There’s a fleeting moment during May in New York where the weather is simply the stuff of magic—those sunny days where there’s no chance of rain, no more snow for months, and no hot temperature–induced, soul-altering smells sneaking up from the subway.
Today is that day in Brooklyn: The energy is high, the weekend is near and, in true “only in New York” fashion, a few people are getting together over some falafel to do a photo shoot. The subject: None other than Rosie Perez, showing up early to a location right around the corner from where she was born.
Dressed in head-to-toe black with a wide-brimmed hat, the surprisingly soft-spoken 57-year-old could easily blend in with the rest of the Big Apple sidewalk sprinters.
Except for the fact that she’s Rosie Perez—the award-winning actress, dancer, choreographer, activist, and all-around fixture in the pop-culture lexicon for her work in Do the Right Thing, White Men Can’t Jump, In Living Color and her self-described “secondwind” spots in HBO’s hit The Flight Attendant and Apple TV+’s Now & Then.
“I’ve worked so hard over the years, and I’ve always kept the faith,” she says. “To get work that is age-appropriate is a huge statement. A huge, huge statement.”
Congrats on everything. How does it feel to keep getting all these great acting roles?
“It feels really, really good, and I’m very appreciative. Hollywood can be very cruel. They put you on the shelf when you hit 40. And, yes, people say, ‘Well, 40 is the new 50,’ but no one says, ‘Girls, when you hit 50, you’re out of luck.’ A few years ago, I decided, ‘You know what? I have wrinkles, my body is not as toned as it was before; I have broken bones, fractures, a torn meniscus disk—and that’s just for starters!’ I told my reps, ‘This is me and I’m going to have faith that the roles will still come.’ And, boy, have they. I’m so appreciative, you have no idea. It’s been amazing.”
Please tell me the whole “ageism in Hollywood” issue is getting better.
“I hope so. It did for me, yet I don’t think we’re there yet to make that statement in full. But it is getting better. I think it’s also because of representation—there are a lot more women who are executives now, and that is making the biggest difference. We’re getting away from the male fantasy where a male actor who is 60 or 70 years old can have a girlfriend that’s old enough to be his daughter, and nobody bats an eye. Of course, if a woman were to do it, it would be an issue. Having women behind the desk makes all the difference.”
I think it’s safe to say people associate you with being rather confident. It sounds like you’ve grown even more confident as you’ve gotten older.
“Yes and no. I love being my age—mainly in regards with the maturity that has come with it. I’m getting out of my way more and more every day and that is wonderful. It’s such a stress-reliever. To be perfectly honest, it’s the physical aspect of getting older that sucks, but everything else is great. You do have to work at it, but I don’t want to work at it to get a job; I want to work at it to stay healthy and to appease to my own personal vanity!”
Dancing has always been a big part of your life. Is it still?
“I dance all the time in my house—either by myself, with my husband, or with my sister when she comes over. We put on music, and we dance. I no longer do the full-out dancing like I did when I was younger, but I still choreograph the moves in my head. I can’t help it, it’s in me. It was like that when I was a child, and it’s still like that today. If music is on, I see movement; I see the pieces. Even if I’m at a traffic light, the blinking of the lights, it’s rhythmic. I start going and I then I start tapping. I don’t even know I’m doing it, until I hear the car horns beeping, telling me to move.
But I do love boxing, it has done so much to strengthen my body, my mind and my spirit—it has honestly done the most amazing things for me. Most people think that it’s just a barbaric sport where two people are pounding the crap out of each other, but that’s a very small part of it. I look at it this way: In order to be a champion, you have to be in the gym, work hard, eat right, sleep right, and take care of yourself— and that includes your emotional and your mental state. If that’s not there, you start to get into serious trouble. To take care of yourself, to nurture your limits and push your limits, but also pull back when you’re going too hard… having that in my head has helped me so, so much.”
The mental part is the biggest part. What else do you do to make sure that’s covered?
