Since she was born in 1994, actress Aurora Perrineau wasn’t around to revel in the now classic cartoon Jem and the Holograms when it aired from 1985 to ’88. Generation Xers will recall that it followed a record store owner named Jerrica Benton, whose alter ego was a pink-haired rocker who performed on the side with her band. For the live-action film version, out on Oct. 23, Perrineau is stepping into the glittering shoes to play one of Jem’s three bandmates, Shana. “I had no singing experience,” the 21-year-old laughs during a tête-à-tête in Los Angeles a few weeks before the film’s release. “No musical experience at all. I had an idea that I could possibly do it. I was going to say ‘no’ to the audition because singing was required, and my grandma was like, ‘You need to go, it’s an opportunity.’”
Perrineau auditioned six times before being cast alongside Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott and Hayley Kiyoko in the modern adaptation, which is set in the era of YouTube stars and is produced by Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun. While the whole setup sounds like a slam dunk, superfans of the series unfairly gave Perrineau her first biting taste of fame after crying foul that Shana would be played by a biracial actress. At first, the actress didn’t take it well.
“I’m not great with social media in general,” she admits. “I’d maybe been bullied here and there before in school or something, [but] when it started happening on the Internet my first reaction was to tweet them back either something mean or be like ‘This is what it is’ and try to explain things to people. But at the end of the day, people are going to have an opinion on me, good or bad, and that’s how it’s going to always be. You can be one of the biggest stars ever and someone is going to hate you. In the beginning I had a hard time.”
“I’ve never not been able to walk around as a black woman,” the actress adds. “I’ve always been black, and people have always thought of me as black. So for me it was kind of this weird thing. I identify with both races. I don’t see color. My parents [actors Harold and Brittany Perrineau] have always taught me it doesn’t matter what color you are. They’ve never really talked about color. So to have the backlash, that really shocked me more than anything else.”
The actress spent much of her childhood growing up in Hawaii, where her father filmed Lost as title character Michael Dawson for six seasons. In her early years she remembers being taken to Hollywood film premieres and walking red carpets of big premieres like The Matrix. The experience weirdly prepared her for this breakout role, and she’s even tapped a stylist, Chris Horan, for her red carpet world tour. But the flamboyant sheen of the Holograms’ costumes won’t find its way into Perrineau’s real-life looks. “In my everyday life I’m wearing jeans, T-shirts, and combat boots,” she says. “Pretty much that’s it. I like to keep it simple and classy, old Hollywood-ish sometimes. No more glitter. I’ve had enough.”
Jem and the Holograms doesn’t necessarily represent the sort of film role Perrineau has in mind for her career going forward. It’s more of an opportunity for exposure and a fun, positive onset experience. Her next film, Equals, which was recently picked up for distribution by A24, is different from the teenybopper Jem. The movie, which stars Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, is set in a futuristic dystopian society where emotions have been vanquished. It was directed by Drake Doremus (Like Crazy), a filmmaker Perrineau couldn’t believe she was actually getting to work with.
“I feel like I get star-struck with directors more than I do anything else,” she says, citing Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Martin Scorsese as other filmmakers with whom she aspires to collaborate. “Drake and I got past that pretty quick. Once you fly to Japan together and have to be together for a month straight in 100-degree weather and humidity, you move on. We all flew to Japan, and we showed up and got our hair chopped off. The second day we were there, they were like, ‘Are you ready for your haircut?’”
Equals has yet to receive an official release date, but Perrineau is anticipating its arrival, mostly because she wants the world to see a varied facet of her. She admires Christian Bale and Tom Hardy above all other actors because they have the ability to fully vanish into a character, consumed entirely by the performance. Both can transform and change based on the project, a skill Perrineau hopes to develop more fully.
“Do whatever you have to do,” Perrineau says of acting. “Does it scare me that I probably have to shave my head bald at some point? Yeah, but I think it would be really cool. It really gives you another life and lets you step into the character in a different way. Whether it’s gaining weight or losing weight, you don’t want to play the same role over and over again, have no different character arcs. You always want there to be an arc and maybe a different challenge.”
The actress is aware that both of her role models are men, a fact that she says seems to faze reporters. She interested in the growing trend in Hollywood where women can take on parts originally written for men. “I’ve had that happen a couple of times where I’ve read scripts and they want me to go in for a different role,” she says. “I read it and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m telling you I’d be perfect for this,’ [but] casting directors are looking for this and not even willing to open it up to whatever look you are. Sometimes that’s a little soul crushing. Sometimes I read boy roles and think they would be really cool. As you progress in the industry, those roles become more available.”
“I get that it’s a job,” Perrineau says of fame. She stays away from Hollywood clubs and parties, and spends time reading or horseback riding or traveling with her boyfriend, British actor Sam Strike. “That’s how my parents raised me – this is just my job. They’re not flashy people. They’re not trying to be in the press. They are very much like ‘Keep your head down and do your work and be humble.’”
It’s the sort of heartfelt message that’s apparent in Jem and Holograms, and one that Perrineau hopes young viewers will take to heart. She knows who she is as an actress now, especially after facing the online backlash earlier this year, and she wants the girls who will see the film to understand that there is no specified path for who you are meant to be, in your career or in your life.
“Be who you are no matter what other people are saying or trying to make you do,” Perrineau says, passionately. “It’s about staying true to yourself and always believing in yourself and going after your dreams even if someone else doesn’t believe in it. Eventually people will believe in you if you believe in yourself enough. Don’t hide behind this fake life that people post on social media – just be who you are.”