Paloma Garcia-Lee stars as Graziella in the heart felt, visually outstanding musical, “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg. Grab your tickets ASAP. Paloma is a triple threat shimmering talent with a heart to match. We were blown away by her warm energy and positive vibes on our shoot in Brooklyn recently. The role of Graziella was a dream come true for Paloma. Her powerful presence is not to be missed. Besides dancing, singing and acting she likes to write…which you will see in her wonderful interview below. She describes her first moments on set, working with Steven Spielberg, the WSS cast, costumes, tips on getting the perfect cat eye and of course her bare essentials. We predict many more of Paloma’s dreams will be coming true — watch, listen and scroll down!
The Bare Magazine: What are your fondest memories of working on West Side Story?
Paloma Garcia Lee: There are too many to count. I think the final callback day was one I will never forget. The energy in the room was palpable. We were all so keenly aware of the magic, the potential, the closeness of it all. Many of us knew each other and had worked together before so there was also a deep sense of camaraderie and support. I remember the camera crew there that day, I remember Steven Spielberg and Justin Peck and Tony Kushner and Cindy Tolan, the casting director, sitting in the front of the room and I just remember closing my eyes multiple times and just feeling so at ease and so authentically myself. I was filming Fosse/Verdon for FX at the time and had to leave rehearsal that day in midtown to run down to Brooklyn for that final callback. I remember the train ride to and from that callback, I could barely focus for the rest of the day when I got back to rehearsal I was on such a high from the experience.
Another moment I’ll never forget was the first shot of “Dance at the Gym.” It was the first moment of filming that included all of us, every Shark and Jet. I remember the quiet as the music began, each of our hearts beating out of its chest, it was a Gym with no air conditioning and we were already sweating, the music turned on, the cameras were rolling, action was called and we all completely lost our minds, when we heard CUT for the first time we all just geeked out at how amazing the energy was in there that day. That was the thing about this process – it was not lost on anyone how epic it was. We are making West Side Story with Steven Spielberg with the most talented cast, crew and creative team imaginable- every day had a “this is the best day of my life” moment.
Bare: Why do you feel this is a must see on the big screen?
PGL: I am so glad we are doing a theatrical release. This is meant to be an event, an occasion. This is so deeply worthy and calls for a night at the cinema. This story, this cast, this music, this dancing, these performances, the visuals – everything was truly made to be seen on the big screen. Steven Spielberg’s work is meant to be seen on the big screen. The film is extraordinary and to settle into your seat and let this timeless, important, beautiful story just wash over you for two and half hours – it’s a feast for the senses.
Bare: Your background is mostly stage. Did you come away feeling like you want to do more film work after WSS?
PGL: What is beautiful about this moment is behind closed doors I have always wanted to be on the big screen. Ever since I was little it was something I wanted. Life has had an amazing way of guiding me to the right places at the right times and my feature film debut arrives right on time, and a better time than I could have even imagined. How lucky I have been to spend the last decade performing on Broadway and cutting my teeth in the theater. Looking back I would never be ready for this adventure in the way I am now. I step into this new chapter and direction with an abundance of experience and awareness and also overflowing with openness and anticipation and ambition. I carry forward the lessons I learned in the theater and am so ready to dive into this new medium and industry. And my goodness – what an incredible first film to be a part of.
Bare: Do you feel this is a good time to bring this story back and why?
PGL: I think West Side Story is as powerful and important as it has ever been. Timeless is often the word used for the show and I can’t agree more. The forever theme of love knowing no bounds, of resilience in the face of racism and division – these are things we are constantly grappling with and being able to bring this story forward for a new generation, for a new audience is just incredible. The brilliant new script by Tony Kushner is just astounding, his ability to honor the original book and infuse it with so much life and depth and authenticity is so moving. I think we need West Side Story right now. I think we need this film maybe more than we realize. I hope it brings joy and reflection and love and compassion forward. Art has an amazing way of impacting the world around us and I know it changed each of us who made it for the better and I hope each person who sees it might feel the same.
