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Actress Rosie Perez talks about new TV series

On this Christmas weekend, Rosie Perez is all about counting her blessings. The actress knows first-hand about times so tough that her voice hitches recalling them. Perez was just 3 when her mentally ill mother took her from her aunt and placed her in a Catholic home for boys and girls in New York. “It’s…

On this Christmas weekend, Rosie Perez is all about counting her blessings. The actress knows first-hand about times so tough that her voice hitches recalling them.

Perez was just 3 when her mentally ill mother took her from her aunt and placed her in a Catholic home for boys and girls in New York. “It’s hard to overcome an abusive childhood and the fact that your mother gave you away. It’s hard to forget getting beat by her and getting beat by the nuns in the children’s home,” she said.

The 5-foot-1 spitfire who started her career in classic movies, including “Do the Right Thing,” doesn’t want pity. “I survived,” the 56-year-old said. “During the toughest times, all I would remember was the love from my aunt and my father who raised me when I was very young, and then at 14, when I came to live with them again. My aunt would tell me, ‘You are special. You are loved. Believe that even when you find it really hard to believe it.’ ”

During a call from her New York home, Perez spoke of her new hit HBO Max series, “The Flight Attendant,” where she takes to the not-always-friendly skies as flight attendant Megan Briscoe. Her counterpart, Cassie (Kaley Cuoco), wakes up in the wrong hotel, in a stranger’s bed with a dead man next to her. The mystery will continue to unravel in the second season.

Review-Journal: Does it help to share your personal story?

Rosie Perez: In a weird way talking about my past even makes me a better actress because it’s all about letting the truth out. That’s all what we’re trying to achieve as actors: the truth. As people, we also want the truth. The truth is I had it very tough as a kid. There were times I didn’t think I’d pull through. The only thing I really had to rely on was the love from my aunt and father, plus this innate belief that I always had in myself.

What made you become an actress?

When I was living with the nuns in this convent home, they would put me on the stage to perform. They would also tell me that I was a natural as a singer, dancer and actress. But I hated them, so I didn’t believe them. I wanted to become a marine biologist. When I was grown up, I met Spike Lee in a nightclub in New York City and my whole life changed. He wanted me to audition for “Do The Right Thing.” I said, “Spike, I’m not an actress.” He said, “Oh yes, you are.”

“Do the Right Thing” was your first film. What a great start.

It was almost an all-black cast with a Latin crew. I thought that was the norm! It was just such a safe environment. It gave me the confidence to declare I wanted to become an actress — and play all kinds of roles, not just your typical Latino roles. When I finally got to Hollywood, I thought, “I’m going to do this! I’m going to beat them at their own game and I’m going to win.” The Latino community said, “Don’t rock the boat.” I said, “I either rock the boat or I’m jumping ship.”

Were there producers or directors wouldn’t consider a Latina lead?

All the time. Or I should say it was a fight a lot of the time.

Word is you were going to turn down the flight attendant role.

I initially rejected the offer and my manager kept saying, “I really think you should take a second to look at this again. What’s your real issue?” I finally had to confess to him: I hate to fly! I hate getting to the airport. I hate going through security. I hate waiting around. I hate being on the flight. I’m that person holding onto the side of her seat if there is just one bump. I have learned to hold my scream in.

And then came Kaley Cuoco.

My manager called me back and said, “Kaley Cuoco wants to meet you.” I said, “Listen Kaley, I don’t like to fly. I don’t want to waste your time even though the material was fantastic.” I told her, “I take this so seriously that I don’t want to be a problem.” She put her hand up as in a high five. We interlocked fingers and that was it. Our five-minute coffee turned into an hour. And I was doing this project. In that hour, I knew I’d be a fool to turn this down.

What tips did you pick up from real life flight attendants?

I’d be on planes and act like I needed to go to the bathroom a lot. I’d just watch them although I didn’t want them to know I was studying them. I remember on a flight to Bangkok for the show, I told my makeup artist, “I want you to have my eyes lined the way they do it. It was a bit heavy.” Then on a trip to Dubai, I kept sneaking around watching the flight attendants in back. They kept putting on their lipstick — over and over again. Even in the middle of the night! One told me, “Oh, it’s mandatory that our makeup be perfect every single minute.” It was so sexist, but I loved that character detail.

You played Renee Montoya in the Harley Quinn film.

I was scared at first that this big franchise film was a machine and they would treat me like cattle. It wasn’t like that at all. They really made me feel a part of the DC Universe.

You are now a role model.

I prefer to say that I’m a strong woman who has her doubts and moments of insecurity. I can walk into a room of men and know the cards are stacked against me. I’m shivering on the inside, but I still go on. I have a fight in me. That’s the strong woman. She’s in there. That’s who I am. Young girls come up and I’ll tell them, “No one is a superhero. We all fall short in one way or another. But you can never fall short running up a hill. You can cry all the way up there. You can have a meltdown as you race up there. But the goal is you keep going.”

What is your idea of an ideal Sunday?

Just being.

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