Family & Companions
Discovered by Spike Lee while dancing in a club, Rosie Perez was an Oscar-nominated actress and producer whose performances combined a brassy dynamism with an earthy sexuality. Lee provided her debut in his landmark 1989 feature "Do the Right Thing," which led to subsequent feature roles as well as an Emmy-nominated turn as choreographer for the comedy series "In Living Color" (Fox, 1990-94). She soon shed her Fly Girl persona and displayed a skill at emotionally nuanced performances in films like "White Men Can't Jump" (1993), "Fearless" (1993) and "The 24-Hour Woman" (1997). Perez later added producing and directing to her resume, most notably with "Yo Soy Boricua! Pa' Que Lo Tu Sepas!" (2006), a documentary about her Puerto Rican heritage. Consistently dependable in nearly any role handed to her, Perez held firm to her status as one of the most accomplished Latin actresses of the 1990s and 2000s.
She was born Rosa Maria Perez in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, NY on Sept. 6, 1964; her mother, Lydia, Perez, was a singer, while father Ismael Fontana was a member of the merchant marines. After graduating from Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, she lit out for the West Coast to study at Los Angeles City College. While there, she auditioned for various jobs as a dancer, eventually landing her first screen appearance as a background performer on the influential variety series "Soul Train" (syndicated, 1971-2006). While performing at a club in 1989, she caught the eye of director Spike Lee, who cast her as Tina, the highly animated girlfriend to his lead character, Mookie, in "Do the Right Thing" (1989). Perez's talents as a dancer were also highlighted in the film's propulsive opening credits, which were set to the Public Enemy track "Fight the Power."
"Do the Right Thing" established an early screen persona for Perez - gritty, opinionated, and dominated by a heavily nasal, accented voice that could rise to air-raid-siren levels when agitated - that carried over to her next few pictures. In Jim Jarmusch's portmanteau film "Night on Earth" (1990), she was all mouth as streetwise Giancarlo Esposito's sister, who helps to give German immigrant and taxi driver Armin Mueller-Stahl a crash course in New York culture. The Lee film also gave a boost to her side career as a choreographer, which she applied most memorably to the multi-cultural sketch comedy show "In Living Color" (Fox, 1990-1994) and to videos for performers ranging from LL Cool J to Diana Ross. Perez received an Emmy nomination for her work with "Living Color's" dance troupe, the Fly Girls, who counted Jennifer Lopez among their number.
But by her third major film, 1993's "White Men Can't Jump," Perez was already sloughing off the broad pre-conceived notion of her talent and displaying a knack for finely tuned drama and comedy. As the trivia-obsessed girlfriend to Woody Harrelson's basketball hustler, Perez was loud and brassy, but also heartfelt and somewhat moving in her single-minded desire to win the TV game show "Jeopardy!" She also showed considerable range as Marisa Tomei's sympathetic co-worker in "Untamed Heart" (1993), and wowed critics and audiences alike as the survivor of an airplane crash who cannot overcome the grief of losing her child in the accident. Perez's emotional performance earned her an Academy Award nomination in 1994, signaling a career shift towards more challenging and complex fare.
She was decidedly unlikable as the money-hungry wife of kindly traffic cop Nicolas Cage in Andrew Bergman's "It Could Happen to You" (1994), and delivered a ferocious portrait of carnality and vice as "Perdita Durango" (1997), a voodoo-worshiping kidnapper and human trafficker in Alex de Iglesia's controversial Spanish-lensed cult movie. Perez then shifted gears once again to play a driven career woman who struggles to balance her job as a television producer with her family life in Nancy Savoca's "The 24 Hour Woman" (1999). The project was Perez's second turn as producer, following the HBO anthology film "Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground" in 1997.
Perez continued to buck trends and seek out offbeat and rewarding projects in the new millennium. She gave supporting turns in features by directors as varied as Michel Gondry with "Human Nature" (2001) and Penny Marshall with "Riding in Cars with Boys" (2001), as well as appeared in HBO's adaptation of Ruben Santiago-Hudson's acclaimed play, "Lackawanna Blues" (2005). Her distinctive voice could also be heard in episodes of "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004) and as Click, a helpful camera, on the animated series "Go, Diego, Go!" (Nickelodeon, 2005- ). And she joined Joe Pantoliano on Broadway in the Tony-winning play "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" in 2003.
