The West Side Story breakout star spoke on the traumatic experience of learning about Elgort’s sexual assault allegations.
In a cover story for Elle, Rachel Zegler, the Golden Globe breakout star of last year’s West Side Story, spoke candidly and incisively about her disappointment and the “traumatizing” periods she faced throughout the last couple years in having to answer for her co-star Ansel Elgort.
In 2020, a woman accused Elgort of sexually assaulting her in 2014 when she was 17 and he was 20 — an accusation that had loomed over the film’s success and press tour. Elgort, who denies the allegations, largely avoided doing press for the film, often leaving people like Zegler to answer for him.
Speaking about a specific roundtable interview in which Zegler and her two female co-stars Ariana DeBose and Rita Moreno were asked about Elgort’s controversy, Zegler spoke about how this type of questioning she faced had little concern for her own mental well-being as a young actress who had to reckon with the allegations herself after having performed in love scenes with Elgort:
“It was a real gut punch, honestly,” says Zegler of being asked to answer for her male coworker. “I reverted back to this brain space I was in [back in] June of 2020, when the accusation surfaced. We were in the middle of the first wave of lockdown, and there was nothing to do but doom-scroll. Those days were some of the worst mental health days I’ve ever had. I was sitting there having just turned 19, on the precipice of what was promised to be the biggest moment in my life, and was being held accountable [by the public] for accusations that not only had nothing to do with me but were made about a situation that was said to have occurred [five] years prior to when I had met and worked with this person. With no thought to the fact that I was also 17 when I met this person, 17 when I worked with them, 17 and 18 when I had to do love scenes.”
During West Side Story’s rollout, people online have often pounced on Zegler for how she has or hasn’t responded to what ultimately is unrelated to her.
“[There is] inherent discomfort that comes with that realization that there are tons of people who think that you have to answer for the actions of an adult male who can speak for himself,” she said. “It is so wildly disappointing at every turn, no matter how you slice it. No matter how many times I’ve tried to justify people’s concern when it comes to me in my brain, but then realizing that it comes from a place of me having to answer for that, and not them actually caring about whether or not I was okay, was really hurtful. And also paying no mind when it came to the conversation between myself and these other incredible women in my cast, without any thought process to our experiences as women in the industry who constantly find ourselves in close encounters with men in power, and a very iconic woman in Hollywood who has spoken about her experience with sexual assault.”
Zegler was referencing Rita Moreno, who spoke in her own 2021 documentary Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for it about how she was raped.
“In the grand scheme of things with this woman who has come forward with these allegations, I cannot imagine what she had to go through,” Zegler noted, referencing the woman who accused Elgort. “If I’m sitting here thinking that those days were traumatizing for me, I don’t pretend to know. I could never know,” Zegler said. She added, “I really don’t have anything to do with this conversation, and I’m looking forward to moving past it.”
Zegler’s career, thankfully, already has. At 20, she became the youngest winner ever of the Golden Globe for Best Actress earlier this year, and she has since been cast as Snow White in an upcoming live-action adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.