But that should come as no real surprise because Perez is the newest hottie in the “Kissing Booth” franchise. Directed, co-written and produced by Vince Marcello, the sequel to Netflix’s hit 2018 film finds Elle (Joey King) as a senior in high school and caught in a love triangle with the new guy at school (Perez) and boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi), now a freshman at Harvard.
“My younger sister and I live together and today when I woke up, she was like, ‘You have three million followers on Instagram,’” Perez told Variety on Friday afternoon.” I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ She says, ‘How do you feel?’ I go, ‘I don’t know. I guess this is a by-product of just working really hard.’”
Perez began acting in regional musical theater near his native Northwest Indiana. Modeling came next in Chicago followed by a move to Los Angeles about eight years ago. Now 28, Perez’s list of credits include “iCarly,” “Suburgatory,” “Code Black” and “Scandal.”
Variety caught up with Perez to talk about his newfound fame, staying in shape for his big shirtless scene and learning how to play guitar.
What did you know about “The Kissing Booth” or its sequel before you got the part?
I knew nothing about the damn movie. It came through as the “Untitled Vince Marcello Project,” and it was my first audition of the year. I was just like, “This is a YA thing. I’ll go in for this. Let’s see.” And then it was like boom, boom. It was like over two and a half months.
You had to go back to high school for this.
Which is not something that I loved. I couldn’t wait to get out.
Why is that?
I was a competitive swimmer, I was modeling in Chicago and I was going to acting classes. I just always wanted to be on the professional side of things instead of actually being at school.
You’re 28, not exactly high school age. What did that feel like playing a high school student?
It didn’t feel like high school at all. The majority of the school stuff was when we shot the reveal scene of me, the rest is just in the arcade, and out and about and on the soundstage.
Let’s talk about that reveal scene because you’re shirtless, which has been getting a lot of attention. How many sit-ups did you do that morning?
I didn’t drink the whole time we were in Cape Town. I drank one time because I heard the wine country was unbelievable. How do you not drink when you’re in this beautiful wine country? That was probably June or July because when we got there in May, I made a pact with myself, “You’re going to workout every day and you’re going to eat right.”
You have experience in musical theater, but this singing and dancing were different. Was that you playing the guitar when Marco is performing on the street?
That was me actually playing guitar. I actually learned to play the guitar for the movie. In the days leading up to the filming, Vince would call and be like, “Hey can you come over to the production office? Bring your guitar. I want to see how you’re doing.” I’m like, “Okay.” I was so nervous. And initially when I started singing it, it was too high for me. I was like, “This is really hard to sing.” It was very embarrassing at first, and it was like was getting my sea legs. But I was like that nerdy high school student that’s like, “We can’t hang out. I need to do my homework.” The whole cast wanted to go out and go to wine country and go on safari and do everything, but I was like, “If I f— this up, I’m done. Vince will never trust me again. Vince will never trust me again.”
But, yeah, musical theater is very different and I stopped right after high school, and same with swimming. When I came out to Los Angeles, there weren’t many many musical projects outside of “Glee,” so I just took a break. And my voice is so deep that’s it not like you want a guy that’s 20 years old that has a baritone voice.
So the big secret is finally out — you shot “Kissing Booth 2” and “Kissing Booth 3” back to back. (Like the first movie, the second and third were co-written, directed and produced by Marcello). None of you could say anything until a fan event right after the movie premiered.
It was the hardest thing. This was my first time really doing press for a film and I’m a very straight-up, authentic kind of guy. So when it comes to lying, straight-up lying, not even working around it, I was like, “Oh, my God, how do we do this?” And we’re sworn to secrecy with Netflix, and I straight up just really had to lie. But I don’t know when it’s coming out. All I know is 2021.
Now that you have three million followers on Instagram, what do you want to do with your platform?
At the beginning of the pandemic I partnered with a 3D tech company called Variant Malibu to make masks. They cut 90% of traditional manufacturing waste. And now [‘Kissing Booth 2’ co-stars] Joel Courtney, Joey King, Meganne Young, Maisie Richardson-Sellers and myself designed our own masks with them, and proceeds from each will go to everyone’s charity of choice. Mine is going to an organization in Chicago in the Hispanic community that helps disabled kids, and families with disabled children and adults. I want to do more philanthropy. I’ve always been a huge advocate for people of color and LGBTQ communities, too. So that’s honestly what I’m looking forward to using my platform for.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.