“I try to exercise as much as possible, but I don’t kill myself. I did for a bit, until I realized how much it was bringing me down; I wasn’t listening to my body and my spirit. I also only surround myself with people I like and people who like me. If you don’t fit in those categories, you got to go! People think that I’m so strong and so confident, and on one hand, I am. On the other hand, I could be easily wounded emotionally. That I have to take care of. Part of me taking care of that is not having that negativity around me. Not having people who have an agenda consciously or subconsciously to just throw daggers my way.”
A good life policy.
“I also go to therapy. I’ve been in therapy for years and years, mainly because there was a point in my life where everything was going great, but I didn’t like the person I was. I was like, ‘Why am I so weird when I go out? Why do people think I’m an enigma? Why don’t I have good relationships? Why do I lose my temper so quickly? Why do I get hurt so easily?’ There were so many things about myself that I didn’t understand because it seemed like I had all the confidence, all the ambition and all the drive in the world, yet things didn’t add up with how I was feeling. I’m telling you, therapy works.”
Talking about it has always, traditionally, been hush-hush. Hopefully, that’s changing.
“Therapy changed my life. Now, I like who I am; I don’t like all of who I am, and that’s normal, too, but I like myself a hell a lot more than I did 20 years ago. I’m never going to stop going to therapy. I used to go every day—every single day. Now, it’s more of a checkin… once a week, twice a week, once a month. I have to keep it up, just like a yearly physical. It has done so much good, it’s truly incredible. My best friend, Julie, even said to me, ‘I love you and I always liked you.’ And then she said, ‘But now I love you and like you even more because you love and like yourself even more.’ I could cry! Doing it works, and that is more important to me than anything. You can have all the money in the world, but if your mental health isn’t there, none of it means anything.”
Is that what you would tell that younger version of yourself growing up?
“I think I’d tell her that those insecurities she’s feeling are normal… and to lean into her confidence, because it’s there. After that, I’d tell her to relax.”
01 Wash Cycle
“I never go to bed with makeup on. I swear to God maybe I’ve done it once or twice in my entire life! I could be stumbling in from a 14-hour shoot, and I will still take off that makeup. I also always wash my hands—even pre-COVID. As soon as I get in the house, I wash my hands before I do anything else. And I never, ever touch my face.”
02 Family Remedies
“I still use all the old-school remedies that my aunt taught me. I love taking an aloe vera plant and scooping out the jelly stuff, slathering it on my face and just letting it sit before bed. She taught me to wash my face at night, moisturize at night, and then, in the morning, don’t wash my face again to not dry out my skin.”
03 Liquid Gold
“I drink a hell of a lot of water. The only things I drink are coffee, water and champagne. When I do anything else, it comes out on my skin.”
04 Celeb Status
“All I can say is that I aspire to get Angela Bassett’s skin. She’s phenomenal-looking, and she takes care of herself way better than I do. I want to know all her secrets. I even begged her one time to tell me what she does, and she goes, ‘Oh, just the regular stuff.’ I go, ‘You are so full of shit. You have to tell me what you do.’ She wouldn’t tell me, so I found out who her facialist is [laughs]. Her name is Mamie. She really changed my skin. I rely on her and my dermatologist, Dr. Erin Kil.”
05 Old Standard
“One time, I went to my doctor, and I was like, ‘I’m gaining weight. What should I do? Is there something you can help me do?’ He goes, ‘Yes, let me prescribe something to you’ and he wrote on a piece of paper: ‘Eat better, exercise more, drink more water.’ I hate to admit it, but that old advice works.”
06 Sleep Patterns
“I struggle with sleep, and that’s because I’m still dealing with menopause. Not sleeping really throws me for a loop. It’s hell when you are tired and you fall asleep at 9, 10 at night and you wake up at 1 a.m. sweating. You can’t go back to sleep for several hours, and then you have to get up at 5. Not getting sleep really affects me—not just with my appearance, but more with my mental health.”
Photography by Mikael Schulz at REIN Studios, Brooklyn; Makeup: Karen Dupiche; Hair: Johnny Lavoy; Styling: Jared Depriest Gilbert; Styling Assistant: Elle Quin