Dark hair, dark eyes, dark blue shirt and dark blue pants - Jose Perez sinks lower and lower and lower into his hotel room chair hoping perhaps to disappear into its bright yellowness.

He is quiet, distant, wary. Maybe he is thinking about The Tombs and what a long way it is from the Hay Adams Hotel.

The Tombs is a now deserted detention center in New York City where Perez, an actor who played God in the public television production of "Steambath," portrayed a convict named Juan in the film verson of Miguel Pinero's unsetting prison drama, "Short Eyes."

"It's dirty and cold, it's what animals must feel like being in a cage," he says of the place, speaking slowly. "Being there was a depressing time in my life, it took me several months after it was over to get back to myself."

Why then bring it up again, why go out on tour with the film, why be forced to talk about it endless times a day? Perez does not answer these questions easily, and sometimes it seems that he's not going to answer them at all. But he does.

"Working on this film is one of the proudest things I have done," he says finally. "It began as a terrible thing, a low-budget film with a lot of problems. It could have been very bad, a cheap, commercial film. There were some people who just wanted to get it done, that would have been credit enough. But that was not enough for me."

Perez was attracted to the play by the awful realism Pinero, an ex-convict who'd served time in Sing Sing, put into it. "He's a street person and he's very much involved in that world, he's afraid of losing contact and having nothing to feed from," Perez says.

"Here he takes complete stereo types and gives dimensions to them. He has a sense of remembering, especially in the dialogue. He able to pick, to take the ordinary, focus on it and make it brand new even though you've seen it all your life."

Juan, the character Perez plays, is essentially the author's voice, an in-the child-molester played by Bruce Davison, survive.

"But we worked very hard trying not to make Juan a one-sided hero. He doesn't do all the right things, he's a criminal like everyone else. But what makes him heroic is that he's a fair man. We're all selfish, but some of us in our selfishness give."

And in the drama that was the making of "Short Eyes," Perez says. "I became like the character, I did what I did in the story. I found myself in the position where it looked like things were going out of control. I had to leave or start to take responsibility. People may start inspired, but the reality of hard work starts wearing them down and they get selfish. I had to be mate who tries to help the outsider, the conscience for the group, I had to keep them honest."

The film's budget started out as a miniscule $400,000 and that meant "we felt under constant pressure because of time. We kept having to fight to take time to discuss, to get reality, because reality is the key point in this film.

"The director who started the film was really out of his depth, so he was asked to leave, if you know what I mean. And the crew, whose work is regimented, felt the way the actors worked was overindulgent, that too much time was taken. I told them they were trying to shortchange us, that I would rather have half a brilliant film than something I would be ashamed of.

"We went to the unions and we forced them, we convinced them, to let us use street people. Again, the important thing was believability - if the man who'd been in prison saw the film and said it was wrong, it would have failed. And it turned out that the extras made this film."

Clashes were not infrequent during the making of the film, and Perez remembers especially "one big blow up in the middle. I said, 'You have to remember this film is very personal. This is something that has to be done well. We have to establish credibility, that we have talent too. To me this is, what is the word, a cause, one I can't afford to lose, one I have to win.' I had the vision. I had to see for all."

The extra time and effort raised the "Short Eyes" budget to $700,000, but Perez has no doubt that increase was what made it successful. "Some of the problems that had to be overcome, I don't know if I would have done the film if I'd known about them," he says.

"But when people work well together, miracles can happen. It was not a job, it was our film. It belonged to all of us."