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Steven Spielberg doesn't consider 'West Side Story' a remake of the original movie (exclusive)

Watch: Steven Spielberg discusses his attitude to remakes

Steven Spielberg says he "didn't feel that I was remaking the '61 film" with his version of West Side Story, stating he went back to the original stage musical for inspiration.

The director's take on the classic story, inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, is his first foray into the world of movie musicals.

West Side Story — with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by the late musical theatre icon Stephen Sondheim — was first performed on Broadway in 1957 and subsequently became an Oscar-winning film in 1961.

Read more: 10 best films based on stage musicals

Asked by Yahoo whether making the movie has changed his attitude to remakes, Spielberg joked that "there's some films I'd like to remake of my own".

He added: "I don't consider this a remake of the Robert Wise film."

Steven Spielberg took on his first musical with 'West Side Story'. (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios)
Steven Spielberg took on his first musical with 'West Side Story'. (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios)

Spielberg said he counted the late Wise — director of the original film — as a friend, as well as its producer Walter Mirisch, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday.

"I would never have remade West Side Story had there never been a stage play," he added.

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"Had West Side Story been an original [film] musical, I wouldn't have gone near it. But it has been in the popular cultural vernacular for 64 years since it was first put on the boards in 1957 by Bernstein, Sondheim, [Arthur] Laurents and [Jerome] Robbins.

"Because it's always fluid and in production with different casts and different directors and different interpretations, even though it's the same text, I didn't feel that I was remaking the '61 film. I felt I was reimagining the '57 original show. So I had no guilt about that at all."

Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer played Maria and Tony in the 1961 version of 'West Side Story'. (Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)
Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer played Maria and Tony in the 1961 version of 'West Side Story'. (Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

West Side Story transposes the idea of Romeo and Juliet to 1950s New York City, where the romance between Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) begins.

However, their relationship is doomed due to their associations with rival gangs — the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks.

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One of the decisions Spielberg made for this new version was to have many of the Puerto Rican characters frequently speak in unsubtitled Spanish.

He said that the idea of keeping Spanish and English on an equal footing was a part of he and screenwriter Tony Kushner's approach from the start.

"They would so quickly go back and forth between Spanish and English, which is the natural thing to do," said Spielberg.

Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort play Maria and Tony in the new take on 'West Side Story'. (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios)
Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort play Maria and Tony in the new take on 'West Side Story'. (Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios)

The director added: "It was very important to us to respect the Spanish language, which is America's second language, by not using subtitles which would have made English the dominant language and would've been out of balance with how equally we were trying to portray both the Puerto Rican characters and the American white characters."

Read more: Best musicals to stream after you've seen Hamilton

The cast for this new film also includes Hamilton star Ariana DeBose, Mike Faist, Corey Stoll and Rita Moreno, who played the role of Anita in the 1961 film.

West Side Story is in UK cinemas from 10 December.

Watch: Trailer for Steven Spielberg's take on West Side Story