Bare: Let’s chat about some of your favorite costumes/looks in the film – and makeup/hair? Do you think it will influence current fashion?
PGL: Paul Tazewell. He is a genius. His work, across the board is some of my absolute favorite costume design ever. The attention to detail, the research and the accuracy and care put into each and every costume in this film is astounding. Each mood board so detailed and so specific to each of us. My favorite costume has to be my Dance At The Gym Dress. Its astonishing. The color and the way it moves and the detail of the neckline just made me melt the first moment I saw it. It was such a pleasure to wear. It was so very me. It was so very Grazi. It was perfect. Gosh I wish it would influence current fashion. Wait till you see each and every costume in the movie. The perfect balance of historical accuracy and just brilliant craftsmanship and the color palate is to die for.
Bare: Can you share some tips/products on getting your everyday perfect cat-eye?
PGL: Anyone who knows me knows I love a cat-eye. Makeup has always been a part of my life especially being in the arts – I think there is so much power and play in how we can utilize makeup. But for me I have always said if I could only have two things on a deserted island (makeup wise) it would be mascara and eyeliner! I go back and forth on what my favorite liner is but I love a felt tip precision liquid liner, always waterproof. I have almond shaped eyes and for me the key is to go from the corner of my eye and aim for the corner of your brow with my first line, then I go straight from above my pupil on my lid to meet that other line and then tweak and fill in. Top with mascara, and always a little extra in the outer corners, sometimes I line the waterline of the inner corner of my eye for some added drama and voila – a striking look that can be as simple or dramatic as you desire.
Bare: Your hair is such a distinctive part of your look. Are you considering going shorter or playing with color? Do you have any product go-tos that help perfect those curls?
PGL: My hair is a creature unto itself. I always toy with the idea of changing it up. It has become such a part of my identity though that it gets tricky when I actually get to the moment, and usually have opted to keep it. It feels like such a part of me. Being an actor I’m so often in a wig when I am working so I get to try on all these different styles and colors and lengths and time periods. I have very coarse curly hair so I always have to be realistic about what my natural texture is and styles that would look good and be easy for me on the day to day. Some days I want a red short pixie cut, other days I want white blonde curls down to my waist and everything and anything in-between. As for how I maintain my curls I am a diehard DevaCurl Fan. I use their entire line and have loved them for years. I feel their reformulated line-up is so fantastic! I am always interested and open to try new products and especially when it comes to keeping coarser curls moisturized and bouncy and shiny – so if you know anything – slide into the DMs and let a girl know!
Bare: What are your top 5 life’s bare essentials?
PGL: -A good journal. A moleskin hardcover is a must have for me. I am big into journaling and cherish my journal
-Good coffee. I love coffee and there is nothing to me like the ritual of a good cup of coffee in the morning.
-Adventuring. I love adventures. I love discovering. I love traveling. The word adventure truly turns me on in the most beautiful of ways – I am seeking a brilliant, well lived, well loved, well adventured life.
-Love. I love love. I have made it a practice to expand what the word means in my life. I love to love. I love to be loved. I love to love people, places, things, experiences, art, all of it. I just love the feeling of it. Its so rich and nuanced and powerful and mysterious. Has anything felt as blissful or as painful as love? I’m not sure. But I know it’s essential and I know that it’s one of the deep pillars and one of the most important things in my life.
-Brooklyn. This may sound silly but I have fallen madly in love with Brooklyn. Though I am bi-coastal now. I lived on the Upper West Side for 12 years before I moved to Brooklyn. I had never spent much time out there and often didn’t understand the boroughs outside of Manhattan. We actually filmed a lot of West Side Story out there, and during that time I was also falling in love… I was falling in love with so many new things in my life and I suppose Brooklyn has become a sort of – reminder and larger idea to me. It is as much of a state of mind as it is a gorgeous place to experience and live. Its become a reminder to me of the magic of life. A perfect stroll on the promenade on a summer evening, gazing at the brownstones in park slope over a good cup of coffee in the morning, cobble hill in the fall, dancing in Williamsburg on a crisp winter night. Swoon.