The Stunning Transformation Of Rachel Zegler

Chances are, you hadn't heard of Rachel Zegler before January 2019. At the time, Zegler was just like any other 17-year-old high schooler, but everything changed when the renowned director Steven Spielberg chose her out of over 30,000 applicants to play Maria in his remake of the musical "West Side Story," as reported by Variety.


Even though the film didn't come out until the end of 2021, the young actress had already rocketed to stardom. After wrapping up filming "West Side Story," Zegler signed on to star in the "Shazam" sequel." In 2021, it was also announced that she would take on the iconic role of Snow White in Disney's live-action remake of the film (via Deadline). It's clear that Zegler is just at the beginning of a massive career in entertainment.

So, how did an unknown Broadway geek from New Jersey become an international star overnight? Here's the stunning transformation of Rachel Zegler.

Rachel Zegler grew up in New Jersey obsessed with Broadway

Rachel Zegler was born on May 3, 2001 to a Columbian mother and a Polish father (via Classic FM). She grew up in Clifton, New Jersey with her older sister Jacqueline (via Vogue).

Even as a young girl, Zegler was mesmerized by the allure of Broadway. As she told Drew Gasparini on the "Now We're Talking" podcast, her parents frequently took her to see shows on Broadway when she was young as she was lucky enough to live near New York City and have the means to buy tickets. "I started loving musical theater at a very, very young age," she said. "I was 4 years old when I saw my first Broadway show." Apparently, the show was "Beauty and the Beast" — and for Zegler, it was love at first sight. "I just loved it so much," she recalled.


When she was young, Zegler saw the child-friendly Disney musicals, but as she got older, she began to see the "classics" like "Les Misérables," "Phantom of the Opera," and "Chicago." It sounds like musical theater has always been a huge part of Zegler's life.

Rachel Zegler experienced racism and discrimination growing up

As a mixed-race girl growing up in New Jersey, things weren't always easy for Rachel Zegler. As she told, "I'm a young Latina woman growing up in a primarily white area of town where I live." When Zegler began to post content on social media, she had to deal with racism and discrimination. "I've been called it all," she confessed. Some online trolls even told her to "go back to where [she] came from." Her response? "I was born in Hackensack Hospital," Zegler said. "I'll go back there."


Zegler's experience of online hate couldn't have been easy, but it did eventually make her a perfect candidate to play Maria in "West Side Story." As she explained, the story is still relevant today — and no one understands that better than her. As she put it, "A lot of people who are saying, 'Why do we need a remake?' aren't looking at the world around them."

Rachel Zegler was in her first show at 12, and she suddenly realized she could act for a living

After growing up next door to the bright lights of Broadway, Rachel Zegler clearly learned everything about musicals. But, as she told "Now We're Talking," she never considered acting as a potential career until she appeared in her first play. She was 12 when she played the small role of Shprintze in a local production of "Fiddler on the Roof." As Zegler explained, it was an amateur production, but the cast was full of people of all ages and abilities. "It was such a beautiful experience and a beautiful community," she revealed.


It was during this production that Zegler began to realize she might be talented. "They were telling me that I was good," Zegler recalled, "And I was like, 'I am?' And then I started to take it a bit more seriously." Once Zegler got a little external validation and praise, she realized she might just be able to pursue acting professionally. "I saw it as my path in," she shared. So, Zegler began taking voice lessons and auditioning for more and more local productions.

Rachel Zegler starred in high school musicals as a teenager

Once Rachel Zegler got a boost of confidence from her "Fiddler on the Roof" cast mates, she launched herself into the world of acting. Throughout high school, she starred in multiple musicals. And it's clear that she was exceptionally talented — in all four years of high school, she landed the lead role in the school's show. She played Belle in "Beauty and the Beast," Ariel in "The Little Mermaid," Dorothy in "42nd Street," and Princess Fiona in "Shrek the Musical." Zegler was even nominated for the Metro Awards every year (via The Journal News).


"When I was Belle," she told, "I was at the bottom of the high-school food chain ... I was the antithesis of [a] popular high-school student." In fact, Zegler was almost too nervous to step foot on stage! Over the years, however, she became more confident. By her sophomore year in 2018, she had appeared in a high school talent show and was already a "crowd favorite." "The fact that I grew up here and I can look back and say: 'Look what I did, look what this place did for me' is really just heartwarming to me," she shared.

Rachel Zegler started a YouTube channel in 2015 to showcase her performances

In 2015, Rachel Zegler decided to take steps towards showcasing her talent. She started a YouTube channel where she posted videos of her high school performances and her covers of pop songs and musical theater numbers.


