At 89 years old, actress Rita Moreno is still in the process of living a remarkable, true Hollywood story, one filled with heartbreak, political strife, rejection, and triumph.
With the documentary “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” director Marim Perez Rira fits this path-breaking, EGOT-winning seven-decade career into 90 minutes, with the help of a theme that Can’t help but express himself with radical candor.
A decade ago, Moreno published a bestselling memoir, but he says the documentary encouraged additional layers of introspection.
“It was very, very different,” she says, speaking from her Berkeley home, “because I haven’t been asked a single question in the documentary that isn’t intuitive. I already made a promise to myself that I’ll be as honest as I can, because anything more ridiculous would have happened.
Moreno’s story is a triumph in many ways, but it is also the first to be a victim of the racism, sexual assault and victimization that have long underpinned the glamor of Hollywood. The film shows that despite winning every major showbiz award, Moreno is still fighting an uphill battle in an industry that remains hostile to powerful women of color.
Moreno was born in Puerto Rico and immigrated to New York City when she was 5 years old, and her seamstress mother made costumes for the budding child artist. After a meeting with then-MGM chief Louis B. Meyer, a teenage Moreno established himself as “Spanish Elizabeth Taylor” for the studio. But upon arrival in Hollywood, he was cast in a series of thankless roles where his background became an excuse to play any non-white, “alien” caricature. Making the best use of an unfortunate situation, Moreno developed a feature that the documentary, now streaming on Netflix, called “universal ethnic accentuation.”
With her landmark portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story,” she became an Oscar-winning star in 1962, but she still struggled to win meaningful roles.
Rira encountered Moreno on the set of Netflix’s “One Day at a Time,” where her son played Moreno’s grandson. When he heard that producer Brent Miller was considering making a documentary on the star, the Puerto Rican filmmaker introduced himself as a potential director. She already knew Moreno as an icon but found her more attractive as a human.
“I realized that [Rita] She would drive to go to work and then she would go home at 11 pm after staying for more than 15 hours. and it was not a [chauffeur] or his assistants or none. I really wanted the audience to connect with His – Not the glamorous Rita Moreno, but the Rita Moreno who is insecure, who can be very fragile at times.”
Rira decided to film three extended interviews with Moreno, in the hopes that he would be overtaken by a set of comfortable, well-rehearsed answers.
“When interviewing her,” Rira says, “I would talk about my experiences and what I experienced as a Latina in Hollywood. And I think it helped her open up to me, because She wanted to give me her advice or her side of the story. She became my therapist in those interviews.”
In “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It”, Moreno is rarely at a loss for words. But sometimes, she says, she had to dig deeper layers of truth, mainly when the subject was her 46-year marriage to cardiologist Leonard Gordon, or her tumultuous relationship with, before that, Marlon Brando.
Along with revisiting her story for the documentary, Moreno is about to revisit the world of her most famous role as an executive producer and co-star in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake.
Although Moreno maintains an active career, he was initially skeptical about Spielberg’s offer.
“When Steven Spielberg called me to join the cast, I thought he was calling me about a cameo,” says Moreno. “As delicately as I could put it, I said, ‘I’m so glad you thought of me, but I don’t think a cameo would serve this film. It would be a distraction.’ And at the same time he interrupted me. He said, ‘No, no, here’s a real part.'”
Whatever the success of Spielberg’s highly anticipated musical — set for release in December — Moreno is still hoping to fight for her next role.
“I’m still looking for a job,” she says. “No one is knocking on my door. Obviously, I feel that I have more respect than ever before, or at least it is openly expressed. And for that I am deeply grateful.”
Moreno says he’s glad he did the documentary, “because I think it will see some young women going through some tough times. I wonder how relevant that is.” [my story has] And in a way it’s very sad, because it means things have changed, and they haven’t changed at all.”
Entering the next decade of a historic career, Moreno is able to put any future success in perspective.
“I’m going to be 90,” she says. “If I live up to the Oscars, I’ll be a thrilled Puerto Rican.”