Whether It's Makeup or Movie Roles, Rachel Zegler Is Ready to Try Something New


Rachel Zegler is like any other 20-something—feeling homesick about living alone for the first time, navigating the early steps in her burgeoning career, and getting emotional about her hopes and dreams while lounging on her friends’ couches. But in Zegler’s case, living away from home means moving to far-flung places like England and Poland, her career involves shooting major motion pictures like Shazam! Fury of the Gods and The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and the couches that she’s lying on belong to other promising young stars. 

All of these cornerstones of growing up came to a head when Zegler was living in Atlanta between filming Shazam and auditioning for Disney’s Snow White. "I was lying on the couch at Noah Centineo’s house—Noah is one of my best friends in the whole world—and I started crying,” says Zegler. "I was like, ‘I just want to be able to take my parents to Disney whenever they want to go.’” After being cast in the live-action remake of Snow White in "the titular role" (she says this to me in such an exaggerated way that I infer it can only be meant as a Lady Bird reference), Zegler can finally do just that.


(Image credit: Christine Hahn; Styling: ACNE Studios tunic and pants; Anne Sisteron earring; Repossi rings)

As I come to find out, Zegler has long been a Disney devotee, so being able to take her parents to Disney World at the drop of a hat feels like the perfect success metric for someone who is really just a fan at her core. Growing up, her favorite princess was Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but she also remembers snagging the Hunger Games books from her school’s Scholastic Book Fairs and lining up outside movie theaters to see the films as soon as she could. "I wasn’t going to midnight screenings yet because I was a bit young to be out so late, but I was going Sunday morning,” she says. "Obsessed, absolutely obsessed.”

Now, Zegler is immersed in universes that have their own devoted followers. She made her film debut playing Maria in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated rendition of West Side Story. She’s playing Anthea in this month’s DC action flick Shazam! Fury of the Gods. She’s tackling the role of Lucy Gray Baird in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which debuts in November. And of course, there’s Snow White, which is set to be released in March 2024.

When Zegler was cast as Maria in early 2019, she soared from "theater kid who auditioned via Twitter” to a name that even your parents might recognize. Zegler owes her rise to Spielberg, who she says believed in her when no one else did. "The fact that I was given such a platform for my first film out the gate is really unheard of,” says Zegler. "It’s such a Cinderella story that you don’t really hear about anymore. It’s such an Old Hollywood trope—something that you see in movies like Singing in the Rain, not in real life.”

Her role as Maria defined the kind of actor you’d assume Zegler to be: theatrical, musically inclined, and, to borrow her own phrase, "a Broadway baby.” Now, as she figures out her own wingspan, she’s flocking to characters that challenge her image. Anthea from Shazam! is a particularly sharp departure from the roles we’ve come to expect from Zegler. Not only does the film fall squarely in the action realm, but Anthea is also a different type of character than Zegler is used to portraying. "A lot of the characters I’ve played before have a wonderful arc, but they’re a bit straightforward,” she says. "With Anthea, it’s a bit more complicated because she’s lived in the shadow of her sisters for X amount of years. … I’ve just really loved playing her because she was way more layered than I even expected her to be.” 


(Image credit: Christine Hahn; Styling: Christopher Kane dress; Spinelli Kilcollin ear cuff and earring; Anita Ko earring and ring; Eva Fehren earring)

The sisters in question are played by Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren. "Ever heard of them?” Zegler quips as we banter back and forth about what it’s like to work alongside such little-known actors. Of course, in reality, it’s tough to find a more star-powered cast than one that includes both Mirren and Liu. Zegler’s early career has put her name on track to becoming just as ear perking thanks to the big-name projects she has in the works. 

For instance, few series are quite as recognizable to younger generations as the Hunger Games. As a fan herself, Zegler has the opportunity of every fan’s dreams to be immersed into Panem. Zegler’s sister and mother insisted that she play Lucy after they read the book, but Zegler wasn’t convinced until she read it herself. During a meeting with director Francis Lawrence, Zegler was all in. Then, when she was offered the part, something curious happened: She said no. 

Why would Zegler turn down a part she felt such a strong pull to? 

The answer is pretty simple—the film was shooting in Poland. 

With so many accomplishments already under her belt and on their way, it’s easy to forget that the actor is just 21 years old. For Zegler, living away from her native New Jersey is arguably even more isolating than the experiences of most college-aged kids due to things like European time zones, language barriers, and culture shock. After wrapping Snow White in England, Zegler was hesitant to take on a new project in yet another foreign country. "You’re so used to a certain way of life,” Zegler says. "It sounds so silly when you talk about it to other people. You’re like, ‘I don’t know any of these brands. I don't know any of these… anything. These grocery stores are so different.’ And it’s London. I was having a really hard time.”

She immediately regretted turning down the role. A couple of months passed, another project fell through, and Zegler found herself with a new zeal for adventure. Her agent called Lionsgate, and the part was hers. 


(Image credit: Christine Hahn; Styling: Miaou top and dress; Puppets and Puppets coat; Eva Fehren earrings and rings

As a Hunger Games fan, Zegler seems just as excited for the finished movie as she is for the role. "If I were sitting at home, having read Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I would be so thankful that, 13 years later, I’m still getting a new Hunger Games movie,” she says. "No matter what they do with it, I’m just gonna love it.”

