Rosie Perez, 28, puts her career on the line to stop stereotyping

In 1992, Rosie Perez tried to make it happen. The then 28-year-old spent 14 to 16 hours a day on set in Los Angeles as choreographer for the famous sketch "In Living Color," while her burgeoning acting career required her to travel between film sets. Between sets of Peter Weir's drama " Fearless ," Perez would grab her Brick phone and go over dance moves with In Living Color assistant choreographer Arthur Reiner until she Her Fearless co-star Jeff Bridges told her she needed to hang up. “That’s when I knew I had to choose between the two,” Perez recalled. "I feel that when I make a movie like Fearless , I have to go all out."

Perez asked Reina to take over as choreographer and eventually left In Color in 1994. While the choice to focus on acting paid off — Perez later received an Oscar nomination for her role as plane crash survivor Carla Rodrigo in "Fearless" — it wasn't easy. Although its debut was well-received Played Jeopardy-obsessed Gloria in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing (1989) and White Men Can't Jump ( 1992) Gloria Clemente's scene steals the show as Perez, still trying to play a young Puerto Rican actor in Hollywood, describes how confronting her bigotry is. "With Fearless , they didn't want me. I had to audition four times for the role," she said. "I could have given up easily, but I didn't because part of me was like, how dare you? I'll tell you. "

It was Perez's competitive spirit, combined with much-needed support from her family, that inspired her to fight for the career she wanted, calling those in the industry "their bullshit." She turned down roles that perpetuated stereotypes and even fired an agent who suggested she dye her hair blonde or get a nose job. "At that point, my rep will say, 'This hurts you.' Well, that's it. Hopefully that makes it easier for the guy behind me," Perez said. "Honestly, that's how I feel. That was hard. I could have done more. I could have said yes to a lot of other projects, but I said no." While saying "no" is hard, Pei Reis believes her sister Carmen told her not to give up or she would let the powers that be win. "I'll never forget what she said. And then she said, ' Go to hell!' "

Rosie Perez at the 1992 MTV Movie Awards. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

Perez's now decades-long career has taken her from movies and Broadway to co-hosting "The View" and most recently an Emmy nomination for "The Flight Attendant." In Showtime's crime drama " Your Honor," she plays Assistant U.S. Attorney Olivia Delmont, opposite Bryan Cranston. Perez, now 58, admits she still gets as nervous on set as she did when she was 28, but this time it's different. "It wasn't filled with this intense anxiety. I would breathe and work through my fears."

Below, Perez reflects on major career crossroads, her "corny" friendship with Tupac Shakur, and her crush on meeting "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek time.

Let me go back to 1992-93. Where do you live?

I have a house in Los Angeles, near Hancock Park. It's not huge or anything, but it's pretty good. I still had an apartment [in Brooklyn] in '92—a year before I bought a house in Brooklyn.

So were you living a bi-strait life at that time?

Yes, it suits me perfectly. It was a crazy time in my life because I was making a movie and then choreographing "In Living Color," and then I was going to the club to meet with the leaders of my new school. Back then, Busta Rhymes was a part of it. It was a crazy time, but wonderful at the same time.

Now that you're at a crossroads in your career, what are your goals at 28?

My goal is to do a good job. To be honest, I still wanted to choreograph; I started directing. I had directed a few music videos, and Keenen Ivory Wayans allowed me to direct the dance sequence for [ In Living Color ]. I thought I would keep going and get more into that area. But I always dreamed of being on Broadway, so that was my focus. And giving back, I had a charity at the time. I've been working for that charity for 20 years. I had just resigned from my role as artistic chair and co-founder. So my plate is full. I just strive for excellence. Don’t strive for perfection, but strive for excellence.

How is your work-life balance at 28?

That's quite difficult. If I had to do it over again, I would spend more time on my family life and my personal life. As I matured, I began to realize that if you don't have love, stability, a home life, good friends, and a good relationship with your family, then none of it means anything. As an actor, that doesn't do you any good because you're imitating life. If you don't participate in life, it will affect your work.

How would you describe your relationship at the time?

