Filipino actors

[Only IN Hollywood] A Fil-Am star is born in Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] A Fil-Am star is born in Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’
Director Jordan Peele actually rewrote his script just for half-Filipino, half-Puerto Rican Brandon Perea!

LOS ANGELES, USA – Just when Brandon Perea thought he was not going to land the role in Jordan Peele’s Nope, the actor could not believe what the acclaimed writer-director was telling him. The filmmaker was going to rewrite the script for him and yes, he got the part.

The half-Filipino, half-Puerto Rican actor broke into tears, and so did Jordan.

In Brandon’s resulting performance in Jordan’s highly entertaining Nope, a star is born. In his first major feature film, Brandon shines along with his costars – Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Steven Yeun.

Nope is dope. With this absolutely enjoyable UFO thriller, Jordan reinforces my love for cinema. It’s a compelling reason to return to the movie house – a film that has to be seen on the big screen to share again the communal joy of watching a cinematic tale with other people, partaking of its suspense, joys, and drama.

Nope is a cathartic moviegoing experience, enhanced by its additional elements of humor and supernatural horror.

Jordan now has a brilliant horror trilogy – Get OutUs, and now, Nope. In the new film that he also wrote, Jordan weaves a sci-fi mystery that grabs you from the start.

DANIEL. “One of the things that got me this job was, the way that I approach comedy is because of Daniel (Kaluuya). Daniel got a note from a director he’s worked with previously and the note was, never play the funny, always play the truth,” said Brandon Perea. UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Daniel and Keke play siblings who own Hollywood’s only black-owned business that trains and supplies horses to productions. Steven Yeun portrays a former child actor who runs a western-themed family theme park named Jupiter’s Claim. When strange incidents begin happening in their town (the film was shot in Agua Dulce) in Santa Clarita Valley, California, Brandon’s electronics store salesclerk gets involved in the siblings’ attempt to document and solve the mystery.

In last April’s CinemaCon, Jordan explained the title to us in Universal’s panel: “I know a lot of people who say, when it’s a scary movie, they say, ‘Nope!’ Especially Black audiences, right? We love horror but there is skepticism.”

“I love a rapt audience saying, ‘Nope!’ or ‘Get out of the house!’ I love to encourage that interaction because that is what is giving the audience a unique experience. Rollercoasters are not fun alone. Being scared is not fun alone. You need that energy.”

And that’s exactly how I described Nope. Daniel was quoted comparing Nope to Steven Spielberg’s classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And the terrific actor is not far off. Nope did remind me of the thrill and pleasure I experienced watching Spielberg’s cinematic spectacle.

But make no mistake. Nope is a horror film. The aliens don’t come with a friendly five-note melody.

Into this enthralling movie ride, Brandon’s Angel Torres fits perfectly as a Fry’s (my favorite store in the ’80s and ’90s which has sadly closed) salesman who’s into alien sighting investigations and becomes allies with the brother and sister in their resolve to record the UFO appearances.

The film also stars Michael Wincott as a documentarian who joins this team in its efforts to film the mysterious sightings.

In my one-on-one video chat with Brandon, he recounted how he landed his breakout role.

[Only IN Hollywood] A Fil-Am star is born in Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’

The Filipino-Puerto Rican-American played Alfonso “French” Sosa in the TV series The OA, starred in shorts and movies including Dance Camp and American Insurrection, and competed as part of a dance crew on America’s Got Talent, but Nope will mark his biggest career leap.

I’m currently at home where I did a little self-tape audition in this little room back there,” recounted the actor, very personable, blessed with good looks from his mixed Pinoy and Latino heritage.

BREAKOUT. “I hope that I can be someone to help guide it, to get more opportunities for Filipino actors,” said Brandon Perea, whose mother is Filipino and father is Puerto Rican. UNIVERSAL PICTURES

“I was with my friend who’s also an actor. I remember I got an email notification saying you have an audition for an untitled Jordan Peele film.”

“When you see that, you panic a little bit and you’re like, okay, I want to do great, I want to do the best that I could be for this thing. And so, we prepped it. We just attacked the role in a different manner.”

“Because the script that I got – it was only three pages of sides for the audition and it was pretty simple. Just this kid working at a retail store but he seemed very nice, like hey, how you doing? And oh, uppity up, uppity up.”

“And I don’t know…I just feel like Peele’s films are so grounded so I wanted to bring it to a real place that I can relate to. Usually when I walk into a retail store, people kind of don’t want to be there.”

