Rosie Perez's Life Lessons

Rosie Perez means business. Just ask any of the hundred or so teenagers—most of them black and Latino—assembled in the auditorium of New York's Facing History school at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon, who watch her on stage with rapt attention. The students are taking part in the Working Playground Master Class, a program Rosie started over a dozen years ago, giving talented urban teens the resources to realize their potential in the arts.

Master Class isn't just a charity Rosie lends her name to, but something she built from the ground up, and actively participates in every year. She knows her students by name, remembers their strengths and weaknesses, works with them one-to-one to make them the best actors, directors, musicians and photographers they are capable of being.

To inspire them, she brings in professionals from different industries to talk about their experiences and teach the students in small groups. This year, her co-instructors include rapper Pharoahe Monch, actors Michael K. Williams and Ramon Rodriguez from The Wire, legendary music producer Cory Rooney (who's responsible for most of Jennifer Lopez's albums) and MTV personality Sway. She also gives the kids a few simple words of wisdom, "when you push past your fear, you step into your greatness." It's a mantra they repeat throughout the day.

We caught up with Rosie after her Master Class to talk about why she gives so much of herself back to the community, and the outspoken star surprised us with some explosive statements about Jessica Alba, John Leguizamo and why she thinks there aren't more Latino stars in Hollywood.

On why she started the Working Playground Master Class:
It was about answering this conviction I had in my heart. When I was growing up, there were wonderful people in my life and my family that made it easier. It's about passing the torch. I want to give these kids a stronger sense of self esteem. As [music producer] Cory Rooney says, they need to know that artists become great because they believed in themselves, not because they were born great.

On how she finds time for family and charity work with her busy schedule:
It's hard, but I force it. People think I'm crazy when I turn down a job or a movie premiere because I'm babysitting my sister's kids. But I'm a sister, and an aunt, and a friend before I'm an actor or a celebrity. When I can't be those things, I get very dark and depressed.

On why she thinks there aren't more Latinos and Latino stories in Hollywood:
John Leguizamo and I talk about this a lot. John says, "Latin people do not support me. They don't come to see my plays, they don't come to see my movies." If we’re the #1 buying market in America, then how come the ticket sales don’t reflect that? Then [people in Hollywood] complain that John's too ethnic. We have a lot of growing up to do as a culture.

On the backlash against Jessica Alba from the Latin community:
I know she's said some things about me but I don't want to enter into a cat fight, because that's detrimental. She's on her journey, and if she gets there that's great and if she doesn't, that's really sad. Everybody has their journey. I have to be less judgemental.

To learn more about the Working Playground Master Class, click here.