'West Side Story’ star George Chakiris addresses rumors Elvis Presley wanted to appear in the musical
Fox411: 'West Side Story' star George Chakiris opens up about working with blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe, winning his first Oscar and following his other passion - designing jewelry.
EXCLUSIVE: Reunited and it feels so good.
"West Side Story" costars George Chakiris, Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn are getting together virtually on the opening night of the 2021 Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Film Festival on Thursday, where they will discuss the making of the 1961 film.
The iconic musical, which also starred Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, is also celebrating its 60th anniversary. Moreno, 89, is set to star in a remake of the screen classic directed by Steven Spielberg, which will also feature Ansel Elgort as Tony and newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria.
Chakiris, 86, and Moreno won Oscars for best supporting actor and actress in the film.
Fox News: How does it feel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of "West Side Story"?
George Chakiris: This is so amazing and so, so extraordinary. No one ever thought that this film would have such an impact decades later. I’m really thrilled that the film is being celebrated and respected. It’s a validation of the hard work we all did. And I think it deserves all the praise because it just speaks to things that are relevant in our world today. Just for one, prejudice. We hear about it all the time. And I think the film touches on that, something still impacting our world today.
Fox News: Who had more fun on set, The Sharks or the Jets?
Chakiris: I think we all had great fun with each other *laughs*. There was always this one-upmanship kind of thing going on. We would pull out surprises against each other during rehearsal breaks. The "America" number, the fun that you see between the guys and the girls, is genuine. I think we all had fun bringing this story to life.
George Chakiris starred as Bernardo in ‘West Side Story.’ (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Fox News: It’s been said that Elvis Presley really wanted to play Tony in "West Side Story" but his manager Colonel Parker was against it. Did you ever hear that rumor?
Chakiris: No, I never heard anything like that. But I’ll tell you something. Back when we were doing the play in London, there was buzz about the movie. And I remember the two star names being considered were Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley for the roles of Tony and Maria.
Of course, none of that happened, but that’s the only time I ever heard his name and his connection with the possibility of doing the film long before it started. But I personally think it’s just a rumor that caught some kind of life over the years. It’s my understanding that Elvis didn’t want to do "A Star is Born" so I can’t imagine that he would want to do "West Side Story."
George Chakiris recalled the advice Natalie Wood gave him. (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)
Fox News: You originally played Riff on stage before taking on the role of Bernardo in the film. How did you feel about the change? Were you excited to play someone different or did you miss Riff?
Chakiris: In the beginning, I did miss Riff because I did it for quite some time on stage and I really loved the character. But once I was cast as Bernardo it just became something different that I had to do. And I loved it. I studied Ken LeRoy, the original Bernardo on stage, every night for a year and a half. So in a way, I was already learning and memorizing, which helped to make the role my own. So it actually wasn’t a difficult transition at all. It actually felt natural and familiar.
Rumors long persisted that Elvis Presley wanted to play the role of Tony in ‘West Side Story.’ (Photo by Getty Images)
Fox News: It’s been said that Natalie Wood told you don’t do costume films after "West Side Story." Is that true and if so, why did she give you this advice?
Chakiris: It’s true! Even before I was finished with "West Side Story," I was assigned what was called a picture deal. Sometime after the movie, the cast assembled at producer Harold Mirisch’s home for one evening. Natalie was there with her husband we were just chatting about things in general. She knew I was going to do "Kings of the Sun." I remember she said, "Don’t ever do a costume picture."
She didn’t think they were a good thing to do. I guess she had a bad experience doing a costume picture. I think ultimately, she was right. But I eventually did it because it was part of my contract. But she gave good advice. She was so professional and intelligent. And she was 23 when we made the movie. I remember she was such a darling.
Fox News: What it’s been like to have co-star Rita Moreno be a part of your life after "West Side Story"?
Chakiris: Oh gosh, we have such a strong, wonderful bond and I’m so grateful for it. I’m godfather to her daughter Fernanda. Our relationship will never go away. We’ve known each other for decades now. I knew her husband very well. We’ve shared so many wonderful life experiences together. She’s really a terrific person to know and I value her friendship. That love is there forever.
George Chakiris and Rita Moreno became lifelong friends after "West Side Story." (Photo by United Artists/Getty Images)
Fox News: You’re also going to be reuniting with Russ Tamblyn this year virtually for the festival.
Chakiris: That’s another friendship I really value, a wonderful connection. I’ve been vaccinated twice, as well as Russ and his wife. So we’re planning on getting together and having a picnic or something outside. And I can’t wait. But listen, even seeing him this way is just like being with him in the same room. I love Russ and his wife and his daughter Amber. I’ve known them for a wonderfully long time. Amber is such an incredibly gifted actress and director. I’m grateful to have them in my life.
George Chakiris today. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
Fox News: For younger fans of classic movies who will be watching "West Side Story" through TCM, what do you hope they will get from the film and your experience making it?
Chakiris: I hope they will fall in love with such a great film and know that we had a lot of joy making it. "West Side Story" is a wonderful creation and it continues to have a life because there are many elements in it that we can identify with today. And there really is such joy in the film. With everything that we’ve experienced in the past year, I think we can use some joy. And I hope we can accomplish that for younger viewers. It’s very gratifying.