During an interview with Today, Ariana DeBose revealed that she flat out refused to read for a scene during her initial audition, despite the fact that director Steven Spielberg was actually present for said audition. “He asked me if I would read, and I just said, ‘Nope. No sir,” DeBose explained. “He looked at me like I had five heads.”
DeBose went on to describe how she completed both the singing and dancing aspects of the audition before Spielberg asked her to read, and she abruptly declined. At this point, casting director Cindy Tolan interjected to explain that because DeBose was currently starring in a production of “Summer,” she would need some more time to prepare for a reading. “And he said, ‘So you’re not going to read?'” DeBose recalled. “And I said, ‘No,’ again. And he’s like, ‘But will you come back?’ And I said ‘I’d be honored.'”
Considering just how intense the “West Side Story” audition process was, the fact that DeBose was called back after refusing to read a scene is just further testament to her exceptional skill as a performer. During an appearance on “The Tonight Show,” DeBose explained to host Jimmy Fallon that she was in a nail salon a few weeks later when she got the call from Spielberg asking her to play Anita. Despite the unconventional nature of DeBose’s initial audition, it’s clear that Spielberg saw what she could bring to the character — and in the end, she went on to give one of the most memorable and acclaimed musical performances of the last decade.