Edwin Perez is an actor who is able to perform very convincingly in a wide variety of roles. There are actors who seem born to play one type and are beloved for it, and then there are those like Perez who seem to adjust in a highly believable manner to just about any genre and type of character. When you seem him perform you’ll likely think “Right, that’s what he is supposed to be.” and the next performance of his will have you saying the same thing. Whether he is Romeo in the romantic comedy “Heart Felt”, the overly optimistic bard in “Standard Action”, the Tio in “Nina’s World” (animated children’s program), he is always likable and endearing. It’s probable that this is what prompted him to accept a role in the Grindhouse film “Peelers.” In the film he can be seen dealing death and very much playing against type. There’s a grin on his face when he talks about it and the reaction that the public had to his complete 180. It’s the very purpose of Perez to keep challenging himself and the audience’s perception of who he is and what he can do.
Prior to his being cast in “Peelers”, Perez had never been in a Horror film. He’s not quick to admit it but he has leading man looks, which doesn’t often transfer to being cast as a villain (unless it’s an 80’s coming of age high school story). Edwin was particularly attracted to the way he could present his character before and after his transformation with contrasting approaches to his nefarious nature. The comical fact that he gets to do so with the name Jesus in the film is not lost on the actor. The film and his character were a constant source of challenging exploration for him as he states, “I imagined Jesus as a guy who came to the country obsessed with escaping poverty but lacking the work ethic do so with honestly. He’s a ‘get rich quick with minimal effort’ kinda guy who wants the luxury with none of the responsibility. When the group thinks they have discovered oil, he’s the one who pushes for everyone to keep their mouths shut about it. I can imagine that, in a very dark moment, he’d betray the guys to get what he wants. He goes along with the Pablo’s [the boss] plan because he is technically their boss and because it doesn’t really benefit him to push back to hard. When he transforms, I imagined that all those dark base feeling were brought to the surface and he is driven by greed that as a bestial creature has turned to a violent hunger. When it comes to these situations it’s really easy to just say, well he’s evil now so he kills people. But that’s very one dimensional and it doesn’t give me as an actor very much depth to work with. It’s really important to base his motivations on something real and true to the character. In the case of Jesus, it’s his selfish nature dialed to an extreme dark place which drives him.”
Peelers is the story of a group of workers who find what they believe to be oil but turns out to be a toxic substance which transforms them into primal and seemingly supernatural creatures. They stalk and kill the humans whom they encounter. The creatures are feral with contorting movements and emitting primal snarls and growls. Between the prosthetics and the black substance that oozes from their pores, Perez spent a great deal of time in the makeup chair. The film utilizes practical effects rather than CGI. Edwin fully embraced the opportunity to approach the physicality of the creature he transformed into. He explains, “I wanted to show that the transformation was so extreme that normal human kinetics no longer applied to the creature. In one particular scene I get shot in the head and appear to be dead, but I get up and keep attacking. I decided to twitch and contort into as much of a grotesque posture as I could push my body into while rising back up. These things would normally be done with special effects, but we were doing it with practical effects so it really was up to myself and the other actors to bring these supernatural abilities to life. I think everyone is familiar with the trope of actors in an acting class pretending to be trees or an animal, or some object. Sometimes the creature would stalk his prey like a wolf, or play with it like a cat, and attack like a hyena. A very visceral and primal nature became the foundation for my creature work. It was cardio work for certain to make sure that energy levels were up and you are pacing yourself. Stretching was the biggest part of daily preparation. Contorting yourself into a feral beast can lead to some serious cramping.” It’s an accepted trope by the public of actors in an acting class pretending to be trees or an animal but this very real exercise proved to be highly useful in this situations for Perez.
His role in Peelers allowed Edwin to perform as two very different characters; one dark and brooding with an undertone of controlled greed and the other as a wild beast moving chaotically. This fed both sides of the actor’s creative imagination and did not go unrecognized by the audience or the cast & crew. Director Sevé Schelenz declares, “An indie horror film is demanding in a number of ways. Actors in particular don’t get the posh treatment that they typically receive in a big studio production but the demands on them are just as great, maybe even greater. Edwin brought it in terms of talent and commitment and was equally exceptional in his understanding that we were there to work hard and within a limited amount of time. I know that he was physically spent while also being covered with ooze, sometimes barely able to see or move…yet he never gave less than an amazing performance and never muttered negatively about the circumstances. He’s a true professional and earned everyone’s respect.”
For Edwin Perez the experience of making Peelers holds no negative aspects. While it may seem redundant to say, an actor’s job is to explore different characters and stories. Being physically exhausted, covered in special effects makeup, vocalizing inhuman sounds…it’s all a part of the experience that he signed on for and relishes. A romantic lead, a professional musician, or a devious man turned to beast; these are all a part of what success looks like for Edwin. Referencing the illustrious career of Christopher Lee who was known for his work in the horror genre Perez confirms, “I was able to check off playing a villain and a monster from my actor’s bucket list. It’s really great to be able to look back at how much I have accomplished professionally. I never thought I would get the kinds of opportunities I have had and I am very grateful that so many professionals whom I respect have come along and taken a chance on me. It’s also really rewarding to know that I was able to deliver high quality work in a role that I had never done before. It really makes me hungry for more opportunities like that.”