When we think of Rosie Perez, we think of the street wise, no-nonsense woman whose laugh reverberates around the room. She exudes a joyous energy no matter what role she plays, but she has never been as subtle as she is in HBO Max’s exuberant spy thriller, The Flight Attendant. Perez charges her performance with a relatable loneliness that we are drawn to her, and this is one of her most complex performances to date.
Throughout The Flight Attendant, Megan tells various people that Kaley Cuoco’s Cassie is her best friend–she even brings it up while she is being questioned by the FBI. Megan wants everyone to know, but it feels like that relationship is one-sided. It takes until the final episode of the first season for Cassie to tell Megan that they are indeed close, and that moment is key in Megan’s emotional survival. Megan is at the age where she doesn’t receive as much attention from her peers, and Perez could identify with her character’s struggle. Pay attention to when Megan is on screen, but she doesn’t have any lines or when she is almost out of the frame.
Perez is acutely aware of the ridiculous situations her character finds herself in. Megan is a wife and mother who finds herself embroiled in her own espionage story when she accepts money in exchange for files off of her husband’s laptop. Megan thinks she will get away with everything and can don a floppy hat like she’s seen other characters do in movies and other shows. Perez understands the humor of the situations but she never plays them too hard. Her nimble comedy is found in a look or in the delivery of a line.
For everyone, The Flight Attendant is a tightrope walk, but Perez’s might be the toughest journey. Both Megan and Cassie are alone in their respective spy thrillers, but Megan is doing it all on her own. She has so much to lose, but Perez makes Megan’s fight to keep it so captivating and hilarious to watch.
Awards Daily: I’ve asked everyone about tone, but you are the first actor I’ve spoken to about The Flight Attendant. What was it like to capture that?
Rosie Perez: Initially, it was difficult for all of us to really solidify what the tone would be. At the first read-through, it became clear. I thought that some of us, including myself, were going for the comedy and then some of us were going for the straight drama. I thought I had the tone wrong. After we read, Susanna [Fogel] told me I nailed it. She said that my comedy was understated enough and then I walked away thinking, ‘What the hell?’ I was confused. When I got on set and I had my first scene with Kaley [Cuoco], it clicked immediately. I got it. That was the most important thing of the whole show.
AD: You have this seemingly throwaway line in episode three when you’re delivering pills to get the flash drives and Megan doesn’t know what to do. She says, ‘They’re drugs! Have fun! Take them…just not all at once.’ It’s this kind of absurdity that sneaks in that I thought was so hilarious.
RP: Every time they yelled cut, I would burst into laughter. What was really nice about working on the show is that what I have found in my career is that sometimes television, everyone likes to micromanage. Every little word and line or delivery. It drives you insane. The confidence and the support on The Flight Attendant was outstanding, and that made it easier to work. You hired me because you know and feel that I can do my job. I never had to have that conversation.
AD: If people want to micromanage and nitpick, just do it yourself.
RP: (laughs) Yes, exactly.
AD: I love how open Megan is with letting Cassie know she wants her in her life. She refers to Cassie as her best friend several times when Cassie isn’t in the same room. What do you think it was like when these characters met?
RP: Initially, Megan was supposed to be a lot stronger and a lot feistier. Even more duplicitous. They were telling me that Megan is Cassie’s best friend. I came back at them and said, ‘No…Cassie is Megan’s best friend in Megan’s head.’ The way it was written on the page, it felt, to me, that Cassie was annoyed with Megan and when I told that to Steve Yockey, he gave me this look. That insight into their so-called friendship opened it up for me. I had to Steve and Susanna that Megan is having a midlife crisis and she doesn’t know it. Whether you’re male or female, there’s a hormonal imbalance and if you’re unhappy with your life, that’s where the crisis occurs, you know?
RP: Cassie and Megan probably had a different dynamic when they started working. Megan is in charge, but as time went by, she started idolizing Cassie and wanted the freedom that she had. She wanted to run her life how she wanted to–no matter how reckless–but she still wanted to maintain that control to feel in charge. It’s a very fine tightrope that I needed to learn how to walk. As Megan, I do truly believe Cassie is my friend and I am hurt by her and annoyed by her. I was so excited to bring all these layers to this relationship. Susanna and I worked together to steer it in the proper direction.
AD: In the finale, Megan and Cassie lay it all out to one another and Cassie tells Megan, ‘We’re definitely friends now.’ I kept thinking how much that exchange would mean to Megan and how hard it was for Megan to realize that Cassie is just coming to this realization.
RP: It was pivotal. That’s what Megan has always wanted to hear.
AD: My god, I can’t imagine.
RP: It’s never returned from Cassie. That was a very, very important moment for me, and they also were at a point of desperation where they’ve lost everything. There was nothing to take away. They could bare their souls and tell the truth and they realized that they were each other’s friends and they do have each other’s backs. That was so amazing. That scene was an amazing acting moment for us because we both knew how we wanted to play the scene but we didn’t share it with each other.
AD: At all?
RP: It was also my last day of shooting so I was so full of emotion and I was trying to keep it at bay. She would look at me and I would get obviously choked up, and Kaley would say, ‘Don’t do it, Perez! Keep it together!’ And she’d walk away (laughs)
AD: That’s great (laughs)
RP: And then we go on set and do it. On the first take, we looked at each other and started crying. It was the beginning of the end for Megan and Cassie but also for me and Kaley in the sense that it was the start of a friendship. That’s actually rare. Most of the time, you kind of wonder if they are going to keep it touch. We were so honest with each other. Kaley Cuoco is amazingly smart, intuitive, and a totally authentic person. When she lets you in, you realize how real and down to earth she is. I remember once in Italy, she would help create outings for everyone to spend time together. Episode three was a vulnerable episode for Megan, and I was feeling everything she was feeling. I told her, ‘You know, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m kind of socially awkward’ and she said, ‘Oh, I noticed it on day one!’ I went down five minutes later (laugh).
AD: Speaking of that vulnerability from episode three, I love how much the show values Megan’s feelings and her experience. She says, ‘I want to be more than Oyster Bay’ and then in the finale she talks about being invisible and having a secret felt amazing to her. Cassie tells Megan that it’s going to be okay, and Megan says, ‘Not everyone gets to be okay.’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard a character say that. I love how you deliver that line.
RP: Thank you. Episode three was challenging because you have to get the tone right and you don’t want to overplay the scene while getting that information out. The writers were so smart to use alcohol as an excuse. Megan is feeling so guilty with how she handled the FBI and what I used to play that was the first inkling of her having a hormonal imbalance. Her falling apart and trying to keep it together. It’s too much for Megan. For the invisible line and the I don’t have a lot of friends line, those episodes weren’t written yet. Megan’s part was supposed to be really small. In episode one, the flight attendants are in the galley and preparing drinks. I love how Susanna directed that scene. Susanna said that she needed me to cheat my body because they can only see the back of me.
AD: Yeah, I remember that scene very well.
RP: I told her that I was doing it on purpose and she insisted that she needed to see me. I told that you don’t need to see her because Megan is in charge but everyone is talking over her. It might not be apparent at first, but later it would make sense. I wanted her to be invisible. Here I am from Soul Train, Do the Right Thing, and White Men Can’t Jump…all sexy roles and having attention from men whether I like it or not…to me walking down the street and no one is paying any attention. Ageism is real. It’s not just America–it’s the world. It’s not the fault of the youth. It is what it is. When I turn around, I wanted it to be as if she wants to be part of the conversation so badly. When I read in episode three that she didn’t have a lot of friends. That line killed me. It’s just perfect. When they were writing episode eight, they told me I was going to love it. I was so full of emotion when I read it.