“They’re kind of just, hey, how you doing (acts bored)? Yeah. You need help? Yeah. I can help you over here. All right, cool. So, I just went more with that genuine feel and I just raised the stakes.”

“My buddy and I – we came up with a plan of like, okay, what if they’re talking in secret code and running an underground Bitcoin operation that sells drugs? And let’s just raise the stakes because this is Jordan, he’s a complex mind.”

“Let’s make this audition more complex than what’s just on the page. And I think that’s what caught Jordan’s eye originally. I just wanted to do it differently and then I got a callback, met Jordan on Zoom, and that went well.”

“I got another Zoom call back and it was for an improv session with Jordan. He said, ‘All right, Brandon, are you ready to do the scenes?’ And I was like, ‘I thought this was an improv session? I was told no scenes.’”

“And he’s like, ‘Well, I kind of need to see you do it again because the character that you brought is far different than what I wrote for.’ And I was like, oh, okay.”

“And he is like, ‘Yeah because if I brought your character into this movie, I’d have to rewrite my entire script.’ And I was like, oh no, you probably don’t want to do that. I’m not going to get this job.”

“And he said, ‘You know what, though? That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to rewrite my whole script.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘You got the part, man. I want you to be in this movie.’”

“And then I instantly cried, just bawling my eyes out. I got Jordan to cry, too. It was an emotional event on a Zoom call, like what we’re doing right now.”

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Brandon also wept when he saw for the first time the huge Nope billboard in LA showing him, Daniel, Keke, Steven, and Michael. In his Instagram video post that recorded him driving to the billboard site with friends, the actor wrote that it took basically his lifetime to get to that moment.

And his buddy in the car told him that it was like the culmination of all his hard work since he left home for Los Angeles at age 16. He is 27 now.

I asked him to talk about how challenging his journey must have been, with the constant rejections and all, to get to that moment.

“You know, you take a million no’s, even more out here in Los Angeles when you’re pursuing a career in the entertainment industry,” answered the Chicago native. “When it comes to being a dancer or an actor, anything, if you’re auditioning, you know that you’re going to hear the word no far more than the word yes.”

“And yeah, I feel like everyone comes with this intention that they’re like the big fish in their small pond in their town. And they’re the star there. And then they’re like, oh my gosh, Hollywood’s been waiting for me.”

“I feel like I had that of like, oh they don’t even know what’s coming to them. And then I got here, and I was like, whew. I’m a fish, but there’s a lot of sharks around me. So, I have to learn the lay of the land.”

“And I’m glad that I stuck it out because now we’re here, I’m chatting with you, and this is an exciting time for me, and I feel very blessed and privileged to be here. But yeah, it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It does literally take that.”

“But it’s all worth it to get to a moment like this. What I would want to preach to anyone who would like to become an actor is just keep going, you can do it. The dream can come true.”

“And I feel like I can be a testament to that, that it can happen. It’s just a lot of hard work and a lot of grit in order to stay in it.”

STEVEN. Steven Yeun portrays a former child actor who runs a western-themed family theme park named Jupiter’s Claim. UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Brandon talked about his heritage and his supportive parents, Joe and Maricar. “My mom is the Filipino side and my dad’s the Puerto Rican side,” he began. “My mom was born in the Philippines and my dad was born in Puerto Rico. But I was born in Chicago.”

“And yeah, they were super supportive with anything I wanted to do. The introduction to movies for me was through my dad. We’d go to the movie theater and we’d watch rated R fighting movies. He’d have us sneak in.”

“I remember my brothers (he’s the middle child) – we’d have to climb under the ropes and my dad is like, just meet me at theater 15, all right? Because he didn’t want to buy tickets for us.”

“One, homie wanted to save a little money. And he just didn’t want to be like, all right, I’m taking these young little humans to go watch this fight, battle film.”

“So he saved himself some fathering points but he earned a lot of points on my end because now, I’m filming a rated R movie and yeah, it’s all good. So it all worked out.”

“And my mom has always been supportive with anything I wanted to do. When I was younger, I never imagined a normal 9 to 5-type lifestyle of like, oh I want to be a fireman, anything like that.”

“Although I give respect to everyone who’s a first responder but I just never had those aspirations. I wanted to be like a professional skateboarder. And my mom was like, okay, I’ll take you to the skate park, I’ll buy you a skateboard, whatever you need to do.”

“And then I started breakdancing on roller skates. And my mom’s like, all right, I’ll drive you to the roller rink.”