I've had some really great relationships, especially my best friend Julie Shannon - she's still my best friend, my best friend. My sister Carmen and I have always been close, but she was annoyed that I was always on the run. I wish I could spend more time with my dad. I might only go to Puerto Rico 3 times a year instead of 20 times a year. I just thought if I could put in more time, but if I did, I wouldn't be where I am now.

Rosie Perez and Tupac Shakur attend the 7th Annual Soul Train Music Awards in 1993 . Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

You were also friends with Tupac at the time.

He is a complex man. I'm a complex person. We are both two people who used to hide a lot of emotions. We don't trust many people, and when we're together, we're able to let our guard down. He had a turbulent childhood. I did the same, so we connected quickly.

I remember one day he said, "I'm crazy about you." What's so crazy about me? He said, "No one knows you're corny. You're a cornball, you're very sensitive, and you're silly." And I was like, "You too!" He's great, and he's a very, very profound person. But he's funny. I hate when people talk about him. They never really talked about how funny and enjoyable he was.

We talked about some of your struggles at the time. But is there anything easy about life at 28?

Yes, there are many things that are easy. My physical condition is very good. My knees, feet, hips were moving, but I was still healthy. Another easy thing for me is getting into character. I used to be so nervous that I would stop the character from breezing through. But as I get older, even now that I'm 28, I'm able to let go.

Was there a moment when you felt like your nerves were preventing you from fully committing to your performance?

Yes, I remember being in The Fearless . Peter Weir said, "What's wrong with you?" because I just started crying. I said, "We did so many takes and I feel like I'm pretending." He said, "You are!" I said, "What?" He said, "You have great skills." I said, "I do? "It's crazy because I never studied acting. I was discovered by Spike Lee. So it was kind of like me learning the craft on the job.

Then I met George C. Wolfe, the film director and playwright who was then the director of the Public Theater. The first time I performed at the Public Theater, I was terrified. I remember the first night we rehearsed, he came backstage and he was so supportive, so cool. He looked at me and said, "Breathe," and I started breathing. He said, "Now overcome your fears and step toward your greatness. It's right in front of you. And only you can do it. You know you can do it. That's why you're here." I said, " Oh, come on. " We all laughed. I took a deep breath and pushed through.

That's when it started to dawn on me. Nerves are part of this process. Everyone says it, but it never actually happens until that moment. The fear was, oh my God, I was scared. I'm scared. I'm scared. It will mess me up. Instead, I was scared. This is part of the process. Everyone is scared. They are just in front. Nerves are there for a reason. I remember him saying, if you weren't nervous, I would be.

What advice would you give to your 28-year-old self?

My advice is to calm down. I was very confident at the time, but I would say take that confidence even further. I would also say protect yourself more. The pitfalls of this business and the trust factor of this business are tough. My feelings would be greatly hurt. Like Tupac said, I'm very sensitive. I think I'd be tough in a different way; I wouldn't have this bravado toughness. I will tell myself that you are strong. Be careful, be careful, be careful.

Woody Harrelson and Rosie Perez, 1992. Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

The release of White Men Can't Jump was also a big moment for you in '92.

Every day feels like summer camp. Ron Shelton, the director, was driving us crazy. It was by far the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. There had been an experience that followed, but nothing could compare to this experience. It was so much fun, especially at lunch – just making one joke after another. Now that I'm older, I definitely wouldn't do that. You have to reserve your energy, which is difficult. You can go to the trailer and relax. But then I was like, “What are you going to have for lunch?”

The Jeopardy scene is one of the most famous moments in the movie because your character wins the competition, exceeding everyone's expectations.

That's one of the main reasons I'm so fascinated by this character, not only because it's such a well-rounded character, but also because she was on the show Jeopardy! To this day I still watch Jeopardy , and then Wheel of Fortune . When Alex Trebek walked off the set, I scattered. Everyone looked at me. I did the cornball thing and I was like, "I watch you every night. Oh my God!" And he was like, "It's nice to meet you."

I was nervous; that's why I screwed up that infamous line. I forget how I said it, but I think I said Mount Suvius, and there was no script. Alex Trebek said, "Let's see if the judges are going to accept this answer." And they did. The judge will accept this answer. So funny. When I smile, it's a real smile. That was a real moment for me.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.