Perez also became deeply involved in activism for her Puerto Rican heritage; she was arrested in Manhattan in 2000 for participating in a rally to protest naval bomb testing on Vieques, an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Perez's commitment to the cause later resulted in her debut as a director with "Yo So Boricua! Pa' Que Lo Tu Sepas!" (2006), a documentary about Puerto Rican identity as seen through the filter of New York's annual Puerto Rican Day parade. Perez turned the camera on herself as well as members of her family, other activists and celebrities like Jimmy Smits to explore the deep roots of Puerto Rican culture and the source of their intense pride. She later directed a Spanish-language AIDS campaign for national television that featured actor Wilmer Valderrama and former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera among its many participants.
Perez's performance as the loving wife of an injured armored car driver (John Leguizamo) in the thriller-drama "The Take" (2008) earned her a 2009 Independent Spirit Award nomination. The modest feature served as a fine reminder of Perez's dramatic talents, as well as of her inherent sensuality in an intense bedroom scene with Leguizamo. She filled out the rest of the year with a typically varied selection of roles, including a corrupt, trigger-happy cop in the broad buddy comedy "Pineapple Express" (2008) and a no-nonsense publicist in several episodes of "Lipstick Jungle" (NBC, 2008-09). A guest role in Adam McKay's "The Other Guys" (2010) found the actress playing herself to great comic effect. Perez next appeared in Alexandre Rockwell's crime comedy "Pete Smalls Is Dead" (2010) and the inner city educational drama "Won't Back Down" (2012) alongside Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Holly Hunter. Supporting roles in the oddball Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy collaboration "The Counselor" (2013) and the quirky comedy/drama "Gods Behaving Badly" (2013) were followed by the announcement that Perez was joining the retooled cast of the daily talk show "The View" (ABC 1997- ) in the fall of 2014.
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Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made first TV appearance as a dancer on "Soul Train"
Spotted by Spike Lee at the LA club Funky Reggae; approached her to appear in his film "Do the Right Thing"
Made film debut in "Do the Right Thing" as Lee's Puerto Rican girlfriend
Served as choreographer of the Fly Girls on Fox's sketch comedy series "In Living Color"
Landed recurring role on the TV series "WIOU" (CBS)
Made TV acting debut on HBO's "Criminal Justice"
Played major role in hit comedy "White Men Can't Jump" opposite Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson
Made TV debut as executive producer and hosted "Rosie Perez Presents Society's Ride" (HBO)
Earned Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of an airplane crash survivor in "Fearless"
Cast as Nicolas Cage's free-spending wife in "It Could Happen to You"
Created (also executive produced) the HBO original presentation "Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground"; also acted opposite Michael McGlone in the "Love on the A Train" segment
Directed by future husband Seth Zvi Rosenfeld in "A Brother's Kiss"
Portrayed title role in "Perdita Durango"; the character of Perdita Durango previously appeared in David Lynch's "Wild at Heart," played by Isabella Rossellini
Co-produced "The 24 Hour Woman"; also starred as a TV talk show host
Lent her voice to the animated "Road to El Dorado"
Made official NYC stage acting debut in the play "References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot"
Starred opposite John Leguizamo in "King of the Jungle"
Appeared in the HBO original movie "Lackawanna Blues," based on Ruben Santiago-Hudson's autobiographical one-man show
Debut as a documentary director, "You Soy Boricua, Pa'que tu lo Sepas!" (I'm Boricua, Just So You Know!), which traced the history of Puerto Rican culture from its beginnings
Cast in the Broadway revival of "The Ritz," directed by Joe Mantello
Nominated for the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female ("The Take")
Played a crooked cop in the comedy "Pineapple Express"
Landed recurring role on NBC's short-lived "Lipstick Jungle"
Played John Leguizamo's wife in the crime drama "The Take"
Co-starred in off-Broadway production "Close Up Space"
Cast alongside Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in inner city school drama "Won't Back Down"