Before Steven Spielberg begins filming his planned remake for West Side Story, he might want to talk to Rita Moreno about changing the choreography in one scene.
The 86-year-old actress, who starred in the original 1961 film, swung by PEOPLE TV’s newest series Couch Surfing to stroll down memory lane and watch some of her notable performances.
There, she told host Lola Ogunnaike all about the making of one of the most memorable numbers in the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical: “America.”
As fans remember, the dance number featured Moreno’s character Anita and her Puerto Rican pals singing about their love of America, and Anita’s boyfriend Bernado (George Chakiri) and his fellow Sharks combated with them about the downsides of living in the U.S.A. as an immigrant.
“At the very end of ‘America’ all the girls get pushed up into the air and land on the boy’s shoulder,” Moreno recalled of the scene, which was choreographed by director Jerome Robbins.
Unfortunately, getting up on Chakiri’s shoulder was easier than it looked. Every time she jumped up, she quickly slide down.
“We had never rehearsed in our costumes until we went to film it,” she said, “And George’s suit was made of silk, my gown was made of silk, and my behind was broader than George’s shoulders. More than that, George’s shoulders sloped down.”
“I was trying to get one cheek there and I could not get it accomplished,” she said. “We must have done 25 takes. I thought those kids were ready to kill me. I could not keep my ass up on his shoulder!”
Moreno was finally able to land her final position. But the move might have left Chakiri was permanent damage.
“I finally dug [my] foot into his back — I probably hurt him forever,” Moreno said. “You’re supposed to put your leg around the guys back and dig your toes into there until you’re stuck. … I could not keep my ass up on his shoulder!”
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Elsewhere in her appearance, Moreno — who is currently starring in Netflix’s One Day at a Time — reflected on what it means to be one of the 12 people who have ever won an EGOT — the grand slam of show business title that represents the top awards in television (Emmy), music (Grammy), film (Oscar), and theater (Tony).
“It means a lot,” said Moreno. “It feels really really good.”
“I am not casual or bored with something like that,” she added. “I think it’s wonderful. And I’m glad it happened to a Puerto Rican.”