While WWE seems to have only recently rediscovered women’s wrestling, Lucha Underground has made powerful females a priority since it premiered in 2014 – and none may be more powerful than Catrina, who has ascended to the top of the Temple and left a path of destruction in her wake.
Whether she’s leading Mil Muertes or the Disciples of Death to top titles, dueling with Dario Cueto or delivering her trademark “Lick of Death” to fallen foes, Catrina – or Karlee Perez when she’s operating outside the business – has become one of the most compelling characters on wrestling’s most thrilling show. Despite her mysterious origins, the Queen of Death has established herself as a primary focus of the show’s second season, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
But even as Lucha Undeground has grown in popularity, Perez is still able to enjoy a bit of anonymity. In fact, when Rolling Stone spoke with her during WrestleMania weekend in Dallas, we watched Perez compliment one fan’s LU T-shirt – then laugh as the guy thanked her and kept right on walking, unaware he had just spoken with the woman who unleashes death and destruction on the Temple.
Of course, if Perez has her way, she’ll be a household name very soon, and she has big plans to branch out into acting. Here’s what she had to say about her move beyond the Temple, the rise of Lucha Underground and why she feels the wrestling business needs a kick in the ass.
The past two years have been quite a ride for Lucha Underground – it started small, built a devoted following, survived the network chopping block and is now bigger than ever. What has that been like for you?
It’s so crazy. The fanbase has quadrupled so quickly. I don’t think anyone was expecting that. You can see how far it’s come – we just started filming season 3, and it’s already been extended. I’m not totally sure how many more episodes we have, but I think it’s around 14 more. It just shows what the future could hold for Lucha Undergound. The way that it’s growing is tremendous. We’re taking over, in a way that hasn’t been done before. I’m really excited to be a part of that.
What were your initial thoughts when you were approached by the show?
Chris DeJoseph, who is amazing, came to me about this character, Catrina. He said that I was the first one on his mind, and there wasn’t really another person on the list behind me. When they called me up, I didn’t quite get the character, and I wasn’t really sure about everything. So I asked who was a part of [Lucha Underground], and they said Robert Rodriguez and Mark Burnett. Anybody who knows anything about entertainment knows those names. The main reason I left WWE was because of acting – Lucha Underground gives me that ability to act, both in the company and outside of it. I wasn’t totally sure about the character or the organization, but as soon as they mentioned Robert Rodriguez, I jumped on the opportunity.
So it was the non-wrestling side of things that really drew you to the company?
That’s what it is to me. I love wrestling. I love entertainment. I work with some extremely talented people. But my passion is in the characters. You can do so much in the ring, and that’s great, but to have fans really connect, you need the storylines and characters. We’ve lost that in this industry; everybody is so worried about doing the double flips that they’ve forgotten the connection you can make with the fans if you have a good character. Less is more sometimes. That’s why I jumped on it. They gave me the ability to do that.
One of the best things about the show has been the rise of Catrina – she’s really come into her own as a character, but there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding her. How would you describe her development, and what can we expect to see next?
Catrina is obviously incredibly manipulative. There’s more to her, though. Over the past two seasons, we’ve seen layers start to come out. She started as simply a valet for Mil Muertes, and started season two owning the Temple and Lucha Underground. You see what she’s capable of, but she’s stayed so cool for so long that eventually there’s going to be a boom. People will eventually learn more about her and her backstory – people tell me she’s secretly an old woman, or a ghost, or whatever, and I just laugh. I just love that they are so into it that they can come up with these theories about her.
From the vignettes to the way it presents in-ring action, Lucha Underground has really pushed the boundaries of pro wrestling – why do you think it’s taken so long for a promotion to try and break the mold?
The big dog is WWE. Everyone knows that. So when you’re looking to do something in wrestling, you look to emulate WWE. But sometimes you have to think broader and bigger than that. We have Robert Rodriguez and Mark Burnett, who know nothing about wrestling. You know what they do know? They know good TV and good film. It’s not about the wrestling. It’s about the presentation of it. This is a TV show that has wrestling in it. Nobody has had the balls to step out of the boundary lines and try something different and unique like this. That’s why it’s working. Everyone realizes what we’re trying to do, from the wrestlers to the writers. The writers didn’t just come from WWE or from wrestling, they’ve come from film and television. They understand that this is a TV show. It’s the storylines and characters that keep the show together. That’s extremely important and that’s where most wrestling has gotten lost – there’s no meaning to it. That’s why what we do works.
You were previously signed to WWE, and worked in NXT during its formative years. Why did you decide to leave?
I got to meet a lot of amazing and talented people, and make great friendships, but I wasn’t satisfied, personally, with my time there. I knew it wasn’t going to change, and I had to make a decision. Me asking for my release was solely based on the fact that I wasn’t feeling like I was being challenged enough, and that there was more I could do. There’s a lot that I can bring to the table when I’m allowed, and you can see that in what I’m doing in Lucha Underground. NXT has grown tremendously, and it seems to be a great brand. It’s wonderful, and it’s wonderful for all that talent to have that avenue when they come in.
If you knew NXT would become what it is today, do you think you still would have asked for your release?
Yes, I do. I’m so character-driven. Everything that I’ve learned in this industry, and about being an actress, was from Dusty Rhodes. I wouldn’t have been given the opportunities I’m being given now [if I were still] in NXT, even though it has grown so much. They wouldn’t do a character like Catrina. It wouldn’t be like that. Something was telling me to leave, so I left.
You mentioned Dusty – did you work with him a lot?
I worked with him every day. He was my everything. He protected me and he would kick everyone out of the room just so he could sit down with me. I loved it because I wanted to pick his brain. We would just sit there and talk about movies and scripts. One of the last things he told me, which was when I went to an NXT show just to see him, was that he wanted me out of the wrestling industry because he wanted me to go on to do acting and be in movies. He wanted me to go after my passions. He said I was doing incredible in Lucha, but I could be doing even more. That was my extra motivation. I was with him for several years going back and forth, and doing promo classes with him. He taught me a lot.
Has it been difficult to make the transition from wresting to acting?
It’s great. It’s taken a few years to get where I’m at now. I’m going out [on auditions] three or four times a week now. My agent is in Los Angeles and my manager is in New York, so I have eyes on both coasts. Film and television are embracing diversity more and more – look at Marvel and DC and everyone else bringing more badass female roles to the table. Those aren’t the only roles I’m reading for, but I get those sent to me constantly. It’s taken a minute to get to that point where they’re calling me in for those kind of auditions. It’s really going good. I just read for another one of Robert’s shows last week. I’m really excited as this grows. Lucha allows me to do it too, that’s such a big thing. They know that if they allow me to grow outside of the company, that it allows them to grow too.
Lucha Underground is filming season 3, but season 2 is currently airing on television. What’s it like to shoot something you know won’t be seen for over a year?
I forget sometimes what we filmed, and then I’ll watch when it airs and completely surprise myself! And seeing everything put together is always great, ’cause I don’t necessarily get to see everything when we’re filming.
So, what’s next for Lucha Underground and for you?
Lucha is going to be massive. There’s no stopping them now. It’s good. It’s healthy to have this, and having a company give the fans something different. As for me, I’m just getting busier. I’m blessed and just trying to bring something new and different for the fans every time I get to step in front of a camera.