We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Walter Perez, one of the young stars of the highly anticipated adaptation of Fame, the 1980 Oscar-winning movie about artists at an NYC performing arts high school. Perez, 26, is a muscular boxer from the Los Angeles neighborhood Southgate who comes off as impossibly humble. He flashed his infectious smile and signature dimples as he talked about his first big studio movie, why he hopes to work with Jay Hernandez later this year and what he looks for in a woman.
We’re so excited about your lead role in Fame opposite Kelsey Grammer and Megan Mullally. What can you tell us about the film?
The movie opens on Sept. 25, and it’s a remake of Fame, but all of the characters are new and the music is all new and contemporary. The concept is the same, though. But if you were to compare my character with someone from the original, it would be Bruno Martelli. I play a musician, and Kelsey Grammer plays my music teacher. This is my first studio movie, so it was exciting.
Do you sing or dance in the movie?
No. But I play the keyboard, the piano, the organ and the drums in the film. I learned all of them two months before production, and some stuff they’d throw at us like a week before filming, and it was pretty intense. But I love a challenge.
Did you have a good time on the film?
It was lots of fun. It’s going to be crazy when the movie comes out. People are going to really enjoy it. There’s very modern music, stuff from Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson’s people and some music that sounds like Timbaland’s kind of music. The dancing is also real—I don’t want to knock on any other movies, but it’s not like the Step Up type of dancing movies. It’s not like High School Musical, either.
Your character is a New Yorker from Spanish Harlem, but you’re a West Coast guy. What was it like growing up in L.A.?
I grew up in Southgate, a predominately Mexican community and middle-class neighborhood, and I went to a typical public high school called Jordan High School. It was a good experience. If I wouldn’t have gone to Jordan, I would never have been introduced to the program that I was in, “Colors United,” a performing arts program run by a nonprofit organization that exposed inner city kids to the arts: acting, singing and dancing. I met a few people there that guided me through the process of becoming an actor. Tyrese also came out of the same program.
That’s awesome! Was acting your major in college?
Actually, no. I was boxing in San Jose, and I decided, "Either mess up your face and never get the chance to act in my life, or just go back down to L.A. where I knew I belonged," and so I decided to come back and graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a B.A. in Criminal Justice.
Would you ever consider playing a boxer in a movie, like your fellow Latino John Leguizamo?
Yeah! That’s actually what I have been dying to play: a boxer! There’s this movie I’m up for right now—it’s called Ghost in the Ring, and stars Jay Hernandez. I am up for a lead role, the role of Jay’s brother.
We’ve loved Jay from day one of his career. What’s the movie about?
It’s a biopic about two brothers. Jay is playing Gabriel Ruedas, and I’d be playing his older brother—the person who got him into boxing. My scenes wouldn’t necessarily be with Jay, but rather with the actor who is playing a younger version of Jay. But it would be nice to work on the same movie as him.
What's next for you?
My goal is to continue working and making really good movies, even if that means doing independent films that are raw and gritty and more realistic. Of course I would love to do big studio films too. I want to be known as an actor who does real work, like Melonie Diaz.
What do you look for in a woman?
I like girls who are bold, spontaneous, have a good sense of humor, easy-going, don’t take themselves too seriously, are educated and, most important, girls that can eat!