Rita Moreno Says It 'Was So Bizarre' to Watch Ariana DeBose Play Anita in West Side Story

·2 min read
Rita Moreno Says It 'Was So Bizarre' to Watch Ariana DeBose Play Anita in West Side Story

Rita Moreno says it was "so bizarre" to watch Ariana DeBose bring new life to the character of Anita, 60 years after she won an Oscar for the same role in West Side Story.

In a PEOPLE exclusive clip of tonight's NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Moreno and DeBose both sat down with Lester Holt ahead of the film's debut in theaters this Friday.

"She is a beautiful Anita in the movie," says Moreno in the clip, above. "It was so bizarre because suddenly I was playing another role and she was playing Anita."

When Holt asked DeBose, 30, if she was in "awe" of Moreno, 89, she said, "Oh, absolutely."

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

"She means a lot to me. She means a lot to the Puerto Rican community, to the Latino community at large, and to the entertainment industry at large," DeBose continued.

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

The actress, who has also starred in The Prom and Hamilton, said she didn't try to play Moreno's version of Anita in the new Steven Spielberg reimagining of the iconic musical.

Ariana DeBose, Rita Moreno
Ariana DeBose, Rita Moreno

NBC Ariana DeBose and Rita Moreno

"I was very adamant that whatever interpretation I delivered for this performance was massively different," she said. "But by virtue of being a black woman that makes it a different portrayal."

Earlier this month, Moreno 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 said. And their raves are being echoed by reviewers and audiences alike.

In November, DeBose revealed that Moreno had offered her a tip for portraying Anita, saying, "She told me, 'Niña, I'll tell you anything you want to know.'"

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

ariana debose
ariana debose

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

"She empowered me, encouraged me to do my own thing," DeBose said. "She did tell me one note, but I won't tell you what it was."

DeBose did say, "She said, 'I think there's more power in a different delivery,'" adding, "I took the note, it was a good note."

More of Moreno and DeBose's interview will air tonight on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting