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Rachel Zegler Explains How Constantly Being Asked About Ansel Elgort's Accusations Affected Her Mental Health

Rachel Zegler as Maria in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story remake
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

The legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg returned to theaters with his acclaimed take on West Side Story. The movie was a critical hit, and was nominated (and won) a number of honors throughout Awards Season. But there was a controversy surrounding the project due to the accusations made against Tony actor Ansel Elgort. And now his co-star Rachel Zegler explains how constantly being asked about said accusations during the press tour affected her mental health.

Back in 2020, Ansel Elgort was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old in 2014. He denied this, claiming the relationship was consensual. Following this, a Twitter user claimed Elgort sent her nude photos when she was under age. This came after West Side Story had wrapped filming, and was a cloud that seemed to follow the movie’s press tour. Rachel Zegler was asked about the accusations a number of times, recently opened up to Elle about how hard it was at the time. As the Golden Globe winning actress explained,

It was a real gut punch, honestly. 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.

While press tours are notoriously grueling for talent, Rachel Zegler’s time doing this for West Side Story seemingly had its own emotional weight to it. It sounds like being asked by journalists about Ansel Elgort’s controversy was triggering for the actress, particularly given her age. And there’s no telling how many of these interviews occurred.

For his part, Ansel Elgort was also on the press tour for West Side Story, doing on camera group interviews about his work with Steven Spielberg and company. There’s been no charges against the Baby Driver actor, who maintains he was innocent of any wrongdoing. And since the musical movie hit theaters, Elgort has also celebrate the release of a new HBO Max series, Tokyo Vice. He’s also an executive producer on the project.

Later in Rachel Zegler’s same interviews, she further explained how uncomfortable and disappointing it was to be asked about Ansel Elgort’s sexual assault allegation– which really has nothing to do with her. She explained how it mirrors the struggles of being a woman in Hollywood, in her words:

[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. 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. 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. 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, and I’m looking forward to moving past it.

Now that Rachel Zegler has finally been honest about these complicated feelings about Ansel Elgort and West Side Story, hopefully the 20 year-old New Jersey native will be able to move past them. Professionally she’s got a number of thrilling movie projects lined up including Shazam 2, playing the title character the new Snow White, plus the animated movie Spellbound. And with a Golden Globe in hand, there’s no telling where her career might go.

Rachel Zegler can be seen in Shazam! Fury of the Gods on December 16th, while West Side Story is now available to stream from home. Be sure to check out the 2022 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience. 

Corey Chichizola
Corey Chichizola

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.