Rachel Zegler doesn’t feel the need to speak for her “West Side Story” co-star Ansel Elgort.
In an interview with Elle published Tuesday, the Golden Globe-winning actress reflected on “a roundtable conversation” with co-stars Ariana DeBose and Rita Moreno during the press tour for the Steven Spielberg-directed musical. Zegler said the women were asked about Elgort, who had been accused of sexual assault in June 2020.
Zegler said she doesn’t understand why she and her female co-stars were asked to answer for Elgort’s actions when the actor also participated in the film’s press tour.
“It was a real gut punch, honestly,” Zegler recalled. “I reverted back to this brain space I was 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.”
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She continued: “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.”
The Twitter user @Itsgabby, whose name on the platform is simply “gabby,” alleged at the time that Elgort sexually assaulted her days after she turned 17. The actor was in his twenties at the time, she said.
Elgort immediately denied the accusations, writing in a June 2020 Instagram post that Gabby’s “description of events is simply not what happened” and that he was “distressed to see the social media posts” about him.
“I have never and would never assault anyone,” Elgort wrote. “What is true is that in New York in 2014, when I was 20, Gabby and I had a brief, legal and entirely consensual relationship. Unfortunately, I did not handle the breakup well. I stopped responding to her, which is an immature and cruel thing to do to someone. I know this belated apology does not complete me of my unacceptable behavior when I disappeared.”
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Zegler said that while she “cannot imagine” what Elgort’s alleged accuser has experienced, she doesn’t “have anything to do with this conversation, and I’m looking forward to moving past it.”
“(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,” Zegler said. “It is so wildly disappointing at every turn, no matter how you slice it.”
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Zegler added: “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.”
The 20-year-old actress said she remains optimistic about the future of navigating the pitfalls of the entertainment industry, citing inspiration from the “Cabaret” song “What Would You Do?”
“If you’re faced with something that seems absolutely impossible, like being held to impossible standards as a young woman in Hollywood who is just starting out and cannot risk to ruin her career before it’s even begun, what would you do?” Zegler said.
“I have to think people would make the same decision I did or they wouldn’t, and they would also get the horrible comments that I get, or the horrible backlash that I get for breathing sometimes” she added. “You have to know you’re doing the best thing you possibly can to preserve yourself. … You can only hope that it’ll get easier, and get better, and get bigger and brighter.”
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Contributing: Charles Trepany
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rachel Zegler speaks out on being asked about Ansel Elgort controversy