main and iconic songs, and I have big parts in these songs that I feel are a a part of history."
The 35-year-old also had the opportunity of working with Rita Moreno on set, particularly when she was the only woman selected to join a committee of four Puerto Ricans —created by playwright Kushner— to go over the script, something that allowed her to reach out to Moreno to get her point of view on her experiences in the original film.
"We were helping Tony, advising him on Puerto Rican culture, [speaking to him] about our opinions around the script. Because of that, I had to talk more in detail with Rita about certain things that maybe from the original film we didn't feel were totally respectful to us, and what we wanted to make better this time," she tells Chica. "It was such a special time for me and [a] learning process to be part of this committee and be able to bring my voice into this film."
As the film's release edges closer, Ana Isabelle is looking forward to viewers experiencing this updated version of the original film, which followed a Broadway musical. She is most excited for fans to see the new renditions of "America" and "I Feel Pretty."
"I grew up with West Side Story, and Rita Moreno was one of my role models. So, to me, being part of this remake, more than a dream come true, I feel so proud because I'm part of history and this musical is so iconic," she says.
West Side Story premieres in theaters on December 10.