From Broadway to the military to studies in philosophy, David Alvarez couldn’t pass up the role of his life.

Adam Driver may be the most notable former Marine to win an Oscar nomination, but David Alvarez could be the first Tony-turned-Foot-soldier winner to catch one. In the revealing remake of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”, a production that both defends itself while honoring the accomplishments of its predecessor, the actor and dancer brings Bernardo’s character back to life. Trained as a ballet dancer before becoming one of the youngest to win a Tony for Best Actor for his performance in “Billy Elliot the Musical” on Broadway, Alvarez had practically quit show business when he received the call to audition for Bernardo.

After seeing the revival of Broadway in 2009, directed by Arthur Laurents and featuring lyrics translated into Spanish by Lin-Manuel Miranda, he dreamed of doing the show. “I was so in love with the sound, the music, the characters and the Shakespearean essence. And I just remember getting out of there and thinking that maybe someday I would love to be in ‘West Side Story’, ”Alvarez said in a recent phone interview. He was hiking in Mexico when he got a call from Cindy Tolan, the casting director who remembered seeing him in “Billy Elliot”.

“I wasn’t really taking any projects. I had quit the business genre. I was focused on my philosophy degree and my personal development. But when I found out that Steven Spielberg was doing ‘West Side Story’… I was really inspired, ”he said. “So it kind of took that to bring me back to the business, besides working with Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, Rita Moreno. All these legends, how could you refuse that?

Aided by Kushner’s brilliantly updated script, the “West Side Story” racial commentary comes to the fore where it belongs, underscoring the boldness of the 1961 original while also bringing its urgent social message into the 21st century. Where Tony and Maria’s ill-fated love story was once a gentle plea for tolerance, Kushner’s new “West Side Story” is an incendiary denunciation of the brazen racism and bigotry that has unleashed itself since the election of Kushner. Donald Trump in 2016. Kushner added a role for Moreno by transforming the character of Doc into his widow, Valentina, thereby adding another Puerto Rican character. Careful not to change the original to the point of being unrecognizable, Kushner also reinforced existing Puerto Rican characters, starting with more screen time for the beloved supporting couple – Bernardo and Anita.

Paloma Garcia-Lee as Graziella, Mike Faist as Riff, David Alvarez as Bernardo and Ariana DeBose as Anita in WEST SIDE STORY by 20th Century Studios.  Photo by Niko Tavernise.  © 2021 20th Century Studios.  All rights reserved.

“West Side Story”

Niko tavern

“It’s a very passionate relationship. [Ariana DeBose and I] agreed that Anita and Bernardo are passionate people, so this love is going to manifest passionately. They are very strong people, ”said Alvarez.

The 2021 film spends more time with Maria, Anita, and Bernardo at home, showing their domestic life, the couple’s intimacy, and familiar family feuds. They emerge as a tight-knit trio, bringing the three relationships to the fore in a way that underscores the dramatic conflict and eventual tragic end.

“You get more depth of character. You understand why these characters do what they do. And you better understand the relationship between Bernardo and Maria and Anita. You see this family dynamic. It was a chance to humanize these characters even more, ”he said. “Everyone has a different point of view and you understand all points of view from their point of view. There is no such thing as a bad person, there is no such thing as a good person, everyone is just trying to figure out how they fit into this world. And how they can try to understand each other in the face of fear.

Besides being a phenomenal dancer, Alvarez proves his acting prowess in a hard-hitting monologue during the growl, where he accuses Tony of using Maria to make himself feel better. It’s brilliant writing that adds depth to Bernardo, revealing more nuanced motivations than “overprotective older brother”.

“I don’t think he deserves my sister. My problem with him is that in my head he uses my sister. And that’s why I can’t understand the love they have, ”Alvarez said. “One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Chino says, ‘Bernardo was a fool’, because I 100% agree with that. Bernardo was a total fool. He let that anger control him until ‘to his death, until the end of what he built with Anita, until the end of seeing his sister grow up. So that everything comes together at the end where he realizes:’ Oh, I ‘ lost everything. And it was my fault. I ended up here.

Whether or not Oscar voters choose to recognize Alvarez, there’s no doubt Hollywood will. The actor has remained silent on all current projects, preferring to consider completing his philosophy degree.

“I would love to continue playing, but I have to be passionate about it. I have to take inspiration from it or I just prefer to do something else, to be honest, ”he said. “So I’m going to take it one step at a time. If it’s meant to be, the right roles will come my way, and I would love to portray other things. But if not, I wouldn’t mind finishing my degree to become a professor of philosophy or something like that.

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