LLast month, Oscar-winning Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele shared a clip of the moment he told Brandon Perea he’d booked his first major film role – in Peele’s subversive UFO horror. nope. It’s the kind of video that makes you grin involuntarily. Peele tells the actor at a call-back audition that he liked the reading the actor gave previously, but he would have to change the entire script to accommodate it. Perea bites her lip in anticipation of mild disappointment until Peele says, “I’m going to change the entire script…you got the part.” The clip went viral. We watch Perea go through a roller coaster of emotions from disbelief to joy before breaking down in tears.
Perea, who until then was known for his role in the Netflix series The OAShe plays in the film Angel Torres. Angel is a disaffected tech store clerk with faded blonde highlights and slightly stained facial hair. That look, Perea tells me, at a Hollywood hotel where all the employees wear white tracksuits, was his own invention. He came up with it while playing a UFC video game during the pandemic. “I created this character,” he explains, “to look like a badass, and then I was like, ‘Why can’t I?'” In the film, Angel ties in with Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer’s brother-sister with Duo, um capturing extraterrestrial life on film. His performance brought in critics with catchphrases such as “scene stealing” and “breakout” for the depth and comic relief he brought to the film.
Today, his figure’s washed-out blonde streaks and blotchy facial hair are gone. In their place are his natural black curls, now grown out, and a baby-clean chin. He lights up the chic hotel in shades of gray with an energy matched only by his lime green floral cardigan. “Yoooo, that’s crazy!” he exclaims, punching the air and rocking back in his chair when I tell him we have the exact same date of birth. “I’ve never met anyone like that.”
It’s safe to say that although Perea and I started on the same day in 1995, we’ve lived our 27.5 years very differently since then. Born in Chicago to parents of Puerto Rican and Filipino descent, Perea lived there until a thriving career as a mid-teen break-dancing roller skater took him across the country. I think I probably had a pair of Heelys by then. “I grew up breakdancing because of my dad,” explains Perea, “my dad used to pop around the back alleys of Boston and locked up.” His dad now works as a technician, which Perea is both proud of and relieved at observing how he worked night shifts as a security guard at the hospital. “He’s with Angel Torres nope‘ jokes Perea.
When Perea combined his break-dancing skills with a newfound roller-skating hobby inspired by a girl he was trying to impress, other skaters traveled to Chicago to challenge him to “dance battles.” Search his name on YouTube and you can still find clips of a young Perea backfliping into battle on the ice rink against men twice his age. “I fought everyone who came to the rink,” he says. If it didn’t already sound like Perea was alive in some way climb up He later joined the Freeze-Force Jam skate crew in Universum, and it was through this troupe of roller dancers that he was able to tour, do live shows, and make decent money for a 15-year-old kid. “I think that shaped my way of thinking in this industry,” he says. “Because you have to be a little crazy to be here and have big dreams.”
When he was 16, Perea’s skating coach took him aside for a frank conversation about his ambitions in life, apparently stressing that he couldn’t breakdance forever. It was then that he made his decision to move to Los Angeles with the aim of pursuing a career in acting. His parents said to him, “Go on, you’re never home anyway. But quit buying sneakers and go pay rent.” A few years later, he got his first taste of success when he played high school achiever Alfonso “French” Sosa in Netflix’s cerebral 2016 drama The OA. The ambitious project has now become a point of reference when talking about series that were “cancelled too soon”. Netflix summarily canceled the show after a stunning second season despite positive reviews and decent viewership, which infuriated fans. “I was surprised…but I wasn’t either,” says Perea of his untimely demise; “There was a lull” in communication from production. It was a tough lesson in Hollywood fickleness and how to be a salaried actor. “I pretended I was doing a third season,” says Perea, “and then it didn’t happen. That taught me that you can’t rest on the laurels of having something.”
What came next tests the strength of many actors’ beliefs — the backcountry between jobs and the unrelenting rejection that comes with auditioning for role after role. He came tantalizingly close to some important jobs; He recalls doing “rounds” of auditions for HBO’s viral teen drama euphoria only to fall last. “Yeah, that put me in a hole for a second,” he admits. No wonder he reacts to being thrown in nope was so instinctive.
As we talk, it becomes clear that Peele is a big fan of the young man before me. “Even as we were filming, he kept beefing up the role,” Perea said. “I came on set with the lyrics I had and he said, ‘Hey, I added two more pages for you.'” The actor reveals that his character was actually supposed to die in the original script, but Peele wrote that out also. It’s also clear that the director enjoyed teasing his young protégé. After getting the part from his audition based only on a brief description of the character, Peele sent Perea homework movies – Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey and No country for old men – but there was no script yet. “I remember thinking, ‘What the hell is he doing?'” Perea recalls. When he finally received the script on Christmas Day 2020, there was no cast list, only the characters. The director ended up writing him in Code: “DK, Palmer, Yeun.” Was it intimidating going from no castmates to three incredibly famous? “I just said to myself, ‘You’ve been preparing for this your whole life. You’ve reached a level of proficiency where you feel confident performing in front of everyone else. Time to prove it.’”
I have a feeling it won’t be the last time Peele will call up Perea; I would point out that given his relationship with Kaluuya, the director is clearly not averse to working with repeat actors. Perea’s eyes light up. He tells me: “[Peele] keeps saying, “Daniel is mine [Robert] DeNiro if I’m Martin Scorsese.” Who does that make you? I ask. “I’m fucking Leonardo DiCaprio.”
“Nope” is available to stream on Peacock in the US and to rent on Amazon Prime in the UK
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/brandon-perea-interview-nope-jordan-peele-b2241064.html ‘You have to be a little crazy to be here’: Nope star Brandon Perea on his breakout role and his close relationship with Jordan Peele