As a result, Brandon is a versatile performer – he breakdances on rollerskates, flips, and is a master at bicycle motocross. With his prodigious talent in combining skating and breakdancing, he became the youngest professional in the history of jamskating.

Breaking into a boyish grin, Brandon added, “And then I was like, I want to be an actor and move to Los Angeles. And my mom’s like, all right, you’re making enough money from roller skating, go off and do it. Stop spending money on shoes and go pay rent.”

“And that’s what I did. I’ve been here ever since.”

On acting with Daniel, whose expressive eyes are tapped to the max by Jordan, and Keke who is engaging in a flamboyant role, Brandon replied, “It was far bigger than what I could ever imagine.”

“I grew up watching Keke Palmer on the kid shows that she was doing back in the day. I grew up watching Daniel Kaluuya on Skins when he was a teenager writing the show and that was so inspiring for me.”

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“And seeing his performances now that he’s delivering, winning an Academy Award, it’s amazing to see this growth. And watching their interviews as I’m coming up in this industry, I learned from them.”

“Especially someone like Daniel. There are so many bits and pieces that I’ve received from doing interviews like this that he’s done. I’ve watched those.”

“Those were my acting classes basically of how to navigate the industry and how to navigate being in a film. There are just so many bits and pieces that he’s gifted me that he has no clue. He has no clue how much he’s helped me in my career.”

“One of the things that got me this job was, the way that I approach comedy is because of Daniel. Daniel got a note from a director he’s worked with previously and the note was, never play the funny, always play the truth.”

“And I always took that along on my journey. That’s literally what got me to be in Jordan Peele’s Nope. I did not play the funny of the sides. I just played what was truthful to me and Jordan found the human in that, and he found that so funny.”

BRANDON ON DIRECTOR JORDAN PEELE. “A lot of people are going to be like, wow, we should have been seeing big spectacle films with diversity a long time ago. Jordan is really spearheading that.” UNIVERSAL PICTURES

“He was just, yeah. It’s just real. I just learned so much and now, sitting across from them, seeing them eye to eye performing with them, it’s something that is far bigger than what I could dream or imagine. It’s a miracle, truly. God-given miracle. I’m blessed.”

Brandon laughed when I pointed out the irony that a Filipino-Latino actor played a character named French in The OA.

“Yeah, Alfonso ‘French’ Sosa. That was kind of my breakout in the sense of just really getting a role that can change your life. You take a million no’s to get that one yes, right? For The OA.”

“And I’ll take a billion no’s to get one like Nope. So, it was just great to get these stages in my career to build me up to get to where I’m at right now.”

“I’m so glad that I have a piece like The OA on my resume because if I did not do that, I wouldn’t be prepared for this opportunity today. So, I’m just so grateful for that show.”

“I’m so grateful for the creators for trusting me as well because I had nothing to give when it came to a resume and that plays such a big role I feel like when it comes to getting big parts in Hollywood.”

“And culturally, ethnic background, it’s tough to get those types of roles, especially for Filipinos. We’re not really seen in Hollywood.”

“So, I’m so glad that we’re now getting more opportunities and it’s long overdue. I hope that I can be someone to help guide it, to get more opportunities for Filipino actors.”

Speaking of diversity, Nope is a great example of that. I mentioned it to Brandon and also asked him about his hopes for more diverse casting in Hollywood.

“Seeing the main poster is a very emotional thing and that’s one of the reasons I cried, too,” he said.

“Of course, it was the culmination of all the hard work that it took me to get to that point to see my face blown up on a billboard, but also just to see the representation on one poster for one of the biggest movies of the year.”

POSTER. Brandon Perea: A star is born in Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope.’ UNIVERSAL PICTURES

“That’s crazy. It’s insane. And I think it’s going to prove that we should have been doing this a long time ago. We have a black director directing a mixed group of actors.”

“I think a lot of people are going to be like, wow, we should have been seeing big spectacle films with diversity a long time ago. Jordan is really spearheading that. I think he delivered and I’m so excited for people to watch Nope.”

In closing, I told Brandon that a star was born in Nope.

“Thank you so much for the kind words, Ruben,” he reacted. “I received that, and I appreciate you. God bless. Thank you.”

And fittingly, it was announced recently that Brandon will star as a street fighter who tries to break into pro boxing in the drama The Faith of Long Beach, to be penned and directed by Snowfall’s Eric Amadio. –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.