Rita Moreno Reflects on Her Illustrious Career and the Wildest Rumor She's Heard About Herself (Exclusive)

The 92-year-old icon also opened up to ET about her touching moment presenting at the Oscars.

Rita Moreno and other Oscar winners returned to the awards season stage at the 96th Academy Awards earlier this month, presenting awards to nominees in the category they'd won in the past.

The legendary actress joined Jamie Lee Curtis, Lupita Nyong'o, Mary Steenburgen and Regina King on the Oscars stage to present Best Supporting Actress, with each paying tribute to one of the nominees before they ultimately handed out the award to Da'Vine Joy Randolph for The Holdovers.

"When I saw my picture, huge as could be, accepting the Oscar, much, much younger... I got teary," Moreno told ET's Nischelle Turner of the touching moment. "I never, ever dreamed in my wildest dreams that I would win an Oscar."

Moreno, now an EGOT winner, of course won her Oscar for 1961's West Side Story -- becoming the first Latin American woman ever to win an Academy Award.

"I was going to go, even though I was absolutely certain that Judy Garland was going to win," she recalls of her winning ceremony. "And then when my name was called, I could not believe it. I really couldn't... I remember saying to myself. 'Don't run, it's not dignified.'"

Despite her early success and now-legendary status, Moreno admitted that she's struggled to book jobs throughout her career, even after winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe -- recalling one big-time agent even telling her that she "didn't have the goods."

"It wasn't easy. I cried a lot," she admitted, chalking some of her struggles up to being Puerto Rican in am industry that is, to this day, still predominantly very white. 

"I always felt that I had talent -- even though I didn't like myself a whole lot," the actress revealed. "I decided I would go into psychotherapy and hope that I could straighten out the self-hatred that I had for myself."

After doing the work on her inner turmoil, Moreno said she's now able to begrudgingly accept her icon status. And it's hard to deny, especially when you have stars like Lenny Kravitz fawning over you.

"Oh, Lenny Kravitz went crazy," the actress said of meeting the rocker at the Vanity Fair Oscars party after the ceremony. "I went to introduce myself to him, because that is what I do at those kinds of parties... And I said, 'Hello, I am Rita Moreno.' And he literally got on his knees and started to carry on. I couldn't believe it, he was stuttering and muttering."

"I go, this is Lenny Kravitz carrying on about me!" she added, incredulously.

As for who she was fangirling over at the Oscars, Moreno named one of her fellow presenters.

"Regina King, we just got on like bread and butter," she recalled. "We sat in the green room where you wait before you're called to the stage, and I just loved her. She's a terrific woman. She's friendly, she's warm, she's funny, and she has a stomach that's as taut as a drum. I wanna smack her." 

With a career spanning nearly eight decades, Moreno shows no signs of slowing down. As she told ET, "I am an actress and I want to do more acting. That's it."

For her next role, however, she's playing against type as a vindictive high school physics teacher framed for murder in The Prank.

"She's a snake of a woman," Moreno said of her character in the film. "She's a kind of teacher who when one child makes a mistake, the entire class is punished."

The actress added she "loved every second" of playing someone so different from herself.

"It's fun to be the b**ch, it really is," she shared. "I just based her on all of the mean women who've been awful to me over the years... Every one of them that was mean, you know, to a Puerto Rican girl who's trying to make it. I won't forget and here is the result."

So, have there ever been any nasty rumors Moreno's heard about herself in real life?

"I'm not an internet person, but it was on social media, this guy says, 'You know, I brought her bags up to her hotel room, you know what she tipped me? One dollar.' And he was right," she recalled. "But my husband was no longer around. I didn't know how to tip, he always tipped. I thought a dollar was swell."

"So I got in touch with him and I said, 'Here's two more bucks,'" she added with a laugh.

Moreno is also set to appear in My Favorite Things: The Rodgers & Hammerstein 80th Anniversary Concert, which streams in North America for one week beginning on March 24 celebrating the musical accomplishments of the famous composing duo.

The actress played Tuptim in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, and said she's recently been reading about the duo ahead of her appearance.

"It's interesting they were, both of them, were very kind of strict, conservative people and that's what their music was in a way -- except it was brilliant," she reflected. "They did Americana like nobody... Nobody understood that part of America, that heart of America, like Rodgers and Hammerstein."

"So when I was asked to just open the second act with a little story about my playing Tuptim, I was delighted to do that," she added. "It was fun, it was just great fun."

The Prank is in theaters now.



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