West Side Story Star Explains Why 'Cool' Was Changed In Spielberg's Movie [Exclusive]

In the 1961 film adaptation of "West Side Story," there's a song entitled "Cool" wherein Ice, played by Tucker Smith, sings, "You want to live in this lousy world? Play it cool." That's good advice for the here and now of 2021, where we're winding down another tough year and maybe looking to movies like Steven Spielberg's new adaptation of "West Side Story" for a little comfort and escape from the ongoing challenges of the real world.

The thing is, Ice is a character who was created specifically for the 1961 film. He didn't exist in the original 1957 Broadway musical. The character is a member of the Jets street gang and serves as a lieutenant to its leader, Riff, who is played by Mike Faist in Spielberg's update of "West Side Story." This new film, which is in theaters this weekend, goes a different route with "Cool," with Riff himself singing it along with his friend and fellow Jet, Tony (Ansel Elgort).

When /Film's own Jenna Busch interviewed Faist, she asked him about the changes made to "Cool," and how he, Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and company approached shooting that number. Faist said:

"Initially when Tony and Steven were talking about making this movie, they wanted to shoot in the original Broadway order of the songs. So they went back to the 1957 order of those songs, and I believe that in the stage version of the show, 'Cool' is a number sung by Riff to the Jets as a way to calm their nerves going into the rumble. Or talking to the cops about what's going on. It's probably a mixture of both."

'To Expand the Storyline Between Tony and Riff'

Faist continued:

"In this version, we really wanted to expand the storyline between Tony and Riff, and Tony being this guy who comes from this tribe, and wanting to actively be different, wanting to change, wanting to be better than who he was. And Riff's inability to see that, accept that, or want that, selfishly. So 'Cool' became, in this version, that story arc. That A to B to C of, 'Here's this friendship, what was. Here's where it is. And here's where it's going.' It's them breaking up, letting go of each other, and just the betrayal of the both of them and how they feel with each other."

You can hear the smooth new version of "Cool," sung by Faist and Elgort, on the official DisneyMusicVEVO channel on YouTube. Above, you can also see the 1961 version of "Cool," which shows how Ice and the Jets work out their aggressions by singing and dancing and playing it cool.

If you're new to "West Side Story," it might be funny to see these supposed gang members suddenly break out in song and dance, lifting their arms in flamboyant gestures and showing off their twinkletoes. But this is Broadway, after all, so we get quotable lines like:

"Got a rocket in your pocket? Get cool, boy."

"I want to get even!"

"Get cool!"

"Boy, boy, crazy boy, get cool, boy."

"West Side Story" is in theaters now.