Playbill: This is your third time working with director Joe Mantello, after Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and a Vagina Monologues benefit. What's it like working with him?
Rosie Perez: He doesn't really look at you while he's directing. He has his head down most of the time and he's listening. Once in a while he'll glance up. It's very smart. Because if it doesn't sound right, it's not going to look right. Being a musical person, that made sense to me. The rhythm of it.
Playbill: There are a lot of outrageous stereotypes in this play — your character, especially, but also a lot of the gay characters, and the Italians. Are there any challenges to playing that kind of a role?
Rosie Perez: Well, like you said, the political incorrectness is right across the board. That's one comfort. The way Latinos have been portrayed in the media — more so in film than in theater — has left quite a few wounds. So it's a challenge to not pay attention to that and yet respect it at the same time. My first course of action was to find the human being in Googie. I called Rita Moreno [who originated the role on Broadway in 1975] to ask for her blessing and to ask for her advice. And she said, "Two things: Have fun and find the truth in her. You just concentrate on Googie's heart. Because she's a real person, whether or not people want to admit it."
Playbill: Unlike Googie, you're a terrific performer. Are there secrets to playing bad on purpose?
Rosie Perez: Let the ego go. Because they'll be like, "Okay, no, that's too much on pitch. No, you're still on pitch." And I'm not doing anything! I guess subconsciously you want to be good and you want it right. But you've got to let that go. And, in a weird way, I'm finding that to do it bad, I have to do it good first. And then scale back.
Playbill: Did you know that, earlier this year, BET named you one of the 25 greatest dancers of all time?
Rosie Perez: No. (Laughs) I didn't know that. Playbill: You were number 22, just below Gregory Hines.
Rosie Perez: Oh, wow! Who followed me?
Playbill: Big Daddy Kane. You got it over him.
Rosie Perez: Wow. Wow.
Playbill: In the past you've dissed your abilities as a dancer. Do you still feel that way?
Rosie Perez: I think that I'm a very good choreographer in the field that I have chosen. But I never thought I was a good dancer. I never did. Some people say, "Oh, you're too harsh on yourself.' And I'm like, "No, I'm just a Virgo, I'm too realistic." So that's why I was saying, "Wow." Maybe they're seeing something I'm not.
Playbill: Ever thought about doing a musical?
Rosie Perez: I would love to. I performed [on Broadway] in The Play What I Wrote, and I had so much fun doing that. I think if it stayed in the realm of comedy I would do a musical in a heartbeat. I don't have the vocal abilities to sustain a serious musical. Let's just say Les Miserables wouldn't be my first choice. I wouldn't inflict that upon the audience.
Andy Buck is editor of Playbill Magazine: The Insider's Guide, a new monthly publication offering theatre features and comprehensive listings of New York City shows and restaurants. This interview appeared in the September 2007 issue.