IN CONVERSATION WITH RACHEL ZEGLER
Interview by Jana Letonja
Actress Rachel Zegler is best known for her breakout lead role as María Vasquez in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of 2021’s ‘West Side Story’. She is Forbes ’30 Under 30′ recipient and has been recognized by Variety in their annual ‘Power of Young Hollywood Impact’ list, as well as The Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Next Generation’ list. Rachel stars in the highly anticipated prequel ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’, releasing on November 17th.
dress JASON WU
boots MICHAEL KORS COLLECTION
earrings and ring CHOPARD
ear cuffs MARIA TASH
rings SPINELLI KILCOLLIN
Rachel, you are staring in the highly anticipated prequel ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’, which was just released. How exciting is it being part of such highly anticipated film and such beloved franchise?
It’s probably one of the most exciting things I’ve been able to do, not only as an actor, but as a true fan of the work and the people I got to work with every day. This movie was such a labor of love on everybody’s end, from cast to crew and creative. I think the finished product is certainly something worth cheering about. It’s an amazing thing to truly believe in the product you’re ‘selling’, especially when you’re in the thick of a global press tour.
Were you a fan of the franchise prior being cast on this fifth installment?
I certainly was. The first book came out when I was super young. I think I was about 6 or 7, so I didn’t get to read it until a few years later, but they became a real centerfold of bonding between my older sister, my mom and myself. We would read them together, see the movies together and get excited about the next release together. I even dressed up for early screenings of the new films. I wish I still had those photos somewhere.
In the film, you portray the heroine Lucy, who is a member of the Covey, a traveling musician group. Tell us more about your character and how you personaly identify with her.
Lucy Gray is a master of survival, even though she may not look like it to the untrained eye. As a natural born performer, she’s able to turn up her charm in order to convince an audience that she’s worthy of their support. Getting to portray her rise to Capitol stardom felt very reminiscent of my own life-changing moments, from being cast in ‘West Side Story’ to everything that followed. Her warm embrace of the newfound attention and her ability to use it to her advantage rather than her downfall is something I admire. I don’t think I’ve felt as graceful as Lucy Gray tends to seem.
How is it starring alongside such talented actors, like Viola Davis and Peter Dinklage among others? What did you get to learn from them?
I had the incredible opportunity to simply watch these amazing veterans at what they do best. I felt I had the easy way out. None of my scenes are opposite Viola or Peter, so I got to witness their greatness. They are so intentional with their choices, careful with their volume. It’s otherworldly to see. And getting to watch my boyfriend act opposite Viola Davis is something I’ll never forget.
We can also hear you sing in the film and on the soundtrack. How massive is this for you, combining two passions of yours, and on such a big project?
I’m always really excited to get to sing on screen, especially when the music melds so organically into a plot like it does in our film. Suzanne had such a clear vision for what she wanted Lucy Gray’s voice to be and the Covey’s music to sound like. And once she collaborated with Dave Cobb, it all kind of came together. This is a new genre that I was able to tackle, folksy and twangy, really Appalachian. And on top of that, I got to refine my guitar skills and spend a lot of time crafting Lucy Gray’s performance personality versus her personality to Coriolanus and her other friends from District 12.
Fans have been able to hear your voice on your YouTube channel before you made your acting debut. How did you develop both of these passions, for singing and acting?
A lot of the harvesting of my passions came through the support of my parents, which I’m so grateful for everyday. When I started showing interest in performing, my mom and dad started taking me to more and more Broadway musicals and my love of musical theatre continued to grow. They came to every audition, dropped me off at every rehearsal, came to every show. My mom was also with me every single day of shooting ‘West Side Story’. It almost feels weird not getting to let them in on every second of filming the movies I’ve made since, but something I love about my life is that my performances live on forever on screen and therein lies their endless love and support for me. Neither of those things will ever die and I think that’s really beautiful.
What do you enjoy the most about acting, telling stories and portraying different characters?
Like most actors, I enjoy the ability to take audiences away from the real world for a few hours and introduce them to someone they can root for, hate, empathize with and so on. So many performers are empaths and I’m no different. I love people. And getting to know different walks of life through fictional characters, especially those who are written so beautifully, is the honor of a lifetime. Storytelling is a gift in any capacity, universally. Builders of worlds like Suzanne Collins are the reason art brings hope. Getting to tell stories as my profession is the biggest honor in my life.
You are a Forbes ’30 Under 30′ recipient and have also been recognized by Variety in their annual ‘Power of Young Hollywood Impact’ list, as well as The Hollywood Reporter’s ‘Next Generation’ list. What do you personally think makes you the one to watch in this industry?
I am humbled to be included in the conversations surrounding our upcoming generation of young Hollywood and I hope that my inclusion on these lists solidifies my place in this industry as someone who is up to the task of telling stories for the next generations to come.
dress and shoes LOEWE
hat RUSLAN BAGINSKIY
ring LIZZIE FORTUNATO
Besides this, you were also recently names as one of ‘Nine Latinx Women in Hollywood Currently Changing The World’. As a Latin woman, what does this title mean to you? How proud are you of your heritage and why is it so important for it to be recognized in Hollywood?
This title was obviously so heartwarming to receive. My heritage has always been so close to my heart and having it be recognized in such a major way will never not be an amazing feeling. I think Hollywood still has a problem properly representing the full diaspora of Latinos. There’s a lack of stories for us, a lack of marketing for the stories we do tell and then we get blamed when those stories don’t sell or aren’t seen by the general public. It’s something I don’t take lightly. Latin stories matter and I hope I can use my voice to bring them to light in the future.
Rachel, what are you most passionate about in life, outside of acting and music? How do you love spending your time?
Something people may not know about me is that I’m actually a really good cook. I grew up in a household where my mom was simply the greatest chef I’d ever witnessed. And now that I’m in my own apartment, with my sweet little dog, it’s been fun to spend time harnessing my own culinary skills and getting to work on recipes in my own kitchen. My best friend DJ got me a Le Creuset for my 22nd birthday and it’s my prized possession. I just want to make sure I know exactly what to make in it before I use it.
What can you share with us about your future projects, dreams and goals?
I really hope to take my first bow on Broadway in the near future, whenever that may be. It’s the reason I fell in love with performing in the first place and would be the ultimate dream come true for my inner child, and for my current self. I also just dream of feeling peace and assurance within myself about the future. It isn’t always easy being a public figure and I want to feel way more grounded than I have in the past few years. I think my dog helps. I think my boyfriend helps. And all of my friends. But in reality, all you really have in this life is yourself and I’d like to feel like enough for me someday.
talent JORDAN BARRETT @iblamejordan
photography FABRIZZIO DEL RINCON @fabrizziodelrincon
grooming NIKAY HIGGINS @nikayhigginshair
styling BRANDON GARR @brandonmgarr
creative direction FABRIZZIO DEL RINCON & NIKAY HIGGINS @fabrizziodelrincon @nikayhigginshair
editor TIMI LETONJA @timiletonja
interview JANA LETONJA @janaletonja
cover design ARTHUR ROELOFFZEN @arthurroeloffzen