Zegler's first video was a performance of "The Wizard and I" from the musical "Wicked," which she sang at a Youth Week Luncheon. She also performed songs like "Chandelier," "La Vie En Rose," and "New Rules." In the "Now We're Talking" podcast, Zegler explained, "My covers started taking off on YouTube." In fact, as Teen Vogue reported, a video of Zegler singing "Shallow" from "A Star Is Born" that was posted in December 2018 went viral and received seven million views by January 2019 — in other words, Zegler was already getting some attention before she was cast in "West Side Story." However, as she clarified on "Now We're Talking," that viral video had nothing to do with her getting the part.


Rachel Zegler auditioned for musicals at a casting agency in Times Square before getting an agent

In addition to starting a YouTube channel, Rachel Zegler also began attending open calls for Broadway shows and musical films. As she told Drew Gasparini on "Now We're Talking," she auditioned for "School of Rock" as a child, but was told her "voice was too mature." Zegler also auditioned for the Broadway revival of "West Side Story," "Hamilton," and the film of "In the Heights." All of these auditions, she explained in a 2021 vlog, took place at Telsey & Company near Times Square. As she recalled, she "had some great auditions and some horrible auditions there." As she said to Gasparini, "I tried Broadway multiple times — I tried for it and I never ... got a callback for anything."


When Zegler was cast in "West Side Story," she got her agent, ICM Partners (via Deadline), so she no longer attends these open calls.

Rachel Zegler was cast in West Side Story after seeing a casting call on Twitter

In January 2018, Rachel Zegler came across a casting-call for "West Side Story" that her friend had shared on Twitter. She created a tape of the song "I Feel Pretty" sung in Spanish as "Me Siento Bonita" (via Vogue). According to, more than 30,000 people auditioned for the part.


Ultimately, the part went to Zegler. On January 9, 2019, Zegler was officially offered the role. As she wrote on Instagram a few months later, "It's not only the day I was offered the role of Maria in 'West Side Story,' but the day I realized a year of hard work and dedication had truly paid off."

When the casting was announced, director Stephen Spielberg told Deadline, "I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they'll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that's more relevant than ever."

Rachel Zegler's whole world changed after she was cast in West Side Story

Landing the lead role in a Stephen Spielberg film would be a dream come true for any aspiring actress. For Rachel Zegler, it was truly life-changing. When she got the news, she was still in her final year of high school. Her plan was to start university the following year. "I remember sending an email to the head of admissions at Montclair State University saying, 'I know this sounds like a lie, but this is what happened and this is why I can't attend,'" she revealed to Vogue.


Instead, Zegler was whisked off to New York City to start production of "West Side Story." In a 2021 vlog, she explained that she "left high school two months before graduation to start rehearsing." While filming, Zegler lived in Chelsea in Manhattan. As she told the "Now We're Talking" podcast, all of these changes were a little overwhelming. "People think that it was a very easy transition into the life that I began to live a couple of years ago now," she explained. "It wasn't easy at all ... It was crazy." As Zegler went on to say, when the film finally comes out, things are sure to get even more intense.

Maria in West Side Story was the perfect character for Rachel Zegler

In many ways, it's easy to see why Rachel Zegler was a natural fit to play Maria in "West Side Story." She was the right age, she was Latinx, and she had the acting and singing chops required of the part. It turns out, the role itself was very close to Zegler's heart. As she told Vogue, the film is all about "Latin joy," which is something that she treasures. "It's something that's mattered so much to me, being Latina — singing 'I Feel Pretty' and meaning it," she gushed.


As Zegler told, "West Side Story" was the first show she saw at her high school back in 2014 before she was a student there. Apparently, the production was so good, it convinced Zegler's mother to send her to the school.

In terms of the character of Maria, Zegler feels an incredibly close connection to her. "I feel like Maria is somebody I know really well," she shared. "I'm a young Latina growing up in the New York-New Jersey area. She's someone I hold very near and dear to my heart." In fact, as she prepared to play Maria in the film, Zegler realized that they were practically the same person.

Rachel Zegler released her first song 'Let Me Try' in 2021

In 2021, Rachel Zegler released her first original song on YouTube and Spotify. The song, "Let Me Try," is a gentle, acoustic guitar song — pretty different from the power ballad covers and musical theater anthems that she tends to post on YouTube.


