KET Arts


Rosie Perez

An actress equally at home with comedy and drama, Rosie Perez has been especially memorable as Woody Harrelson's girlfriend in White Men Can't Jump (1992) and Nicholas Cage's wife in It Could Happen to You (1994) and brought her trademark intensity to Penny Marshall's Riding in Cars with Boys (2001). She received an Oscar nomination for her performance in Peter Weir's Fearless (1993) and played the title role in Alex de Iglesia's Perdita Durango (1997), a film shot in Spain. In 2003, Perez starred on Broadway in Frankie and Johnny at the Clare de Lune. Perez began her professional career as a dancer and choreographer. Her choreography includes shows for Diana Ross and Bobby Brown. She appeared for a few seasons on the television variety series Soul Train before moving to the comedy/variety series In Living Color (1990-94). Her work on that show won her an Emmy nomination. Director Spike Lee noticed Perez dancing in an L.A. club and gave her a good role in his Do The Right Thing (1989). A Brooklyn native, Perez attended Los Angeles City College. Rosie Perez

First Reaction to Poof!

ROSIE PEREZ: What interested me the most when I first read Poof!-beyond the fact that it was written extremely well-I would say was the humor that was injected in such a serious subject. I really appreciated that... We've seen stories about domestic violence, and they're very heavy handed. Usually the woman is crying from start to finish, and you don't really get a sense of who she is. You just get a sense of the brutality that is being put upon her and her reaction to that brutality. But it's very rare when you really get a sense of who that person is outside of the violence, and that's what I saw in the writing. You immediately get a sense that this is a person who has a sense of humor, who had her down days, her up days, had her best friend, had her routine. It showed a lot of strength that in an oppressive environment she still had some kind of life. She has her best friend who lives upstairs. They have a routine. They have a nightcap with each other. You know, she was clinging on to some type of hope. That's a lot of strength.

In Poof!, my character, Loureen, damns her husband to Hell, and he goes. He turns to a pile of ash. And it's a turning point in a person's life. It's a point where somebody stands up and says, "I can't do this anymore." You don't know how you're going to do it. You don't know what you're going to do, and it just erupts out of her. And it's also about, okay, when you finally get what you've been dreaming of, what you've been plotting, what you've been wanting-then what? You know, do you sit with it? Do you sit with the history of the violence? Do you sit with the remembrance of the violence, of the past? I mean, what do you do? For me that was the brilliant part of this script-where she sweeps him up and puts him in the trash can. She's going to move on. That's what it's also about. It's not only about standing up, making a choice, but what do you do after that? Are you going to move on? Are you going to see the light at the end of the tunnel and go for it? I like her.

"When I first read that, I went, 'Wow!'"

ROSIE PEREZ: What was most unexpected was when Florence, her best friend, asks her to go upstairs and help her make her husband disappear. And she says, "No." When I first read that I went, "Wow!" It just really reinforces the fact that you've got to do it yourself. You've really got to do it yourself. There are the domestic violence centers, which are great, and the shelters, which are great, and the counselors and therapists and friends and stuff-but you've got to make that first step. You've got to be the one that says, "Damn you to Hell!" You've got to leave. You've got to run. You've got to run to your neighbors. You've got to run to the shelter. You've got to do it, and it's a hard pill to swallow. And that was a big surprise-big, big surprise. That is her best friend, and she's saying, "Uh-uh, honey, you've got to do it yourself, just like I did." And that is helping your best friend, but it's hard to see. I wanted to rush up there and say, "Damn you to hell, Edgar," and watch him turn to a cloud of dust.

"You start to understand why so many women are behind bars."

ROSEI PEREZ: I wasn't a victim of domestic violence. I, unfortunately, was the victim of child abuse, and I don't know if it's similar. I remember one guy tried to put his hands on me, and I lost it. And that's why I understood a part of this character, because I went into a fit or rage. First I ran, and then I called him and said, "If you ever put your hands on me again, I'll kill you." And he said, "You're right." And I said, "No, no. I know you're stronger than me, but I'll find a way."

