Rosie Perez Fighting for the Role of Renee Montoya With Cathy Yen’s Help Is Exactly Why I Love Birds of Prey
Actress Rosie Perez sat down with writer Yolanda Machado for Nerdist to talk about her role in Birds of Prey (or whatever they have decided to call it now), including how she got to play gay Latina icon Renee Montoya and how, for some reason, it wasn’t an absolute given.
Casting Rosie Perez was one of the choices that got me excited about the film. Perez is an icon in Hollywood and—let’s not forget—an Oscar-nominated actress. However, we all know Hollywood has a cap on the ages of actresses, especially for actresses of color, and Perez, with her accent and swagger, has never tried to fit into any box. Yet, that is exactly what allegedly gave people pause when it came to casting her in the role.
“Cathy Yan called me up and she was very honest with me,” says Rosie Perez in the interview. “She said that the studio was not really keen on casting me, and that it was because of my age. I think that they were worried about presenting a more mature Renee Montoya, but also, I think they would say were worried about the physicality that was needed to pull it off. But she said, ‘I want you and if you’re ready to fight, I’m ready to fight.’ She explained to me the point of view of the movie was of the emancipation of women, and forming an all girls gang. I said, ‘I am in, this is my role, you could tell them I said that,’ and she did. I went to Warner Brothers and met with everybody and they said, ‘you know what, we were wrong. The role is yours.’”
I must say, every story I’ve heard from behind the scenes of Birds of Prey has made me just extremely happy. It seems like it was a truly supportive set and that director Cathy Yan was so transparent and willing to fight to get Perez the role. Considering Yan was handpicked by Margot Robbie to be the director, it shows that they were really seeing this as a team. Plus, I can totally believe Rosie Perez would tell all those dudes to give them what she was owed.
Perez also shared that, during her first day on set, she ended up getting an injury where she tore her meniscus and thought that might be the end of it, but after getting some treatment, the studio and the stunt team worked to take that pain and experience into the actual character.
“There’s a running scene where I’m running with Harley Quinn, and you see the agony on my face,” she explains. “I tried to make it funny, but I was really in pain, and I remember the director saying, ‘You look like you’re in pain.’ I go, ‘I am!’ But I said, ‘Montoya is a woman of a certain age and she’s in pain and I’m in pain and I want this. I want every single woman to see this, that even when it hurts, you gotta keep moving forward cause that’s the real world.'”
And when I read that line, I knew exactly what grimace she was talking about, and how every time I’ve seen the movie, it’s made people laugh. I love that they just decided to make it work, because it’s true. We have gotten used to making all of the superheroines in our films near supergods because, in some ways, we find that inherently empowering. Still, as I said in my review of Birds of Prey, it’s nice seeing regular (well, mostly regular) female characters fight with their body types, fighting styles, and own combat experience, and not just the same power flips every ten seconds.
Getting to see an older actress like Rosie Perez hold her own and be a badass, a little sexy, and casually a lesbian was just exciting because we don’t really get that in movies. Part of the reason I’ve felt so passionately about Birds of Prey and rooted for it, despite the mistakes it has made in terms of knowing how to sell this movie, is that these are the kind of fun stories that comics are filled with.
It has been interesting watching the general audience and comic book fans struggle with how to market and speak about Birds of Prey. A lot of people say that Harley Quinn should have been the main focus of everything, especially since she is ultimately the star of the film. However, I can say that while Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, what made me excited about Birds of Prey was that it didn’t just pick the safe, glossiest choice for everything—that it decided to be so diverse and give us Renee Montoya as a seasoned, bitter 50-year-old detective and not pick a young actress is the kind of bold move I want from my comic book films.
DC has given us an indigenous Aquaman, a Black Catwoman, and now Birds of Prey, a film that brings together some of DC’s finest in ways that allow them to be fun, interesting characters, outside of the male gaze, with actors who understood the importance of bringing that to screen in every way—not just in marketing, not just in words, but in action.
“I beat out all the youngsters,” Perez said, “and I think it’s because I understood the fight against the patriarchy. I understood the frustration and the pain and the anguish of being underestimated, to be passed over, to be not given the opportunities that you should be given and still show up for work. And that’s Renee Montoya.”
Damn right it is.
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