Forging a career out unforgettable performances in both independent
classics and studio fare as well countless television roles, Rosie Perez is one
of the most successful and well-regarding Latina actresses working in the tumultuous
entertainment industry. Her unquestionable talent has helped her surpass the
unspoken and hindering stereotypes that plague Hollywood, and though the road
has been anything but easy, her prolific body of work speaks for itself.
Perez recently attended the Gasparilla International Film
Festival in Tampa to support the film “Puerto Ricans in Paris, “ in which she
appears alongside Luis Guzmán , Rosario Dawson, and Edgar Garcia.
We sat down with her to discuss the humorous caper about two
Puerto Rican American detectives solving a case in the European capital, her perception
on diversity in Hollywood, and how “Fearless” became a surprising success that
earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Carlos Aguilar: “Puerto Ricans in Paris” is a project that literally has some of the
biggest Puerto Rican talent in Hollywood gathered in one film. How did your involvement with the project come about? I understand you are friends with the mastermind behind the film Luis Guzmán.
Rosie Perez: Louie just called me up and he said, “Mija, I need a favor” [Laughs]. I said, “OK,
that means no money,” and he just started laughing [Laughs]. I said, “Whatever
it is you got it. What is it?” Then he said, “Oh it’s this movie that means so
much to me.” I went, “Oh shit, send me the script firs!” [Laughs]. He did and I
thought it was funny, so I said I’ll do it. That was it. It was as simple as that.
There was no agents involved, no managers, it was just that phone call. Later
he did forwarded the script to my agent, but literally it was that simple.
Aguilar: Seems like it was one of those
rare cases when things work out easily in Hollywood thanks to good relationships and friendships.
Rosie Perez: Yes,
that’s very rare.
Aguilar: What did you
find appealing about this story? It’s definitely a fish out of water tale about these two men from New York in a culturally foreign environment . Was
it simple the fact that it’s quite funny, the themes within it, or was it because you knew everyone involved?
Rosie Perez: It’s
a little bit of all the above, but I think mainly it was that it was funny and
secondly I would say that it’s about friendship and family, so I liked that. I
just couldn’t wait to see the club scene. You first see it on paper, but I was
like, “Oh I gotta see this!” [Laughs]. It’s a comedy about being someone’s
friend and being family, that’s what drew me to it.
Aguilar: You’ve had a prolific career between your work in television and incredibly memorable film roles. At this point in you career how do you decide what is a role you want to pursue, in particular with Hollywood still unwilling to create more roles for people outside their mold?
Rosie Perez: If
it hits me right and if it’s not insulting then I consider it, because as you know, most recently
with the Oscars controversy, Hollywood is tough for people of color. When they say, “We are
going to create more roles for people of color,” they are stereotypical roles
and they are insulting roles, and we are like, “That’s not it people.” I’m
going on almost 30 years, I’m lucky and I’m very grateful, but it’s still not a
walk in the park. I think it is also because I’m choosy with roles. I’m at an
age where I don’t want to do something if I don’t have to do it. Even with the
TV show, I had enough. I did it for a year, I was contracted for three years,
and I said, “No, I don’t want to do this anymore.” That’s what happens when you
get older, you get to that point. You want to enjoy life. You want life to be good. At the end of the day you don’t want to think, “What the hell was I
doing?” [Laughs]. “Why did I do
this?” or “Why didn’t I walk away from that?” Or “Why did I accept that?” That’s how my decision-making works. With this film I really liked that all my
scenes were in New York because I like to stay home a lot. I’m a homebody. I’m a girl who was in the clubs since I
was 14-years-old, I’m done with that, I’m over it [Laughs].
Aguilar: It’s definitely important to know when to say no.
Rosie Perez: Exactly,
and I say no. I say no a lot. I’m grateful that work still comes my way. Forget
about me being of color, I’m a woman. Then when you are over 40, you are like, “Oh
shit,” you know? [Laughs].
Aguilar: Hollywood seems
to pile on these barriers on people. Being a woman of color over 40 is disgracefully a no-go for
studios. Is’t insane to think we haven’t gotten over all those prejudices, why do you think that’s still the case?
Rosie Perez: Because it’s still a male-dominated
industry. That said, I have to repeat myself, I’m very fortunate because I know
a lot of actresses that are super talented that just don’t get work. They don’t
get the offers, they don’t get the auditions, they don’t get the opportunities,
and it’s so unfair. I’m really not complaining.
Aguilar: You were were nominated for an Academy Award for “Fearless” back in the 90s, considering the recent Oscar controversy and the state of diversity in Hollywood, how difficult was it to make that happen from getting the role to getting the industry’s attention back then?
Rosie Perez: I
think “Fearless” happened not because of Hollywood. Hollywood didn’t believe in
it. They threw their marketing dollars on a different film. But when the Berlin Film Festival picked up the movie and said, “This was exquisite,” and everyone was throwing awards at us, I think that’s when the Academy was like, “Wait a minute what is this film.” We went over to Europe and it was a smash hit. We’d drive down Champs Élysées and we’d see the movie poster for “Fearless,” and I’d go, “Oh my God. This is a dream.” I really thought I was in a fairytale. That had never happened to me. I found out about the Oscar nomination while we were still in Berlin. I think that’s what happened.
