Today we’d like to introduce you to Lys Perez.
Lys, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My story begins as a little kid from all those LA County cities off the 5 Freeway Valley View Exit who would sing-a-long, dance, and repeat every single word of a movie at random. My family reeeeaaaaalllllly loved that. In fact, I just saw them at a holiday party where they told me how annoying I used to be. That was the extent of my acting journey up until recently.
Growing up, I was fascinated by film, but never really considered it as a career. As a child of a single mother, I quickly understood the necessity of earning a reliable income and taking care of family, so acting was just a fun thought in the back of my mind. I grew up fast, but I’m grateful for the challenges that helped me build character at a young age. I wanted what I thought could solve our problems, steady paychecks, so I picked a college major accordingly.
I graduated from USC with a degree in Business Administration on full scholarship (shout out to the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, for the grants, guidance, and community). I remember opening the scholarship letter and being in total disbelief. Being the first in your family to go to college and teaching yourself to navigate the application and financial processes is an entire journey in and of itself.
My sophomore year is when the little acting voice in my brain started to whisper. It reminded me that the cinema school was just on the other side of campus, so I started to minor in Communication and the Entertainment Industry. I liked being close to the industry somehow. I wanted to find common ground between finance and entertainment to earn a living after graduation. I applied to over a dozen internships for The Walt Disney Company and was rejected by every single one until one of them finally called me in and I got the job.
I worked in various financial analysis roles throughout the company for eight years. I’m grateful for each and every one because the lessons I learned are applicable to my life as an actor today. They gave me opportunities to take ownership of high-level work, interact with and influence top leaders of the company, work the hell out of a room during presentations, build processes, and make so, so many mistakes. There came a point where I knew that in order to move up, I was going to have to earn my MBA, and although that would have been a wonderful accomplishment, the thought of that, did not excite me at all. This was the real turning point for me. I looked up from my spreadsheets and truly took some time to reflect. What I did love was the storytelling aspect–yes you can tell stories with numbers. I loved the interaction with people, presentations, and the high stakes, but the corporate life didn’t fit for me. I realized that most of the memories my family recalls of me as a kid involved me performing. That existential moment, along with the emboldened, racism, misogyny, classism, anit-LGBTQ, and xenophobia that came with the 2016 presidential election compelled me to use my creativity to make a difference in my own way. Media is powerful, and unfortunately, people educate themselves about other groups and cultures by what they see in media, which historically has excluded marginalized people and their 360 degree truths. I wanted to, in a creative way, be part of the change of that narrative. So, I started taking acting classes and fell madly in love with the work. I jumped in and got started without knowing a single soul on this side of the industry. I researched how to get started as an actor, got the headshots, subscribed to casting sites, and started getting my ass into audition rooms. It was terrifying and exhilarating to be a beginner again and eventually, I quit my stable, full-time gig. When I told my mom, I quit to be an actor she said, “Finally!” I cried for a week because that was the last response I expected.
I’ve since worked on fantastic, award-winning independent projects, and more importantly, have learned from some inspiring artists. I’ve auditioned for top casting directors and made it to the final rounds of some of the biggest showcases. I’m happy with my progress and thrilled to keep chipping away at it. Each year, I feel myself improving as a human being, which I think is imperative to being a developed actor. I’m currently in the process of writing my own content too because representation is critical in front of and behind the camera. Stay tuned!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It definitely has not been smooth, but smooth is boring anyway. I’m no stranger to obstacles in the road, and Hollywood does present its challenges to a queer, Latinx actor.
People in the business tell me that I started too late or that I’m too Latina or not Latina enough (whatever the hell that means), etc. etc. etc. I have been told to not lean into my queerness or to portray myself as more ethnically ambiguous because it would make it easier for them to market me. Their ideas do not align with the vision I have for my career and certainly do not rock with who I am as a person. Period. It’s a constant battle of making sure that I am more than enough for myself because those are all just projections. I now recognize that some of these things they say I am “not”, or that they want me to hide, are opportunities for growth and exploration. As a person who has lived in the closet, I refuse to let anyone try and put me back in it. I also refuse to allow someone else to define my Latinidad. When I made the decision to be an actor, I promised myself I was going to do it as me.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I’m extremely fortunate that I actually did get to start over. I couldn’t have done anything differently, because it’s all led up to this rare opportunity.
- Website: lysperez.com
- Instagram: @iwokeuplikelys
- Twitter: @iwokeuplikelys
Joanna Degeneres, Doni Masongsong, Cosmo Barbato, Cory Xenos, Rob Napier