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Learn More About Ariana DeBose, Who Plays Anita in West Side Story — and Is Blowing Audiences Away

·5-min read

Ariana DeBose is a star on the rise.

After appearing in some of our favorite musicals over the years, including Hamilton and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, the 30-year-old takes on the iconic role of Anita in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story remake.

The adaptation of the 1961 film has received high praise from critics since its release on Dec. 10, including a handful of award nominations, but people are especially loving DeBose's portrayal of the character, who was originally played by Rita Moreno. Most recently, DeBose took home a Golden Globe for best supporting actress in a motion picture for her role.

Moreno (who also has a role in the remake) praised DeBose's take on the character, saying the actress is "marvelous. She's a ferocious dancer, way better than I was." And her dancing is what initially caught director Spielberg's eye as well, though her "tremendous personal charisma" is what sold him on her for the part, he says.

ariana debose
ariana debose

20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Ariana DeBose as Anita in 'West Side Story'

Needless to say, DeBose is just getting started in Hollywood. On top of all of her award nominations, DeBose is slated to host Saturday Night Live for the very first time on Jan. 15 alongside musical guest Bleachers. Ahead of her SNL debut, learn more about the actress ahead.

RELATED: West Side Story's Ariana DeBose Reveals Rita Moreno 'Empowered' Her in Portraying Anita: WATCH

She's from North Carolina

Ariana DeBose
Ariana DeBose

getty

DeBose was born in Wilmington, N.C., but spent most of her teen years in Raleigh and Wake Forest as she focused on her dance career. She briefly attended Western Carolina University, but eventually dropped out a few months later.

"I lasted for two and a half months I think, and it wasn't for me," DeBose told Medium. "I stayed long enough to do a show for them, because the director asked me to stay. So I stayed to do A Chorus Line, playing Cassie. Opening night, we had a glorious opening and we got to the closing number, and this kid hit my shoe and I broke my ankle. So I was like, 'Okay, my foot's broken. I'm leaving. Bye!' "

A week later, her agent called her about an audition for the soap opera One Life to Live, so she packed up and moved to N.Y.C.

For more on West Side Story and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast on PEOPLE Every Day.

She got her start on So You Think You Can Dance

Ariana DeBose
Ariana DeBose

Michele Crowe/CBS via Getty

When DeBose was 18, she competed on the sixth season of Fox's dancing competition series, So You Think You Can Dance, where she placed in the top 20. Though DeBose admitted that getting eliminated in the first round was "a huge blow to my then pretty small, but healthy, ego," it also led her to the next step in her career. "What I viewed as a failure with So You Think You Can Dance led me to New York to try theater. I had done musicals in high school, and I loved them because they were so challenging."

She's been in some of your favorite musicals

ariana debose hamilton
ariana debose hamilton

Walter McBride/WireImage

DeBose made her Broadway debut in Bring It On: The Musical in 2011 and went on to appear in Motown: The Musical in 2013, Pippin in 2014, Hamilton from 2015 to 2016, and A Bronx Tale in 2016 to 2017. She also starred as Donna Summer in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, for which she was nominated for a Tony.

RELATED: The Cast of Hamilton: Where Are They Now?

Following her numerous roles on stage, DeBose has been in a handful of onscreen musicals in recent years, including Anita in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story. In 2010, she played one of the leads in Ryan Murphy's Netflix adaptation of the Broadway musical The Prom, and last year she starred in the Apple TV+ musical comedy series Schmigadoon!.

RELATED: See the Cast of 2021's West Side Story Side-by-Side with the Original 1961 Cast

She hopes to use her platform to inspire others

Ariana DeBose
Ariana DeBose

Netflix / Courtesy Everett

As an actress who identities as Afro-Latina and queer, DeBose hopes to use her platform to inspire Afro-Latino and LGBTQ communities.

"I take this very seriously. I am a 'positive vibes only' person, especially in my social media presence," she told People en Español. "There are young people out there watching what I say or do. I don't want to give anyone a reason to put these communities down. That being said, I say what I mean and mean what I say. Afro-Latinos have been underrepresented in our industry. I am excited to continue to be a part of moving the needle forward so we can reach a day where there is balance in how we represent the beautiful spectrum of Latinos, and not just one 'traditionally Latino' prototype."

Following her role in The Prom, in which she played a closeted teenager named Alyssa, DeBose teamed up with her costar Jo Ellen Pellman to launch the Unruly Hearts Initiative to help LGBTQ youth.

"I was so lucky to have a loving and accepting experience coming out. It was almost simpler than my Afro-Latina experience. It's a dream come true to be able to connect people with resources, tools, and a set of blueprints to navigate their coming out and at the same time let them know they're loved and accepted," she told People en Español. "I love reading the stories that people are sharing. Some of them break my heart, but to know we are partnered with people and organizations that can truly help is a powerful and exciting thing. Everyone should get to live in the truth of who they are!"

She has a few big roles already lined up

Ariana DeBose
Ariana DeBose

everett

You can expect to see even more of DeBose after West Side Story. She is set to appear in the space thriller I.S.S. alongside Chris Messina and the star-studded spy film Argylle with Henry Cavill, Sam Rockwell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O'Hara, John Cena, and Samuel L. Jackson. At the moment, neither project has announced an official release date.

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