Rosie Perez can’t sleep nights. ”I’m very happy with the way things are going for me right now, but I still feel like they’re going too slow. I want it all,” says the fiercely driven triple hyphenate (actress-dancer- choreographer), explaining why she gets only four to five hours’ rest at a stretch. Playing strong-willed characters comes naturally to Perez, who was raised by her mother and an aunt in Brooklyn’s mostly Puerto Rican Bushwick section. In the just-released White Men Can’t Jump, she sizzles as Woody Harrelson’s headstrong girlfriend; in April, she’ll play ”a hip-hop slut from hell” in Jim Jarmusch’s comic Night on Earth.
Perez, who gives her age as ”under 25,” thinks her fiery opening-credits dance in 1989’s Do the Right Thing (in which she made her acting debut as Spike Lee’s angry lover) ”sucked. When people said they loved it, I was going, ‘Huh?”’ But enough people did love it to jump-start her choreography career, landing her acts from L.L. Cool J to Diana Ross and a regular gig arranging dances on Fox’s In Living Color.
Though she and her White Men costar Wesley Snipes, who plays Harrelson’s basketball-hustling buddy, were pals by the end of the shoot, Perez couldn’t stand him at first because ”we’re both very arrogant.” Growing up with nine brothers and sisters was an early lesson in assertiveness training, she says: ”In a family like that, you have to compete for attention.” Looks like Perez will be winning plenty of that in the years to come.