Rosie Perez earned stardom portraying Tina in Do the Right Thing. She impressed the masses in White Men Can’t Jump, and then earned an Oscar nomination for her role in the 1993 drama Fearless. While she rightfully celebrates those accomplishments, the 58-year-old actress also looks back at her failures with a grin.
During a conversation with Variety for its “Power of Women” issue, Perez opens up about a “horrible” audition she had that immediately had her laughing, after auditioning for the female lead in The Matrix, a role that ultimately went to Carrie-Anne Moss.
“I was horrible. As I was walking out, I was like, ‘I know I didn’t get the job. I really sucked,'” Perez recalls. “And the [Matrix directors Lana and Lilly] Wachowskis were like, ‘no,’ and the casting director was trying not to laugh.”
Perez says she didn’t just have a feeling she didn’t nail the audition. She knew.
“And then finally I looked at her and I go, ‘I really sucked,’ and she just burst out laughing,” Perez continues. “We all were laughing. I just gave the Wachowskis a hug and I said, ‘Well, good luck with this.'”
The rest, as they say, is history. The Matrix franchise — comprising of four films — has earned nearly $2 billion at the box office worldwide.
Perez, who almost exactly a year ago reunited with Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson at the Oscars for the 30th anniversary since the release of White Men Can’t Jump, also recalls meeting Spike Lee for the first time, and having no clue who he was.
“And I didn’t care. I threw the [business] card away,” she says. “My girlfriend Marian went back and got it. She always joked, ‘You owe your entire career to me.’ You know, I did audition for Do the Right Thing. People think that Spike just discovered me and gave me the role. No, he made me work for it.”
The Emmy-nominated actress and Flight Attendant star also remembers her early struggles trying to break into the industry, where a Latino presence was practically nonexistent. To combat this, Perez said one of her agents, whom she declines to name for fear of canceling them, told her to make a drastic physical change. The suggestion, she says, resulted in her firing the agent.
“I don’t want her to be canceled, but she told me that if I dyed my hair blond and got a nose job, ‘I can get you more jobs. Because you’re not Black,'” she says. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. Like, thank you, fired.'”
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