Rosie Maria Perez was born on Sept. 6, 1964 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where she was raised in a Catholic orphanage after being abandoned by her mom and taken from her aunt. She made a most memorable screen debut as Spike Lee’s girlfriend, Tina, in “Do the Right Thing,” and later landed an Oscar-nomination for a nonpareil performance in “Fearless.” Her many other credits include “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Won’t Back Down” and “The Counselor.”
Rosie serves as the Artistic Chair of Urban Arts Partnership and sits on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Here, she talks about her career and her autobiography, “Handbook for an Unpredictable Life.”
Kam Williams:: What inspired you to write your autobiography?
Rosie Perez: I didn’t really know at first. I kept asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” because I’m such a private person. Then, one day, the head of programming at my charity, the Urban Arts Partnership, said she was excited that I was writing it, and she hoped I’d be giving copies to the students.
My first reaction was “No,” since the subject matter was really heavy, and because of some of the language I was using. But she then reminded me that I’d already shared my stories with them, and I almost burst into tears. I realized, “Oh my God! That’s why I’m writing it.” Those students had been the first people, outside of my inner circle, to hear my story.
It happened when I participated in one of our programs called Life Stories, where we encourage the kids to open up and share so they can understand their lives. One day, I was challenged to share my story with them. That‘s where finding the inspiration and strength to write this book began.
KW: I found it very moving, especially since I had no idea about any of it. I just thought of you as that bubbly, talented, attractive actress I’d seen in movies and on talk shows.
RP: And I am that person, but I’m also this one. And the reason I decided to share with the students was because I saw them come into the Academy so burdened by life every day. When you are a low-income, poverty-stricken, Title 1 kid, you have so much to endure just waking up. So, you may have a bad attitude or a chip on your shoulder before you even get to school. You may arrive so anxious, angry, hungry or apathetic that you may say to yourself, “Why should I pay attention in class?” You might be beaten-up on the way to school, because you live in a bad neighborhood.
Still, I had to inform them, especially the seniors, that they didn’t have the luxury of bringing all that baggage into the world which they would be stepping into as adults. I’d say, “You need to come to terms with it, or let it go. One or the other. And if you can do both, then you’re golden.” If you are unable to get past that baggage, the opportunities that should be yours will not be yours.
KW: Well, I applaud you for overcoming so many obstacles. After all, the odds of making it in Hollywood are long enough for someone coming from a privileged background.
RP: I hear you, since the odds were supposedly great. But you know what? I knew I was going to be successful from day one. From day one. That’s why it throws me whenever someone says it was such a fluke that I was successful.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: “What key quality do you believe all successful people share?”
RP: I would say tenacity and perseverance. You have to be like a dog with a bone. You can’t just let it go. And number one is belief. You have to believe in yourself. You need to have the audacity to be great….
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RP: Me! I see me, and the reality of me gets clearer as I get older, and I’m loving it….
KW: The Anthony Mackie question: Is there anything that you promised yourself you’d do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
RP: Yes, to go back to school and get a degree.
KW: What was it like to skyrocket to fame?
RP: It was both difficult and wonderful. It was quite difficult for me because, being raised in a home, I’d come to hate being pointed at whenever we went out in public in a group. It’s still uncomfortable for me to be stared at, although I’ve learned to deal with it better. It makes me self-conscious….
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
RP: [LOL] I don’t know that I would encourage anyone to follow in my footsteps.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
RP: As someone that gave back, because the people I remember the most in my life are the ones that gave.
KW: Thanks again for being so forthcoming and so generous with your time, Rosie, and best of luck with both the book and your career.
RP: Thank you, Kam. I really, really appreciate it.
(To order a copy of “Handbook for an Unpredictable Life, visit: