Rosie Perez on playing her first bilingual character in Now & Then : 'I was shaking in my boots'

·6 min read

While Hollywood seems endlessly enamored by the many male stars who go "method" for their performances, Rosie Perez may be one of the greatest method actors working today. She gives every role she embodies — even light-hearted characters like Renee Montoya in Birds of Prey or Megan Briscoe in The Flight Attendant — dimensions and layers of complexity to fully bring them to life.

In Apple TV+'s Now & Then, she takes that challenge a step further playing Flora, a detective investigating murders that occurred 20 years apart but that might be linked. Created and written by showrunner Ramón Campos and co-creator Gema R. Neira (and executive produced and directed by Homeland helmer Gideon Raff), the series is a bilingual mystery that begins with a group of Latino teenagers living in Miami, each from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and the fateful night when one of them ends up dead. Two decades later, another killing takes place that leaves both the crew of friends and the detectives on the case tangled in a web of lies. The series bounces between the two timelines, with a younger set of actors portraying the teens and an older set of well-known talent portraying them at an older age. The twist? Perez is Flora in both eras.

"God bless the hair and makeup department," Perez jokes to EW. "But playing 20 years younger, I had to think about so many things. I told Gideon, 'I have to think about how she walks, how she holds her posture, how she gets angry as a young person. What are her insecurities? What is her pain? How does she articulate her pain?' I wanted all of that. And he goes, 'Let's go with it.'"

Now and Then- Rosie Perez
Now and Then- Rosie Perez

Apple TV Rosie Perez as the older and younger versions of her character Flora in 'Now & Then'

For the older version of Flora, Perez walked with a bit of a slump. "I asked wardrobe why they had me in sexy clothes. I'd go, 'No, this is 20 years later. I don't give a s--- anymore. Just baggy clothes, the hair tied back in a ponytail, the makeup isn't there… she doesn't care.' And I loved it. I loved every single minute of this job."

Flora is a complicated woman with a lot of pain and anger, and a backstory that isn't fully revealed until the fourth episode of the series. While Perez thoroughly enjoyed it, conveying that pain took a toll on the actress. Her secret weapon was her sister Carmen, who became her offset support system for when she needed to release the tension she bottled up to channel the character.

"It was hard work," Perez says. "I know it sounds weird, but I loved it… and it exhausted me. It actually ended up breaking me ​​at moments. I would come back to the apartment in Spain and my sister Carmen would look at me and go, 'What happened?' I would just start crying and she would just hold me. I told her, 'This character is so hurt, this character is so angry, and yet I'm trying to play it all underneath and not have a loud, boisterous performance. It's just so hard carrying it all day.' For the final two episodes, I came back to the flat and my sister wasn't there. She had to fly back home. I stood in the shower just sobbing and sobbing. I had to call her and my husband. I said, 'Talk to me, talk to me as Rosie. Please talk to me. I need to shake her because she's so sad to me.'"

Now and Then- Rosie Perez. Apple TV
Now and Then- Rosie Perez. Apple TV

Apple TV Rosie Perez in 'Now & Then'

The emotional journey Perez experienced was just one of the challenges she took on. The actress had only spoken a few Spanish words onscreen throughout her filmography, but Flora speaks Spanish on and off throughout the drama. She admits she was nervous approaching her first bilingual project. "The great thing about it is that representation matters and it was a Cuban female Apple executive, Angelica [Guerra], spearing the ship by showing that we're not a monolith."

Perez continues, "There are different nationalities within the Latino and Spanish world, so I really appreciated all the different dialects and sensibilities in regards to how people move and shake within our differences. That said, I was shaking in my boots."

At one point, she had to get real with co-creator Campos. "I told him, 'Okay, so here's the truth of the matter: I'm a Nuyorican.' He's like, 'What is that?' And I explained, 'I'm first-generation Puerto Rican American… and my Spanish is poor. If you're not going to change anything, that's fine. I just wanted to let you know.' And I called up my sister Carmen and said, 'I need your help.' And she said, 'Absolutely. But you know how to speak Spanish.'"

Carmen told Perez she could get her only so far in her schooling. "She goes, 'I will help you, but you have to help yourself because you're coming from a place of fear. All the times you went down to Puerto Rico and they called you a Yankee and they called you an American girl and made fun of you, that's in your head. Don't look at this so much as a challenge — look at it as a gift. I'm going to go to Spain with you. I'm going to go to Miami with you. We're going to work this, and you're going to do great.'"

Perez hopes she can impart the wisdom she acquired from her struggles on others in similar situations. "Maybe I can inspire someone to either take up classes and improve their native tongue, or just say, 'You know what? F--- everybody else's judgment. I'm not going to allow this stigma to weigh heavy on my heart anymore. I'm free of that.'"

While she was grateful to explore another facet of her heritage, she insists Now & Then's characters could be any ethnicity due to the strength of the writers' storytelling. "And that's what I look for," Perez says. "Throughout my career I've been fighting for great opportunities, and the only thing that separates a great actress of a certain nationality from another actress who is not of that nationality is opportunity. Some are privileged to more opportunities than we are, but… if you give us the same opportunities, we are going to set the world on fire."

The first episode of Now & Then is streaming on Apple TV+, and new episodes premiere every Friday through June 24. Watch the trailer below.

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