Rachel Zegler says constantly being asked about Ansel Elgort's sexual assault allegations was a "gut punch"

20 April 2022, 12:39 | Updated: 20 April 2022, 12:51

Jazmin Duribe

By Jazmin Duribe

"[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."

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Rachel Zegler has opened up about how being questioned about her co-star Ansel Elgort's sexual assault allegations throughout the West Side Story press tour affected her.

In June 2020, Ansel was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl when he was 20 in a Twitter post. The actor denied the allegation in a now-deleted Instagram post and stated that he and the woman had a "brief, legal and entirely consensual relationship".

Rachel, who played Maria, starred opposite Ansel, who played Tony, in Steven Spielberg's 2021 adaptation of West Side Story. Along with her co-stars Ariana DeBose and Rita Moreno, she was often asked to address the allegations against Ansel in promotional interviews (West Side Story had actually wrapped filming by the time the allegations became public).

READ MORE: Rachel Zegler responds to racist backlash she received after being cast as Snow White

Rachel Zegler starred opposite Ansel Elgort in 2021's West Side Story
Rachel Zegler starred opposite Ansel Elgort in 2021's West Side Story. Picture: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Alamy

Ansel was at times absent during the press tour and the men starring in the film, and the director himself, were rarely questioned. But Rachel noticed how the women in the movie were often expected to respond "even though the person in question was present".

Speaking about being made to answer for Ansel in a new interview with Elle, Rachel said: "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."

West Side Story (2021)
West Side Story (2021). Picture: 20th Century Studios

Rachel noted that it was unfair she was held accountable for her coworker's alleged actions. She added: "[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 realising 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."

Rachel concluded: "I really don’t have anything to do with this conversation, and I’m looking forward to moving past it."

If you, or someone you know, is a survivor of sexual assault, the following organisations may be able to help.

NHS, for help after rape and sexual assault (UK): https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/help-after-rape-and-sexual-assault/

RAINN (USA): https://www.rainn.org/

Samaritans – https://www.samaritans.org/

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