As Zegler wrote on Twitter at the time, "This is the most special song I have ever written." She went into more detail in a 2021 vlog. "I just want everyone to know, I have had such awesome support when it comes to my music in my professional life," she explained. Apparently, there are a few record companies and producers who have expressed interest in working with Zegler and they have given her advice. However, until "Let Me Try," she had been too nervous to release her own music. As she explained, "At the end of the day, it all comes down to being absolutely terrified of the creative integrity of my pieces being lost." However, she decided to let that anxiety go and she produced and released the tune by herself. "I'm very proud of the song," she added.


Rachel Zegler joined the cast of Shazam: Fury of the Gods in 2021

Shortly after finishing "West Side Story," Rachel Zegler was cast in another huge project: "Shazam: Fury of the Gods." The "Shazam" sequel is part of the DC universe and also stars Zachary Levi. While little is known about her role so far, Variety reported that Zegler would play a "mysterious key role." When the casting news was announced, Zegler wrote on Instagram that she was "beyond elated to join this incredible cast in such a rad story :) and blessed to be another Colombiana joining the dceu."


While filming "Shazam: Fury of the Gods," Zegler released a few vlogs, although she was careful not to spill any details about her role or the plot. In one vlog, she revealed that she'd had a hair and makeup test for the film. On her first day of filming, Zegler said the film was "super fun and everyone is super nice." We can't wait to find out what her role in this film is.

Rachel Zegler moved to Atlanta alone in 2021 to film Shazam: Fury of the Gods

When Rachel Zegler was cast in "Shazam: Fury of the Gods," she moved away from New York to Atlanta where the movie was filmed. For the young actress, the move was a huge change. As she confessed in a vlog, "I'm really sad, I've never moved so far from home before." 


After all, Zegler went straight from high school into filming "West Side Story," and that film was close to her family home, so she got to visit her family and friends on the weekends. "Now I'm moving to Atlanta, and I'm by myself because at the time of booking this job I was 19," she shared, explaining that the producers didn't have to pay for her parents to move with her. Zegler went on to explain that because she'd never been to college, the move was "jarring." As she put it, "This is going to be a very new experience for me."

Rachel Zegler is set to star in the live-action remake of Snow White

It seems that ever since Rachel Zegler was cast in "West Side Story," she has been in high demand. After landing a role in "Shazam," she was cast as the lead in yet another huge project: Disney's live-action remake of "Snow White." It's easy to see why Zegler was the perfect choice for the role. As director Marc Webb told Variety, "Rachel's extraordinary vocal abilities are just the beginning of her gifts. Her strength, intelligence and optimism will become an integral part of rediscovering the joy in this classic Disney fairytale."


Zegler was clearly thrilled to join the team. When the announcement was made, Zegler tweeted an adorable old video of her with a Snow White impersonator, writing, "Homegirl we have LOTS to catch up on." She also tweeted an excited message that read, "I HAVE MANIFESTED MY ENTIRE LIFE I THINK I THINK." Considering Zegler was Disney-obsessed as a child, it's safe to say that this role will mean a lot to her.

Rachel Zegler is bound to become a huge star

Rachel Zegler is quickly becoming a huge movie star — her first three on-screen roles speak for themselves. But for Zegler, the stage still beckons. Despite all of her success, Zegler still defines her success as acting on Broadway. As she said on the "Now We're Talking" podcast, "I will know that I made it when I'm on Broadway because that was my first love. But it has to be the right thing now."


In other words, Zegler doesn't mind waiting a few years for the perfect role to come along, but she is still aiming to see her name up in lights in Times Square. She added that she "fell in love with film" while making "West Side Story," so she does hope to continue acting on screen, too. But her ultimate dream, she explained, would be to originate a role on Broadway. Based on what we know of Zegler already, we think it's safe to say that her dream will definitely become a reality sooner rather than later.

She fell in love with her West Side Story co-star Josh Andrés Rivera

Rachel Zegler didn't just find success in the 2021 remake of "West Side Story" — she also found love. She met her boyfriend, fellow actor Josh Andrés Rivera, on the set of the Steven Spielberg musical. Rivera played Chino in the film, and Zegler seems more than smitten with her co-star-turned-beau. In a 2022 acceptance speech for a Best Actress award from the National Board of Review for her role as Maria in "West Side Story," she expressed her deep feelings for Rivera. "I wish to extend my thanks to the love of my life, who I was blessed enough to meet on the set of this film many moons ago. Thank you for holding my hand in my dreams and in my reality. I love doing life with you. Thanks for making me laugh," she said of her boyfriend in the speech, which was shared on X (formerly known as Twitter) as she couldn't make it to the ceremony.


