Rosie Perez says that an agent once advised her to drastically change her appearance to look more caucasian.
“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,’” the Latina actress, 58, told Variety in a recent interview. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ like, ‘thank you, fired.’”
Soon after, the reality of her decision set in.
“I had nobody, I had no money,” she shared.
But the “Do The Right Thing” actress found an ally in her “Criminal Justice” co-star Jennifer Grey, who upon hearing about the agent’s advice, instantly called her own agent.
“Jennifer and I clicked instantly,” the former Perez said. “I haven’t seen that woman in ages, but I just think she’s phenomenal. She’s like, ‘I cannot believe how racist this industry is.’ She picks up the phone and calls Jane Berliner at CAA and says, ‘You need to represent this actress.’”
Berliner signed Perez and helped her secure two roles that would change her career.
The first was as Woody Harrelson’s girlfriend in “White Men Can’t Jump,” a role that was originally written for a white woman.
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“It was just a magical summer,” Perez reminisced of playing opposite Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. “And when you’re scrolling on your TV to see what you want to watch, and March Madness comes up, and then there’s ‘White Men Can’t Jump,’ you can’t help but watch.”
That opportunity led to Peter Weir’s film “Fearless,” which again, the studio wanted a white woman to play.
Despite pressure from the studio, Weir and Jeff Bridges, who played Max Klein in the 1993 drama, held their ground.
Perez’s role as grieving mother Carla Rodrigo garnered her an Oscar nomination.
And despite being a member of the Academy, the actress revealed in 2021 that she has not been invited back since her nomination in 1994.
“Not even to sit in the audience, not to present, nothing — and I’m a member,” she told Variety. “I love the Academy Awards. I cheer on my peers, but it hurts. It’s like when your home team doesn’t ask you to come back into the stadium after you got up to bat and hit the home run.”
She was, however, invited to the Oscars the following year to present an award alongside Snipes and Harrelson.
Despite the drama in the earlier part of her career, Perez continued landing roles in movies such as “Pineapple Express.”
She was also tapped as a host of “The View,” however, she left the talk show after just one season for reasons she refused to elaborate on.
“I’m not supposed to talk about it,” she told Variety. “Let’s just say that what I thought I was there for was supposed to be one kind of a thing, which excited me, and then when I got there, that’s not what it was.”
While sitting on the panel, an anonymous executive claimed to Variety that Perez couldn’t read a teleprompter, causing Latino leaders to demand an apology.
Additionally, ABC executive Barbara Fedida, who oversaw the show during Perez’s tenure, was fired in 2020 for making racially insensitive comments about “Good Moning America” anchor Robin Roberts, who is a black woman.
Perez refused to comment, simply saying: “Not going there.”
“The Flight Attendant” star, who can currently be seen on “Your Honor,” will be honored next month at Variety’s Power of Women event alongside Natasha Lyonne, Kelly Ripa, Michaela Jae Rodriguez and author Judy Blume.
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