Recently, BAFTA hosted a session for the nominees of the Supporting Actor category; the session was a vertical event, with Ciarán Hinds (Belfast), Troy Kotsur (CODA), Woody Norman (C’mon C’mon), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog), and Mike Faist (West Side Story) speaking. 

The EE BAFTA Film Awards will take place on Sunday March 13th at the Royal Albert Hall; the event will be hosted by Rebel Wilson, and broadcast on BBC One, BBC One HD and BBC iPlayer at 7:00pm GMT. 

Mike Faist as Riff in West Side Story / Picture Credit: 20th Century Studios
Mike Faist as Riff in West Side Story / Picture Credit: 20th Century Studios

Mike Faist is an American actor who starred as Riff in last year’s (2021) version of the classic tale, West Side Story. The film follows Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), two young lovers whose romance sparks a war between two rival gangs in New York, the Jets and the Sharks. 

Faist spoke to BAFTA about his audition process, creating a character from an already well-established reference point, and what working with a diverse cast meant to him. 

The actor commented on how the auditions worked, stating that “it was a little long,” which would perhaps be an understatement as it took Faist “over the course of a full year” to get the role. 

“They kept throwing out, you know little bread crumbs, inching me closer and closer along the process, until finally, you know, they asked me if I would come in and dance with everyone.” 

Faist recalls asking his agent “’do I have to?’ And they said 'this is West Side Story, yes, you idiot. You would have to do that.'” 

West Side Story is a classic that almost everyone knows well, including Faist, of course, who claimed that “we wanted to try to reimagine and bring what we had to offer to it. 

“So for me, it really was these Bruce Davidson photos of the Brooklyn Gang series that he did out here in Brooklyn in like the ‘50s in this photo book... It's just what worked for me, you know?"

The actor explained how he used the photo book to "really find those guys and see those people for who they were and what they were about and what their lives were and their nihilism and their inability to see past tomorrow and their love for life...” 

One major theme in 2021’s West Side Story is how diverse the cast is; there were all kinds of actors involved with the project, which was a source of pride for cast, crew, and audiences. 

Faist spoke about how “every single day was just a joy to work on set,” and how, despite being on the clock, “none of it, not a single day of it, felt like work.” 

“We all loved each other. We had the best time and we all fed off of each other’s energy and it was so different from, you know many other West Side Story productions in the past where you'd have the opposition purposefully staying away from each other and instead it was quite the opposite.” 

It’s always great to know that the actors behind some of the most popular movies get along behind the scenes, which was definitely the case for Faist and his co-stars. 

Finally, Faist admitted that “We bonded and our love for what we were doing and what we were trying to say brought us closer together.” 

West Side Story can be watched on Disney+, and also stars Maddie Ziegler, Ariana DeBose, and David Alvarez. 

Watch the trailer for West Side Story below:

Written by Melissa, who you can follow on Twitter @melissajournal

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