Steven Spielberg explains why he directed 'West Side Story' (exclusive)

·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·2-min read

The roots of one of Steven Spielberg’s most famous and beloved movies, 1982’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, date back to the future filmmaker’s childhood as he coped with his parents’ divorce by picturing an imaginary alien friend.

So, too, do the roots of Spielberg’s latest film — and the Oscar winner’s very first musical — December’s West Side Story, the first major screen adaptation of the Broadway song-and-dance classic since the 1961 favorite starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Rita Moreno.

“I have been challenged by what would be the right musical to take on. And I could never forget my childhood,” Spielberg says in a new featurette for the film, which you can watch exclusively above. “I was 10 years old when I first listened to the West Side Story album, and it never went away.

“I’ve been able to fulfill that dream and keep that promise that I made to myself: You must make West Side Story.”

Steven Spielberg and the stars of 'West Side Story'
Steven Spielberg and the stars of West Side Story. (Photo: Amblin Entertainment)

2021’s West Side Story — Spielberg’s 33rd feature film — once again follows the tumultuous love story of teenagers Tony (Ansel Elgort) and María (Rachel Zegler) as the Jets and Sharks gangs they’re associated with do battle in 1950s New York City.

But Spielberg thinks Story is even more topical today.

“Divisions between un-likeminded people is as old as time itself,” Spielberg says. “And the divisions between the Sharks and the Jets in 1957, which inspired the musical, were profound. But not as divided as we find ourselves today.

“It turned out in the middle of the development of the script, things widened, which I think in a sense, sadly, made the story of those racial divides — not just territorial divides — more relevant to today’s audience than perhaps it even was in 1957.”

West Side Story was written by Tony Kushner and also features Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll and Moreno. It opens in theaters Dec. 10.

Watch the trailer: