Rachel and Ansel starred as romantic leads, Maria and Tony, in Steven Spielberg’s movie musical, which — at long last — premiered in theaters in December 2021, after its release was postponed due to the pandemic.
Between wrapping the shoot in September 2019, and the movie finally hitting theaters more than two years later, Ansel found himself at the center of public outrage in June 2020 after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her.
The woman — who shared her claims from a Twitter account called @itsgabby — alleged that in 2014, when she was 17 and he was 20, Ansel forced her to have sex with him and tried to solicit nude photos from her.
One day after her account surfaced, Ansel quickly denied the accusations in an Instagram post, in which he said that he felt “distressed” by the allegations, and claimed that he and Gabby had a “brief, legal, and entirely consensual relationship” in 2014.
“I was distressed to see the social media posts about me that have been circulating in the past 24 hours,” he wrote. “I cannot claim to understand Gabby’s feelings but her description of events is simply not what happened.”
He went on to claim that when he and Gabby broke up, he unfairly stopped responding to her messages, adding that he was “truly sorry” and “disgusted and deeply ashamed” of his treatment of her.
“Unfortunately, I did not handle the breakup well,” he wrote. “I stopped responding to her, which is an immature and cruel thing to do to someone. I know this belated apology does not absolve me of my unacceptable behavior when I disappeared.”
Ansel lay low while he faced intense criticism after the allegations spread, which inevitably caused huge difficulties for the highly anticipated rollout of West Side Story.
And so, when it came time to promote the movie ahead of its release date late last year, Ansel was noticeably absent from a ton of promotional appearances. His absence meant that his women costars — Rachel, Ariana DeBose, and Rita Moreno — were regularly expected to answer questions about the allegations against their castmate.
Now, in a candid conversation with Elle, Rachel had opened up about being “held accountable” for her costar’s actions, saying that the entire experience was “a real gut punch.”
“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,” she said, reflecting on learning of the accusations after shooting on West Side Story had wrapped. “Those days were some of the worst mental health days I’ve ever had."
To make matters more disappointing for Rachel, her breakout performance in the musical was actually her first movie role ever, and something she had hoped to be a positive experience. She went on to suggest that the controversy surrounding her costar’s behavior ultimately overshadowed “what was promised to be” one of the most important times of her career.
“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,” she said.
“[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,” she continued. “It is so wildly disappointing at every turn, no matter how you slice it.”
Rachel also admitted that, among the chaos of the West Side Story press tour, she felt that there was a lack of acknowledgment of how she might have been struggling with the allegations privately, highlighting that when she shot the movie with Ansel, she was the same age as his accuser.
“[There was] 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,” she said.
She continued: “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.”
She extended this concern to her women castmates, who she also felt were treated with disregard throughout the promotional tour.
“[The public paid] 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,” she said.
Although Rachel clarified that, regardless of her experience with Ansel, her thoughts remain firmly with his accuser.
“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,” she said, before adding: “I really don’t have anything to do with this conversation, and I’m looking forward to moving past it.”
Rachel spoke candidly about the allegations during an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in January and opened up about the events that unfolded publicly after the movie wrapped.
“We made a movie two and a half years ago, and a lot has gone on in the world since then. A lot has changed very publicly, and privately as well. There's been a lot of awakening,” she said. “You just hope that the people involved are okay, that they are asked in a respectful manner and that they are given the opportunity to answer for themselves.”