Rita Moreno revels in ‘mean snake of a woman’ role in ‘The Prank’

By Thomson Reuters Mar 15, 2024 | 1:18 PM

By Omar Younis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Actress Rita Moreno, flush with first-hand experience, had no problem channeling a hard-as-nails high school physics teacher in the film “The Prank.”

“She is based on all the bitches who were mean to me when I was younger in Hollywood,” said Moreno, who is now 92 years old.

“I thought of all the nasty things that people did to me, not people, women, and I just incorporated that into the character.”

Born in Puerto Rico, Moreno began her career in Hollywood in the 1950s, facing challenges as a Hispanic woman in the industry that she has spoken about. She won her only Oscar in 1962 for playing Anita in “West Side Story.”

In “The Prank,” which opens in theaters on Friday, Moreno plays Mrs. Wheeler, who is falsely accused of murdering a student after a social media prank goes wrong.

Moreno was the first choice of director Maureen Bharoocha, who said she had been wanting to work with her “forever.”

“Maybe this would be enticing because she’s never done this type of movie. So, you know, actors want to work outside the confines of what they usually get to play,” said Bharoocha.

Moreno, one of the few actors to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award – or an EGOT as it is known in the profession – reveled in the challenge.

“I loved playing this mean snake of a woman. It’s just such a great change. I mean, anything goes,” Moreno said.

And she loved imbuing her character with “awful taste,” including a silver bob hairstyle with super short bangs and clothing found at the Goodwill store.

During the shoot, Moreno said she would tell Bharoocha that she had thought of something really awful and ask if it was too much.

“No, keep going. Go further. Let’s see how nasty she can be,” Bharoocha said.

(Reporting by Omar Younis; Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Richard Chang)