Many people asked Rachel Zegler about Ansel Elgort. No one asked if she was OK
Warning: This story discusses sexual assault.
Rachel Zegler was a teenager on the brink of a major career breakthrough when her “West Side Story” co-star Ansel Elgort was accused of sexual assault.
After a woman named Gabby tweeted in June 2020 that Elgort allegedly assaulted her when he was 20 and she was 17, the discourse surrounding “West Side Story” shifted. The allegation — which Elgort has denied — has continued to haunt the actor and his cast mates throughout the “West Side Story” press tour and beyond.
In a recent interview with Elle magazine, Zegler opened up about how the allegation and ensuing media storm affected her mental health. A day after his accuser came forward, Elgort insisted that he has “never and would never assault anyone.”
“When the accusation surfaced ... we were in the middle of the first wave of lockdown, and there was nothing to do but doom-scroll,” Zegler told Elle.
“Those days were some of the worst mental health days I’ve ever had,” she added. “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.”
While ‘West Side Story’ star Ansel Elgort has managed to avoid discussing the scandal, co-stars Rachel Zegler, Rita Moreno and Ariana DeBose have not.
In director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story,” Elgort and Zegler play star-crossed lovers Tony and María. During junkets and red-carpet events, Zegler and Elgort participated in individual and group interviews about the making of the Oscar-nominated film ahead of its 2021 release.
Before and after “West Side Story” hit theaters, Zegler and her female co-stars were repeatedly asked about Elgort’s alleged assault — an experience the singer-actor described as “a real gut punch.” The rising movie star told Elle she didn’t understand why she was expected to respond to the accusation “even though the person in question was present.”
“[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,” Zegler 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 OK, was really hurtful.”
Zegler also criticized those who inquired about Elgort “without any thought process to our experience as women in the industry who constantly find ourselves in close encounters with men in power” — noting that fellow “West Side Story” actor Rita Moreno has spoken publicly “about her experience with sexual assault.”
Ultimately, Zegler said she is “looking forward to moving past” the Elgort allegation as she continues to make a name for herself in Hollywood. (The 20-year-old performer recently began filming Disney’s live-action remake of “Snow White” in London.) She also expressed sympathy for Elgort’s accuser while distancing herself from the situation.
“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,” she said.
“If I’m sitting here thinking that those days were traumatizing for me, I don’t pretend to know. I could never know. I really don’t have anything to do with this conversation.”
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