THE ACTS FACTOR. From Oscar Award-winning “Crash” to comedic Marvel film “Ant-Man,” Michael Peña brought memorable performances that constantly evolve from one role to another. DA MAN chats with the self-taught actor on the upcoming title “CHIPs,” indie movies and the most important thing in life
We’ve laughed at his wacky antics in “Ant-Man;” we’ve maybe suppressed a tear or two as we saw him in “World Trade Center;” and soon, we will be seeing him tackle one of the most legendary TV heroes of 70’s and 80’s TV. In short, Michael Peña is one of those actors that isn’t a household name (yet), but appears just about everywhere, in any genre, creating the most memorable moments in modern cinema. Today, DA MAN invites you to see why he’s a name to look out for in the years to come.
DA MAN: Hi, Michael. Let’s start off with the question on everybody’s minds: Will you appear in any other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies post-“Ant-Man”?
Michael Peña: Right now, I have no idea. They haven’t made an announcement, and I don’t know if they are going to make another. What I do know is that I’m signed on for three movies.
DA MAN: By the way, what was it really like working on an MCU title?
Michael Peña: Marvel does things a little bit different, which I think is a great way to shoot. I heard that Woody Allen does this, but they shoot the majority of the movie right then and there. What they allow themselves is a good amount of reshoots so that they can work on whatever story lines they think are working and then they have no problem with expanding a story line or sometimes getting rid of a story line if it’s not working. And I think that’s a great way to make a movie. If I had to direct a movie, I would definitely like to take that model so to speak—of course I’d need a lot of money [laughs]—but that’s secondary. The most memorable was working with [director] Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd. And, you know, playing with those guys. And what was amazing was it almost felt like we were doing a small comedy even though it was all within the Marvel universe.
DA MAN: Moving on to your future appearances, you’re playing in “CHiPs,” right? Can you tell us a bit about the movie?
Michael Peña: It’s about two motorcycle cops and, you know, just like the old TV show. They’re always on a case, which I think is really cool. There’s going to be a lot of action and hopefully a bunch of humor, but it’s not going to be like a silly, silly comedy—although I do like those, from time to time—it’s going to be more along the lines of like, “Lethal Weapon,” which is one of my favorite movies of all time.
DA MAN: Would you say that taking on a legendary character like Frank “Ponch” Poncherello is an especially challenging task?
Michael Peña: Well, you have to be in good shape. I think the one thing that made the TV show so cool was the back and forth banter between partners, and that’s the one thing that we’re trying to keep a hold of and emulate.
DA MAN: Moving way back, you’ve been involved in various independent productions since 1994. What was it like back then?
Michael Peña: It’s the same way, to be honest with you. I definitely like independent films. I just finished one called “War on Everyone,” and I don’t know why it’s so different, but to me it’s really liberating. I guess it’s because there’s less cooks in the kitchen, and you don’t have to have studio approval because everyone has notes. But when you do a movie, it feels like it’s just you, the directors, the producer and your co-star that are in all of these ideas about the project, and it really is just fulfilling in a different way. I also like doing the big-budgeted movies, but there’s a special place in my heart for indie films, because that’s what I grew up doing.
“There’s a special place in my heart for indie films, because that’s what I grew up doing”
DA MAN: For a lot of people, your performance as Daniel in 2004’s “Crash” was your real breakthrough role. Looking back at it now, how do you feel about the movie?
Michael Peña: I hold it very dear. Obviously it changed my life. I was a very, very struggling actor before that—not that it’s changed so much [laughs]—because it’s always a struggle, even if you have some kind of success. It’s like, I’d like to do these kind of movies and you’re up against a whole bunch of stuff that you were up against when you were just trying to get a guest star. But it’s, for sure, special. It was surprising when it happened to be honest, I had no idea that it was going to win the Oscar and that it was going to win all of these awards. It was a pleasant surprise for sure, but I had no idea what it was going to do to my career, and it definitely changed it. “Crash” is almost like when you’re a teenager and you get your first, real kiss.
DA MAN: Are there any other movies that you feel have defined your acting career?
Michael Peña: It’s been a succession to be honest. After “Crash,” I did “World Trade Center” and that was a game changer for me because that was the first co-starring role that I ever had. I really didn’t know what I was doing, thank God [director] Oliver Stone was there. I was definitely really hungry and I wanted to do as good of a job as possible and he really helped me along the way. That was another game changer for me, in terms of my art and what I can do and overcoming a lot of insecurities. At the end of the day, you just have to do the work, but you definitely pinch yourself from time to time and think “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m here; I can’t believe they gave me this part. I hope they didn’t make a mistake and confuse me for someone else.”
DA MAN: In the last couple of years, you’ve been in a few high-profile movies. From “Fury” to “Ant-Man” to “The Martian,” which one is the most memorable?
Michael Peña: For me, probably “Ant-Man,” just because the character was so crazy; it’s in a Marvel movie; and the fact that my son really enjoyed my performance. It’s weird: He talks about me as though I’m not even me. He says, “Hey Dad, remember when Louis did this and he did that … it was really funny,” and I just think that’s such a cool thing for your son to appreciate your work.
DA MAN: Moving even further back, how did your acting career get off the ground? We’ve heard you’re a self-taught actor.
Michael Peña: Sort of self-taught because I think I took an acting class and I was in and out of it. I really wasn’t part of it, but I was working for almost eight years as an actor before I ever went to an acting class. I just wanted to pick up pointers, but, for the most part, you learn on the job. With the different directors for different television shows, different movies and different genres, you will find out that one style of acting doesn’t work for every project. You have to really be able to change up your style of any consideration you have, but it always boils down to being able to pretend.
DA MAN: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in your 20-plus-year career?
Michael Peña: For sure, not to take anything for granted. The thing is that, right now, I feel like I’m having a pretty good run, but what I’ve seen with me, my friends and a lot of people that I don’t know is that you can be hot one day and for some reason … not so hot. Just really be conscious that what you’re having is really a blessing or luck or whatever it is.
DA MAN: What would you say is the most important thing in your life right now?
Michael Peña: For sure, my family. I have a son and, to be honest, I’m not a super lovey-dovey kind of guy, but I definitely love the living crap out of this little guy. Seven-year-old kid, greatest sense of humor, teaches me a lot. Whenever I watch a movie with him—even from the time that he was three-years-old—he’s laughing at all the jokes and really enjoying it. It changes your outlook on what you do. He’s opened my eyes and rekindled the kid in me.
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Photography Mitchell Nguyen Mccormack
Styling Alexa Rangroummith Green
Styling Assistant Emily Siphene
Styling Agency Celestine Agency
Grooming Barbara Guillaume at Art Department using Oribe
Photo Agency Artmix
Videography Pedro Correa