In conversation with Ariana DeBose, Oscar winner and Omega ambassadorZach Blass
The 2023 Academy Awards was held this past weekend, but just prior to the ceremonies I flew out to California to join Omega for a pre-Oscars celebratory dinner for one of their latest ambassadors Ariana DeBose, who won the Oscar for best supporting actress last year for her portrayal of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. For those unfamiliar, Ariana is a bold and multi-faceted performer who began dancing when she was only three years old and notably was among the original cast of the acclaimed theatrical production Hamilton. Since then, her IMDB page has begun to grow, with roles in Netflix’s The Prom, Apple’s Schmigadoon!, HBO’s Westworld, and, of course, West Side Story. While already a celebrated performer, this looks to be just the beginning for Ariana and a perfect time for Omega to partner with her as her career rockets into the stratosphere.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Ariana, where, in a bit of an experiment, I attempted to join the world of watches with the world of theatre and acting – drawing parallels I feel many of us all, whether collector or performer, can relate to. Below you can find our conversation in full.
Zach Blass: One major theme in the world of watchmaking is the idea of preserving an iconic model but updating it in some way to create new, exciting products. As an actor, you stepped into the role of Anita in West Side Story, a very famous role formerly played by Rita Moreno who was also in your film. So you had to honour the role, in front of Rita no less, while also putting your own stamp on it. What was your approach?
Ariana DeBose: I knew going in that what Rita Moreno had done was so iconic and there was no reason to go in and try and completely duplicate what she’d already created, because that would do a disservice, not only to the role, but to me. We’re both Latinas, but we’re two very different Latinas as well. And so I saw an opportunity to go in and say, “I can bring a similar fire. I can honour how authentic she was.” Because Rita’s portrayal is nothing but truth and she danced with such gorgeous abandon. I was like: “I can bring those qualities to it.” And then as an Afro-Latina, we can talk about different things. And that will allow these two portrayals to stand on their own, and also be in conversation with each other. That’s what my goal was.
Zach Blass: In the watch world, we also celebrate the idea of firsts and it’s my understanding that you have quite a badge of honour when it comes to trailblazing. How did you feel when you became the first openly queer Afro-Latina to win an Academy Award? Was it just pure joy, or was there sort of an asterisk on in it, like “It’s about damn time”?
Ariana DeBose: I mean, yes and no and to both of those things. I think in the moment, I was so floored that they said my name and I could feel the energy not only from the room, but also from my communities. But, yes, it was about time, because the interesting thing about Hollywood, it’s like, I’m probably not the only queer person to have won an Oscar, but we’re finally living in a time where we can be out and proud of who we are, and still maintain our ability to work. Then as far as Afro-Latinas, it’s like: “Oh my God, you’re finally acknowledging that we exist? This is amazing.” So I could feel all of that energy, and also realise that this moment wasn’t just for me. It was for everyone, in that way.
What I thought was so special is, I had people rally around me to help me to mark that event in such a beautiful way. My Omega family was there through the whole thing. And it’s like when you have not only your communities, but also brands who are championing diversity and championing the inclusion of an entire people that have never really got the opportunity to be seen in this way, stand by you, that’s part of what made it so special.
Zach Blass: So it was a huge milestone for you. In terms of milestones, people often buy watches to celebrate a communion, graduation, 25 years of service at work – all these different kinds of milestones. Is there any watch for you that you tie to a specific milestone in your life? Where you look at the watch and you go, “Oh, I remember exactly what I was doing when I first wore it or when I was wearing it?”
Ariana DeBose: The watch I wore when I won my Academy Award. It was an Omega watch in the Constellation line in stainless steel with a diamond bezel and diamond indices on its aventurine dial. And I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And it marked that moment with all of the elegance and magnitude that the moment required and deserved. Because time, I swear to you, time is our most valuable possession, our most valuable currency. And when you’re wearing that piece, it’s like, “I will never forget that”, due to the craftsmanship, the weight of the piece and how it roots you to the ground.
Zach Blass: How do you feel when you wear an Omega watch.
Ariana DeBose: When I wear an Omega watch, I feel alive and very present. I think about my grandparents and my great-grandparents when I was growing up, it was a symbol of adulthood to have a timepiece that marked your day.
Zach Blass: Growing up, did you wear a watch at all?
Ariana DeBose: No. I didn’t. Because I didn’t feel adult enough for it. But when I turned 21, my best friend gifted me a watch. She was like, “You’re becoming an adult now. You need to have a nice timepiece that you wear for nice events.” And I still have that piece. It certainly was not Omega, but at the time, it was something that I was like, “This is the nicest thing that I have.” That was a milestone watch.
Zach Blass: So what’s next in the world of Ariana DeBose? Where can people find you next?
Ariana DeBose: Oh, well, in the immediate, Schmigadoon season two is coming out. I believe that’s April 5, Apple TV Plus. And then I’ve got quite a few projects coming out in the fall, which I’m very excited about. One of them that I’m most thrilled about is when I voice Asha in Disney’s Wish, which celebrates 100 years of animation. And I think we’ve created a character that will be a really good example for young women and girls. She’s sort of created in my image and I never thought I’d get something like that. I’m also very excited I’m playing Calypso in Kraven the Hunter for Sony and Marvel. Then I also play a chef in House of Spoils, which is in partnership with Blumhouse and Amazon Prime. So what makes the fall very interesting is that I’m doing very diverse things.
Zach Blass: Yeah. It’s a whole rainbow of different roles and categories. Russell Crowe has told Time+Tide about how, after every movie he does, he buys a watch and engraves the back to mark it. Is that something that you think that you’d want to look into, potentially?
Ariana DeBose: I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s a good idea. That is a really good idea! That is so smart. Okay, fine. I’ll join the club. Look what you did, Zach!