Michael Pena is an actor whose career I've been intently following for the past 10 years. After popping up in small but impressive roles in back-to-back Best Picture winners Million Dollar Baby and Crash, and in a wonderful arc on my favorite TV show ever, The Shield, the actor started coming into his own with solid supporting roles in Shooter, Lions for Lambs, Observe and Report and American Hustle. After his fantastic scene-stealing performance in Marvel's Ant-Man (check out my full Ant-Man review), the actor is primed for a huge career leap.
The actor portrays Luis, a longtime friend and criminal cohort of Scott Lang, who gives him a place to crash after his release from prison. Luis also sets up the heist that essentially introduces him to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), setting him on a path to become the Ant-Man. When Scott is tasked with pulling off an improbable heist, Luis and his friends Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) become part of the team as well, providing much of the comic relief.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Michael Pena at the press junket, where we talked about his familiarity with the Marvel comics, the mood on the set, and much more. We also discuss upcoming projects like the CHiPs remake, where he stars alongside Dax Shepard and Vincent D'Onofrio, which should lift him into the acting stratosphere even more. Here's what he had to say below.
When I first moved to L.A., one of my neighbors was Clifton Collins Jr., and he used to say that if he just did something really hardcore, he'd try to do something lighter next, that was just his approach. It seems like you kind of have that same mentality too, so I was wondering if you could talk about your approach, and if there is a certain method to what you'll do next?
Michael Peña: Yeah, well it's funny because the release dates are always different, but, it's funny. When you finish a drama, you go, 'I can't wait to do a comedy.' When you finish a comedy, you go, 'I want to do a dramedy, dark humor.' I had a little part in this horror movie, and I just like to switch it up. Also, it's whatever is afforded to you. I didn't know I was going to be able to do these movies, so it's really appealing. I'm super grateful, and whenever somebody offers me something and I'm doing it, I always try to give 110%.
Look what he's doing now...
Michael Peña: Oh, that's good. He's good. Yeah, I started reading it to my kid, and he loves The Avengers and whatnot. It's funny, he's like, 'Is Ant-Man part of The Avengers or the Justice League?' I was like, wow, I totally forgot about that. They should do a movie, instead of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it's The Avengers vs. Justice League, and then they destroy the entire universe. That would be badass. I don't think it's ever going to happen.
It won't, unless the richest person in the world buys both Marvel and DC.
Michael Peña: Oh, yeah. Can that even be bought?
I don't think so.
Michael Peña: Because even if the richest person in the world bought it for $10 billion, they'd make more money off their movies.
Michael Peña: I mean, the script always changes, so I was kind of used to it. I just went in, and you want to make sure that the changes aren't that crazy and not very good. A lot of the changes didn't have anything to do with me. Everything is pretty much the same as it was. Some things are more pronounced, The Avengers being in it and talking about them, that was a new aspect, but, for the most part, it was pretty true to what we shot.
I'm a huge fan of Observe and Report.
Michael Peña: Oh, right on, man.
Every time you speak, I think it's hilarious, just the voice you do, and it seems you like to toy with certain inflections and aspects of your voice. Did you do that here as well?
Michael Peña: You know, I just get fascinated by people. I watch a lot. I watched this one documentary about pimps. There was this skinny little black guy, fully dressed in a bed, with his shoes on still, just lounging back. He had this white girl, who was a hooker, obviously, filing her nails, and a black girl chewing her gum real slow, looking at the camera. He was toying with them a little, but the director said, 'Hey man, what's the secret to pimping, brother?' And he's like, 'Man, you gotta love your bitches.' I'm like, man, what did he say? You gotta love your bitches? I watched it with my brother, and he's cracking up, and I'm like, man, I've gotta remember that. Just the way he talks was really funny. With this character, it's the way people think. You know how you can imitate your parents, in a way, that's what I do, but I try to embody them, and think the way they do.
I know you guys shot this in Atlanta, so can you talk a bit about that environment?
Michael Peña: We shot in San Francisco as well, and the exteriors were amazing, but Atlanta was a really cool town. You can get in and out anywhere. If you get out early, rush hour wasn't that bad, and it's such a great city and it's got great food. I want to shoot in places like that more often, because sometimes you're just in Buttf--k, Egypt, you know. People are like, 'Yeah, you're an actor. Don't worry about it.' Sometimes it sucks.
Can you talk about (director) Peyton Reed, the way he conducts himself and the vibe he created on the set?
Michael Peña: Dude, he's just the most positive director I think I've ever had in my life. He's very specific and he's just got great timing and he knows what's funny. He directed Bring It On and The Break-Up, so now he's doing Ant-Man. I'm glad that people are thinking this is a funny movie, because a lot of it has to do with him.
The ending had everyone just dying. People were just losing their minds.
Michael Peña: I want to see how that plays with a regular audience. I'm going to go in with a hat and glasses and a fake nose, or whatever, but I can't wait. IMAX, baby!
Michael Peña: No, I think he just passed on me. There was no phone call on that one. I've gotten phone calls for the last three movies he's done, but there was no phone call on that one. It would have been cool, man. I would have loved to go back and forth, because I just love superheroes, period. Any superhero movies.
Is there anything you can say about CHiPs? I grew up on that show.
Michael Peña: Yeah, I mean, we're doing our own thing. They are cops on motorcycles, and Dax Shepard wrote the script. The humor in it is way different. It's funny because, when you read it, it's funny, but when you say it, it's funnier. Knock on wood, we're rehearsing all the time, and we just want to get that as right as possible, and have it be a very enjoyable ride, with the action and everything. I have high hopes for it, and it's a big opportunity for me.
There are a lot of shows from that era that probably wouldn't translate as well as this. I think, with CHiPs, you could do it in any time period.
Michael Peña: Yeah, what happens with these remakes, it loses all sense of drama, so you forget the plot, and this one is very plot-happy.
Michael Peña: Yeah, The Martian, dude. Ridley Scott, the guy's a f---ing genius, man, I swear. He'd have like five cameras going on at the same time, five monitors, he's talking on the walkie. It's almost like he's editing while he's saying it. He's doing the cuts with the cameras, so that's f---ing amazing. War on Everyone, I think... the script was hilarious to me, but it's very dark, dark humor. It's super dark. It's (director) John Michael McDonagh and I think we're going to hit Sundance in January. I can't wait for that one too. I'm super lucky.
That's my time. Thanks so much.
Michael Peña: Right on, brother.
You can watch Michael Peña as the hilarious Luis in Ant-Man, hitting theaters July 17. If you didn't know who Michael Peña was before, you surely will after Ant-Man, because his hilarious performance truly stands out. We'll keep you posted on The Martian and War on Everyone as we get closer to their release.