When Paloma Garcia-Lee was cast as Graziella in Steven Spielberg's 2021 remake of the 1961 musical West Side Story, she had to pinch herself.
"West Side Story is the gift that will keep on giving in my life. I don’t know how to describe it other than life changing. It was one of the most transformative summers of my life working with that team and that cast, and it has completely changed the trajectory of my career and opened my eyes to so many new artistic endeavors that I am now experiencing the beginnings of!" the actress, who spoke about her cocktail essentials, RTD Brand Crafthouse Cocktails, exclusively tells Morning Honey.
The blonde beauty admits being in the presence of Spielberg was a dream come true.
"He is the GOAT. He is a leader, a visionary, a force. To work with him, to be on his set, to be a part of the Amblin family is an honor and a treasure. I carry the lessons he has taught me and words he has shared and passion he shared with me each and every day. There are countless stories from the set, but I think the truth of the matter is for all of us on that project — it changed us forever and the gratitude and the experience was like nothing else we have ever encountered," she shares. "But truly Steven is the most generous, incredible director and watching someone use their genius and their power for such good on this earth is so inspiring."
Since Garcia-Lee has "dedicated" her entire life to the arts since she was a kid, starring in a big production like West Side Story was "always the dram and the plan."
"It's what I have worked so hard for. So, there is immense gratitude in moments where the YES comes through — when I get the job, when I get the TV show, and this being my first film — for it to be one of this magnitude is just incredible," she gushes. "I felt a deep alignment when I read they were remaking the film, when I got the audition and when I got the job. That sort of alignment, when it happens is one of the best feelings as an artist."
Growing up, Garcia-Lee was intrigued by acting, and by 10 years old, she was adamant on making it in showbiz.
"That seems young to know what you want to do, but in the arts the work starts young, especially since I started primarily focused on ballet, then acting, then broadway, then TV and now film," she says. "But especially with ballet, you have to know so young and train so hard when you are young because those careers start in your teens and so there is a real pressure to commit to your craft as a child, which I did."
The Fosse/Verdon alum is "so proud" to be a triple threat, as she sings, dances and acts.
"It's been my job to be one since I made my Broadway debut at 17 years old. I also went to boarding school to devote myself to being an artist when I was 14 years old. This career requires so much dedication, sacrifice, work and so much work that no one even sees — the hours in class, training, auditioning, honing the craft," she admits. "And to be able to say that I professionally dance, sing and act is something I am so deeply proud of. This career is insanely difficult, unstable, not linear, and requires daily trust and faith and dedication. It's the hardest and most rewarding thing I can fathom doing."
Despite the ups and downs, Garcia-Lee couldn't picture herself doing anything else. "Every single artistic experience has been its own beautiful journey in my life, and it has shaped me into who I am today. In this career, it is my life, every moment of my life mostly has revolved around art, and I'm so grateful for the woman it has made me and continues to shape me into. I am so proud to be an artist and to daily be chasing my biggest and wildest dreams," she declares.
"I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the art I want to make and the impact I want to have and the people I want to work with," she adds. "The lists are so long, and I have so much ahead of me I am working towards right now. I am doing my utmost to enjoy every step of the journey towards the next goals. The great thing about art is I'm never sure that we 'make it.' There is always something else to explore and the dreams just keep growing and expanding."
For instance, Garcia-Lee now wants to focus on film and TV in this next chapter of her career. "After 14 years straight on Broadway and having built so many incredible relationships and connections in New York, I am putting in the ground work in L.A. and really allowing my dreams to be bigger than ever in what I am going after. It's hard work, but I have already seen in my life what happens when the hard work pays off, so I am inspired and grinding and working on myself in bigger ways than I ever have before," she says.
When Garcia-Lee has some downtime, she loves winding down with RTD brand Crafthouse Cocktails.
"I love having cans of every cocktail — especially the tequila based ones — at the ready at home for me to enjoy or share with a friend. I also keep a collection of things to garnish with lemons, limes, oranges, Tajin, salt etc.! I, of course, have an almost fully stocked bar at home as well, but I find myself reaching for my Crafthouse drinks more often than anything else. The Spicy or Smoky Marg are my absolute favorites. Followed by my namesake drink, the Paloma!" she shares.
She adds, "For me, my love of cocktails has always been about the experience surrounding them and the experience of encountering what I would call liquid artistry. I love the conversation that happens over candlelight and a good drink. I love unwinding with one at home after a long day. I love being surprised by a cocktail and that moment when you take your first sip after a meaningful cheers — never skip the opportunity for a good and meaningful cheers! When the flavors and textures hit your lips, that moment is just divine. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good cocktail bar, and now to be able to have access to that experience with so much ease — and in any location with Crafthouse — is pretty special."