Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer stand in a doorway, with a bleach-blonde Brandon Perea pointing from behind them
Brandon Perea points from behind Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer in Nope. Courtesy GQ

There’s a plethora of creative talent in Nope, Jordan Peele’s latest horror film about a group of people going toe-to-toe with a mysterious UFO. After Get Out and Us, Peele has firmly established himself as the most original genre director working in Hollywood today, and the cast includes Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya, the always captivating Keke Palmer, the charming Steven Yeun, and the legendary Keith David. 

It’s Chicago native Brandon Perea, though, who manages to steal every single scene of Nope that he’s in. Perea isn’t just hilarious as Angel Torres, the smart tech guy who helps Kaluuya and Palmer set up surveillance on the aliens, but the longer the movie goes on, the more endearing and even inspiring the character becomes. 

After working with Peele for the first time, Perea tells Chicago Reader that he was shocked by just how flexible the director was. “Jordan was so collaborative with his actors. He was even willing to change storylines, if it made us more comfortable. Which was insane. He just had so much trust in us. Instead of saying, ‘Alright, this is what we’re going to do!’ He’d ask, ‘What do you think about this? What should we do?’”

Born in Schaumburg, Perea spent his youth living all over the city. “We moved nearly every year of my life,” says Perea. “We would be in the city or south side or Berwyn. But most of my youth was spent in Schaumburg and the northwest suburbs. That’s where I went to school and where most of my memories lie.”

Perea’s dad would always sneak Brandon, his younger brother Jordan, and his older brother Mike into movie theaters when he was younger. It was while watching R-rated action movies and fight scenes that Perea caught the bug for entertaining. At first, though, it took the form of breaking. This then expanded into him becoming a jam skater, which is someone who mixes dance, gymnastics, skating, and roller skating. 

Soon, Perea wasn’t just making money from these performances; he was traveling the U.S. for shows in roller rinks across the country. “I was on the road between the ages of 14 and 16, 40 weeks out of the year,” says Perea. 

This work helped prepare Perea for his future career as an actor. “It just helped me navigate entertainment. I just kind of had this knack for performance when it came to entertaining a crowd. The bigger the crowd, the easier it was for me. But even if it was a small crowd that didn’t make a noise, I still kept that energy up.”

At the age of 16, though, Perea’s manager asked him, “What’s your dream?” Perea insisted he was living it, dancing on roller skates every day and making money. 

“He then asked, ‘What’s your plan? You’re not gonna be able to skate forever. Your body’s gonna stop at some point.’ I thought, ‘Shit!’ Because I’d never really thought of it. So he asked me again, ‘What’s your dream? Even if it seems impossible?’ That’s when I told him, ‘I’d always wanted to act in movies and TV.’”

This conversation provoked Perea to make a huge decision that set him on the path to acting stardom. He left Chicago for Los Angeles with the blessing of his parents at the age of 16. “I’d earned their trust through those years when I was on tour. I’m glad that they really gave me that freedom to spread my wings out here.”

R, 130 min. Wide release in theaters

Those initial years in Los Angeles were a struggle for Perea. Even though he held numerous meetings at Hollywood studios, made various connections, and honed his craft as an actor, it took Perea three years to land his first minor movie role, in the 2016 comedy drama Dance Camp, which was released onto YouTube Red. 

Then, in 2016, Perea was cast in the role that would kick-start his career—Alfonso “French” Sosa in Netflix’s The O.A.

“I ended up booking that job at the perfect time,” says Perea. “I was contemplating leaving LA and moving back to Chicago. So that job changed my life. I got to move to New York, make good money, and then come back to LA and make a living off of that.”

Perea’s career is almost certainly going to hit another echelon now that Nope has hit cinemas. For the time being, though, he just hopes that audiences are thoroughly entertained by Peele’s dynamic storytelling and filmmaking, while also leaving some time to try and digest Nope’s subtext. 

“There are so many layers to Nope. It has a million messages that aren’t super direct. There’s no right answer. So I want people to pay attention. But I also just want people to have a good time. It’s a scary movie. But it’s also a fun movie. I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.”