In the early 1990s, Rosie Perez arrived at her audition for a role in the film White Men Can’t Jump filled with confidence. But the actress—who, at the time, was just starting out in the industry, having completed two previous movies while working as a choreographer—found her self-assuredness vanished once she spied the A-list talent lined up to also try out for the part. Racked with nerves, she went to the bathroom, splashed water on her face, and messed up her hairstyle in the process. “I was a complete wreck,” Perez remembered, speaking to me on the phone from Los Angeles March 27. “I looked like a Chia pet.” When she met the writer and director Ron Shelton of White Men Can’t Jump, she proceeded to word-vomit: “‘Oh my god, I’m having such a bad hair day,’” Perez recalled. “I said, ‘That time of the month is approaching.’ He goes, ‘Too much information!’”
Despite the anxiety, Perez read lines with Woody Harrelson, with whom she co-starred in the 1992 classic alongside Wesley Snipes, and nailed the part—one that became a catalyst for her iconic career. Thirty years later, Perez celebrated the anniversary of White Men Can’t Jump with a reunion on the Academy Awards stage at the 2022 Oscars, where she, Snipes, and Harrelson presented the award for Best Cinematography (and received a standing ovation from the crowd).
Hours before she was due to depart for the ceremony, Perez called from her room at the Sunset Tower Hotel in Hollywood, where she and a crew of close friends, family, and members of her team were getting ready. The energy, she explained, couldn’t be more different from that of the audition room more than 30 years ago. “You start to understand that these moments are the icing on the cake,” she says. “You work really hard, you put in the years, you put in the work, and then you get to participate in events like the Oscars, which not everybody gets to go to. The whole process is so much more enjoyable when you say: everybody relax and have a glass of Champagne.”
Relaxation, she says, was “the biggest ticket item” on her list of things to do in preparation for the Oscars. For the past few weeks, the New York City-based actress had paid visits to the revered facialist Skin by Mamie in Montclair, New Jersey (“I’m totally name-dropping here, but the only reason I went is because my makeup artist was like, ‘You know Angela Bassett’s skin? Get your ass to Mamie—she does her facials.’”), adding a couple more boxing classes with her trainer, John Snow, at Victory Boxing in Manhattan, (“I like to eat, and I’m too old to be starving myself. That’s for the youngins.”), and getting preemptive treatments done by her hairstylist, Johnny Lavoy.
On Sunday, Perez was meant to kick back and chill. That meant packing out her hotel room with her “besties,” a ritual, she said, she observes before every awards show she attends. “I’ve learned in my career that you have all these wonderful opportunities for extremely special moments, and the majority of the time, it’s by yourself,” Perez added. “I had to change that.” In the hotel room: her husband, Eric Haze; the hair and makeup team; stylists; a selection of her extended group of “BFFs,” and Christian Siriano, the New York-based designer who created Perez’s crimson gown—replete with a long train and matching cape—for the Oscars. Siriano was on hand to provide guidance not only on Perez’s off-the-shoulder-strapped dress, but also for her accessories. “I’m so not good at it,” the actress said of styling herself. “I’m just like, you know what, give me a hoop earring and maybe a couple of rings and I’m good.” To help along the decision-making process, Siriano laid out upwards of one million dollars’ worth of diamond jewelry in black velvet cases, causing Perez to emit cries of joy. “Oh my gosh, look at this!,” she said. “I hope I don’t get mugged.”
It wasn’t the first time Perez was impressed by Siriano’s eye for presentation (the evening prior, she’d worn a cocktail dress he’d made specifically for her while attending a pre-Academy Awards party at Fox’s Los Angeles studio). For the Oscars dress, “he came up with five different drawings, and sent them over to me, which was fabulous: a messenger from his studio came over with this big bag with a bow in it,” Perez said. “I thought it was a gift, but it was the sketches.” After sifting through the five choices, the actress decided on the red halter neck—a dramatic, eye-catching design—for her first time back at the Oscars since 1994. It was momentous enough an occasion that Siriano managed to convince Perez to wear such a bright color—a noted departure from her usual go-to red carpet looks, which typically involve black, black, and more black.
“I was very intimidated by the idea at first,” Perez said. “But eventually I thought, Okay. Because the good thing about being older is that you don't stress like you did when you were younger.”