In October 2023, Zegler posted an Instagram tribute to Rivera in honor of their second anniversary. "Happy anniversary, whammo," she captioned a series of pics and a video of the pair. "i love you more and more each day. (you are the most grounded part of me.)"

She joined another major franchise with her role in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

In late 2023, Rachel Zegler dazzled audiences with her leading role as Lucy Gray in "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes," the film adaptation of the prequel book to Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy. The original "Hunger Games" installments and their film versions starring Jennifer Lawrence saw widespread success in the 2010s, so Zegler had big shoes to fill. When the actor read the book in 2020, she immediately saw herself as Lucy, a young woman who is also a singer. "I just got so excited at the prospect of getting to do something like that, and was reading it, imagining the opportunity to perform as her," she said in a press conference ahead of the film's premiere (via UPI).


Zegler's character sings several songs in the dystopian film as she fights for her life in the Hunger Games. "It wasn't necessarily a step up or outdoing myself in 'West Side Story,' but showing the public that I could do more," she told Collider. "It's stretching a different instrument vocally, testing my limits in the action world, but also emotionally." She added about Lucy Gray, "She's a little mercurial, a little bit crazy, and also, you can't tell what her motives are."

Zegler's performance and singing ability were praised by critics and the film earned an impressive $98.5 million globally on its opening weekend.

She branched out into voice acting

That Rachel Zegler has one heck of a voice is no surprise — it's what made her famous, after all. Still, not everyone who can sing is cut out for voice acting, but Zegler certainly is. Her singing voice quickly became recognizable throughout the world, but her voice-acting skills are becoming as in demand as her other prodigious talents, starting with 2024's "Spellbound," which will stream on Netflix. In the animated fantasy musical, Zegler voices a princess named Ellian who must break a curse in order to save her kingdom.


While "Spellbound" isn't a Disney film, its music was composed by Disney alum Alan Menken, who provided music for several Disney princess films including "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Pocahontas." Another Disney legend, Glenn Slater, provided lyrics for "Spellbound," having previously collaborated with Menken by writing lyrics for Disney's "Tangled." Needless to say, Zegler's beautiful voice is in good hands with the Skydance Animation film.

She's empowering women one role at a time

Rachel Zegler's role in "Spellbound" brings us an independent princess, which today's moviegoers seem to prefer over the damsel-in-distress archetype of previous generations. Empowering young women is important to Zegler, who has teased that the live-action version of "Snow White," slated for a 2025 release, will be different from the animated classic that debuted decades ago. "The original cartoon came out in 1937 and very evidently so," Zegler told ExtraTV in 2022. "There's a big focus on her love story? With a guy who literally stalks her." Zegler went on to explain how the live-action remake will be different, revealing, "It's really not about the love story at all, which is really, really wonderful." Zegler later told Collider that her version of Snow White is a take-charge sort of princess.


Clearly, Zegler isn't just coming into her own as an actor but also as a champion for women on and off screen. In 2023, when Taylor Swift began dating NFL player Travis Kelce, Zegler took to X to defend the pop star from misogynistic comments. She wrote: "it's not news that the media is particularly (and unwarrantedly) cruel to taylor swift but the way men feel entitled to speak about women, their bodies, and their sex lives needs to be seriously evaluated." Zegler also highlighted the double standard of how men are treated, writing, "we do not pick apart men's attitudes and relationships the way we do women's."

She pivoted from Hollywood blockbusters to an indie film

Since Rachel Zegler's film debut in "West Side Story," she's seemed determined not to pigeonhole herself into a particular type of role. In March 2023 it was announced that she would be joining the cast of "Y2K," an upcoming disaster comedy film directed by "Saturday Night Live" alum Kyle Mooney. The film takes audiences back to 1999, a time when people worried about a computer error throwing the world into chaos upon entering the new millennium.


Not only is the comedy a big pivot from the heartbreaking musical that made Zegler a household name, but it's also an independent film, marking another shift from Zegler's early roles in major studio blockbusters. While seeing a major star in an indie film is not unusual, the genre's smaller budgets tend to attract more emerging actors than leading ladies. Zegler tackling one so early in her career shows that she's not just looking for commercial success. Starring in a comedy also gives Zegler a chance to show off her versatile range as an actor, as well as her improv skills. "Since this is a Kyle Mooney production, there was a lot of ad-libbing that was welcomed into the film," she told Collider. As of this writing, a release date for "Y2K" has not been announced.