It’s wonderful on one end and on the other end it was unfortunate that it took Europe to make America say, “Oh this is a good film and there are really good performances in it.” This is one of the instances where the role was not insulting, it wasn’t stereotypical, and it wasn’t for a Puerto Rican American. I had to fight for it. I think I was like the 80th-something person they had seen. They kept saying, “No, no, no she is not right.” All they kept thinking was “White Men Can’t Jump.” My agents at the time were like, “Just give her a chance,” and the director was not from America so he didn’t have any prejudices or preconceived notions of what I could do or who I was. I had to do four call backs, and I did it. I didn’t complaint not one bit. When you really want something in life you work for it. You go through the mud. Being at the Oscars was great as well was the Golden Globes. That’s what I mean when I say I’m not complaining.
Aguilar: iI’s strange and unfortunate that sometimes there is a need for outside sources to validate the quality of a film rather than just looking at the performances and the quality of the material.
Rosie Perez: I don’t think that’s the case all the time, but it is the case sometimes and that’s unfortunate. I just have hope for the Academy. I have hope for Hollywood. I’m a very hopeful person in general. Things will change, but it’s not about just one minority group. Asians and Native Americans get it the worst and nobody is rooting for them. Let’s hope it changes for everyone. That’s what I would like to see.
Aguilar: In “Puerto Ricans in Paris” the two Puerto Rican leads are detectives. They are not stereotypical roles that are usually assigned to Latino talent or secondary characters to a white lead. Do you think this has to do with the fact that a big part of the creative talent was Latino?
Rosie Perez: Yes! Louie had to do his own thing. He got the screenwriter with whom he had done “How to Make it in America.” Louie is a very forward-thinking person and I hope with this film people start recognizing that. I knew it when I first met him. He was like, “We gotta stick together mama. We are gonna change things,” and I was like, “I believe you.” Everybody was like,”Nah,” but I was like,” I believe you,” because he said it with such fortitude. And he did it right because in this film I play a middle-class wife. That could have been anybody. It could have been “White People in Paris,” “Black People in Paris,” or “Asian People in Paris.” It could have been anything but it was “Puerto Ricans in Paris” because a Puerto Rican American actor took the initiative and said “I’m going to make this movie and I’m gonna show them that we are just like you. We are not a novelty. We are human beings.” That’s why this is a great thing. It really is. It came off like a commercial film, but I was pleasantly surprised
Aguilar: But definitely the fact that is a commercial film will help it cross over to any audience. It doesn’t have to be just a “Latino film.”
Rosie Perez: Thats right!.
Aguilar: Would you say in order to see significant change in the way opportunities are created and offered, we, as minorities, have to create our own opportunities or what would be the best approach?
Rosie Perez: I think you do have to create your own opportunities, but you also have to fight to have opportunities being created for you by the studios. You can’t just fight that one fight, you have to fight the good fight and that means covering all the basis. Things are changing, but it is unfortunate that we are still at this point. Things have gotten better but sometimes we take one step forward and two steps back.
Aguilar: “Puerto Ricans in Paris” is going to be released later this year, but you already have several other upcoming projects. Can you tell about your recent role in Maris Curran‘s film and what other adventures you are embarking on?
Rosie Perez: Well “Five Nights in Maine” was another film that the director didn’t see me for but she wanted to meet me, which was weird. I thought, “Why do you want to meet me if you don’t see me for the role,” but I was like, “Ok I’ll meet you whatever.” We sat down and we talked and after our luncheon she called Diane Wiest and said, “I think I found the nurse and its Rosie Perez,” Diane Wiest just went, “Wonderful!” It was that simple. She wasn’t like, “Really?” It’s a very dark film. It’s beautifully shot, it’s very moody, David Oyelowo is excellent in it and so is Diane Wiest. It’s a very quiet film, and for it to be so dark there is a ll of light in it. There is a lot of outdoors shots and the house is bright in Maine. I’m glad people have responded to it.
Right now I’m just ping-ponging around between projects. I’m producing a project with Edward Norton‘s company with executive producer Bill Migliore. It’s very exciting to me and very challenging to me because Bill and Edward are very challenging people. They don’t want to take one step forward until something is right. Right now we are writing the script. We thought we were done and I said, “We thought you said yes to the script,” then they went, “Yeah but now comes the real work.” It’s been a mind-blowing experience. I’m writing and producing but I’m not acting in it. I’m behind the scenes this time. Louie is attached and so is Zoe Saldana. But right now is all about the script. I get excited because I feel stimulated. When you get off the phone and you just had a four hour script meeting and you are like, “What time is it? Oh my God I have to make dinner for my husband. We’ve been on the phone for four hours? Are you kidding me?” and you don’t feel exhausted, you feel invigorated and you can’t wait to go back and star writing off of the notes, it’s special. We haven’t even made the damn movie and it’s just been such a special experience for me. It really has.