Mike Faist on the role of Riff in 'West Side Story'

“Jet Song” is one of Riff’s iconic numbers. What did that mean to you, especially as portrayed in this version of the movie? Where we s...


“Jet Song” is one of Riff’s iconic numbers. What did that mean to you, especially as portrayed in this version of the movie?

Where we start with the Jets, they are on the verge of destruction. They are done but they don’t realize it yet. They say, “When you are a Jet, you remain a Jet” – on top of a mound of rubble.

Did you feel particularly connected to the other actors who played your fellow Jets?

I felt it was my personal obligation that we become a tribe. After the first day of rehearsal, we all went to the bar down the street. Without Baby John [the young gang member, played by Patrick Higgins], because he’s not old enough. [Laughs.] And I said, “Look, this one’s ours. This is our story and this is our version. You are one of them. I handed in homework; “Jet-activities” is what I called them. And whatever it was, we all had to do it. We did a whole lot of shenanigans that summer.

Are there topics you can safely discuss?

We went to upstate New York and bought a full arsenal of Nerf guns. There’s a video of us setting up this relay race in a house, having to film all those red plastic Solo cups from different angles. We made LARP. It’s brutal, man. It looks like something totally cheesy, but then you’re there and you get tackled by someone and shot in the private areas by arrows. We played laser tag once. I wanted them to feel like they were part of something bigger. That way, when the cameras were rolling, they were right there.

Have you had the opportunity to chat with Russ Tamblyn, who played Riff in the original film?

He came to sit down and spent a day. He told us anecdotes, what the experience was like for him. But in terms of my approach to work, I’m not Russ Tamblyn. Only Russ Tamblyn is Russ Tamblyn. I cannot try to imitate or imitate what he does. And I didn’t want to. I think it would have done a disservice to try to incorporate it. It would have been an insult to what he brought.

The release of the new film has been delayed for a year due to the pandemic. How did you feel when you heard it was being postponed?

In fact, I was relieved. Steven and I had a phone conversation last year, around September, while they were deciding if they were going to release the movie. At the time, I told him that if no one ever saw this movie, it wouldn’t change a thing for me. The experience of making the film was everything. I thought so, but I’m an idiot and I’m taking it all off now. Because if we’re going to show it, you want people to see it. After seeing the movie at the New York premiere, I bumped into Steven in the lobby. And I told him, I was able to relive the experience of making the film. I think when people see this we give them a taste of it. I think this film is a real testament to the importance of a theatrical experience.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Mike Faist on the role of Riff in 'West Side Story'
Mike Faist on the role of Riff in 'West Side Story'
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