That’s how Zegler feels with Snow White too—her mother’s favorite Disney movie. Considering her closeness to her mom, there’s no world where she wouldn’t audition for the role. Now when Zegler goes to Disney World, she’s overcome with emotion seeing little kids dressed as Snow White. In fact, she can’t help but burst into tears when she spots them. In very "mirror, mirror on the wall” fashion, when Zegler looks at the children so connected to Snow White that they want to embody the fictional princess, she sees herself reflected back to her. Zegler was that kid. "I was just a kid who was singing at people’s weddings to make money,” she says. "Your dreams are so possible, and you don’t even know that they are. You have no idea what you’re manifesting in your childhood. My message has always been kindness first, and that is something that Snow White was really a beacon of when the cartoon first came out.” 

As Snow White once said, "Remember, you are the one who can fill the world with sunshine.”


(Image credit: Christine Hahn; Styling: Sportmax top and skirt; Jenny Bird ear cuff; Spinelli Kilcollin ring)

Zegler taking on the role of Disney’s kindest princess certainly is kismet at its finest, and this felt particularly true when I met her in person during our cover shoot. Zegler has golden-retriever energy. She makes a point of introducing herself to everyone around her, she cracks jokes with the crew, she tosses compliments around like Frisbees, yet somehow, none of it feels fake or forced. She seamlessly shape-shifts—chatting with a crew member about their birthday plans at one moment and filming a TikTok the next. 

She also embraced each otherworldly beauty look our team dreamed up in stride, trying everything from chromatic lips to glittery face gems. "I was living my Euphoria dreams,” Zegler says of the shoot. "I said to [my makeup artist] Kale [Teter] while he was doing it, ‘Is this my Euphoria chic?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing it.’ I was so excited because I don’t have any makeup talent whatsoever. I can just cover up my spots and my dark circles and fill in my eyebrows, and that’s it. So you bet your ass I am not trying Maddy’s looks from Euphoria at home by myself. You may have to call the fire department. I don’t know how something would get caught on fire, but it would.”

For Zegler, beauty means feeling comfortable in her own skin, something the star has had to learn to embrace. As a Colombian American, she’s had to grapple with more identity politics in her roles than most. For some reason, she’s often pegged as either too Latin or not Latin enough, which she’s learned to brush off over the years. 


(Image credit: Christine Hahn; Styling: Miaou top and shorts; Mounser earrings and ring; Spinelli Kilcollin ring)

Zegler has begun to take the same unbothered approach to social media apps like Twitter. "The more you get talked about in a general sense, the more people like to nitpick about every little bit of everything you say or your personality, how you look,” she says. "I don’t want any part of it anymore. I have those conversations enough with myself. We all are insecure beings at the end of the day, even if you think that you’re not, and then somebody will say one thing about your appearance, and you immediately hyper-fixate, and it’s over.” For this reason, Zegler says she’s ready to leave social media. Well, maybe not entirely, but she might not spend much—if any—time on it. 

Instead, Zegler has her sights set on cultivating the relationships that matter to her while blossoming in her career. She’d like to be on Broadway. She’d like to write and direct. She wants to help carve out more space for marginalized groups in Hollywood. And at the end of the day, she just wants to be happy, surrounded with positivity and never forced to question whether she belongs at the table. "I just hope that my imposter syndrome magically goes away,” she jokes. "And in 10 years, [I want to be] super happy and just sitting back with Josh Rivera, looking at the careers that we’ve made for ourselves.” Rivera is her boyfriend, and he happens to star alongside her in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

And what about the wide-eyed child voraciously reading the Hunger Games books from the Scholastic Book Fair, standing in line for movies, and dressing up as her favorite Disney princess? If Zegler could reach through the looking glass, she’d tell her former self to stay true to who she is. She’d tell her that not everyone is her friend, but she can still work to be as kind and loving as possible as she takes flight in the world. Hearing her reflect on this, I can’t help but smile—it’s like talking to Snow White in real life. 


(Image credit: Christine Hahn)

Photographer: Christine Hahn 

Stylist: Sarah Slutsky Tooley at The Wall Group 

Hairstylist: David von Cannon at A-Frame Agency 

Makeup Artist: Kale Teter at The Wall Group

Manicurist: Julie Kandalec at Bryan Bantry Agency 

Set Designer: Javier Irigoyen at Lalaland Artists

Creative Director: Alexa Wiley

Next, Storm Reid Is Still Growing Up (and That's Okay)

Associate Beauty Editor

Katie Berohn is the associate beauty editor at Who What Wear. Previously, she worked as the beauty assistant for Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Prevention magazines, all part of the Hearst Lifestyle Group. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a major in journalism and minor in technology, arts, and media, and earned her master's degree at NYU's graduate program for magazine journalism. In addition, Katie has held editorial internships at Denver Life magazine, Yoga Journal, and Cosmopolitan; a digital editorial internship at New York magazine's The Cut; a social good fellowship at Mashable; and a freelance role at HelloGiggles. When she's not obsessing over the latest skincare launch or continuing her journey to smell every perfume on the planet, Katie can be found taking a hot yoga class, trying everything on the menu at New York's newest restaurant, or hanging out at a trendy wine bar with her friends.