I couldn't believe that came out of my mouth. I'm not a violent person. I'm not even an angry person-I play angry people, but I'm not an angry person. And the work that I do with women in prison, I relate to them because what separates us is that when they snapped, they reacted in one way, and when I snapped, I reacted another way. But we were one-in-the-same when we snapped. You know what I'm saying? It's weird. It's scary-that just a moment can separate one person from another. It could be me. It could be anybody. You just don't know when you're in that situation, because it's so surprising that somebody had the audacity to put their hands on you. Whoa! Wait a minute. I didn't even accept this from my parents. How am I going to accept this from you? You know?

And you start to understand why so many women are behind bars. We label them and say they allowed the abuse to happen. You don't allow the abuse to happen. It just happens, and once it happens you don't know how you're going to react. You can't just blame a woman for that, you just can't. Because there are lawyers who are the victims of domestic violence. There are welfare women that are victims of domestic violence. They are black. They are white. They are Asian. They're Indian. They're everybody. They're us. So you can't judge. You just don't know what you'd do in that situation. Why do you stay there? I don't know. That usually comes after. You ask those questions after you get out.

"Once you see the woman, you see yourself."

ROSIE PEREZ: The way I came to work with women in prison at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in upstate New York was that Eve Ensler [author of Vagina Monologues] asked me to participate in a writing class that she and Glenn Close put together for a college program. You know, I first said, "Yeah, sure." And when I went up there, I was blown away by these women. Eve once wrote a poem-you know, first there's the crime, and then the suspect, and then the convict, then the inmate, and then you see the woman. That's your line of judgment. First all you can see is the mistake, and once you get pass the mistake, you see the woman. Once you see the woman, you see yourself. And all those walls of fear and judgment come crashing down, and you're just one-in-the-same.

That was my experience there. Participating as a student really changed my life. They were so smart and funny and sad and introverted and egotistical and shy and insecure. They were everything. The thing that really surprised me-they were angry that I was surprised they were just women. They were so pissed-off at me at first. And I started thinking about it, and I go, "Oh my God. I'm doing to them what Hollywood does to me." You know, what people have done to me all my life. It's like, "You're so smart for a Puerto Rican." What the hell does that mean? "You are so well-spoken." Yeah, well, so are you. What does that mean? They just couldn't see past their stereotypes. And I did the same thing to those women. They shot me down off of my high horse in a matter of 20 minutes, and then I'm sobbing along with them. Then I'm chewing gum and gossiping with them. You know, "is Nick Cage a good kisser, girl?" "Yes, he is." You know, it was like back and forth, and real friendships came out of that, and brilliant, brilliant pieces of work came out of that class. Actually, a play came out of that class. It was wonderful, and it made me re-evaluate my life-what I will accept and what I won't accept. Because there's consequences we have to pay when you accept certain things.

"I was dealt a hand of cards that sucked."

ROSIE PEREZ: The only thing I can say [to a victim of domestic abuse] is, "Run." Go get help, because it's so much better than what you're experiencing now. And you're a beautiful person, and you have to believe it. And you have to tell yourself everyday, "I am better than this. I am better than this. I am better than this." And hopefully it will sink in, and it will help you run. It will help you get away. I truly believe that's the only way to stop the violence. I don't want to contradict the play, where she stands up and says, "Damn you to hell!" But the stories I've heard-it's just too scary to stand up to the person who is inflicting all this abuse on you because they are so big, so imposing, and they physically can kill you. So run, just run. 'Cause life is so good! Life is so good. I'm standing here, a child of such abuse, such abuse. I was dealt a hand of cards that sucked. I threw them in and asked for new ones. And, man, I'm playing the game of life, and it's so good. It's so good, and it's as easy as that. Just ask for a new hand. Turn it in and start enjoying life. I can understand what she says. Happiness is wonderful.

"It's important to hear the voices of women of color."

ROSIE PEREZ: It's important to hear the voices of women of color-whether they be black, Spanish, Asian, Indian-because we're human beings, too. We have the same right as everyone else. It's our right to be heard. It's that simple. I mean, racism is absurd, and we live in absurdity. Chester Himes said that. It's absurd that there aren't more plays on Broadway about people of color. And why are they not up there? Because of racism, because of stupidity, and because of absurdity. I think it's that simple. We just have the right because we have the right. Period.