INT: Michael Pena
Michael Pena rode up on the mall security golf cart and there was a time when everyone thought he was actually part of mall security. His hair was permed, he had a goatee and mustache and he was wearing a mall security guard uniform. It was clear from the beginning that Michael was taking his first comedic film role very seriously.
This was my first time meeting Michael Pena and I have to say that he’s a cool guy. He talks to everyone like he’s known them all his life and he’s a very funny guy. He had all of us cracking up throughout the interview got us even more excited to see him in the film.
We heard you have an interesting accent for this film.
When I read the script it was written for a white kid with blond hair. I told my agents, “Look can you submit me for it,” because they weren’t going to offer me the part because I’m not known for comedy. They said, “You want to play that part?” and I said, “Yeah I think I can play a guy trying to be black.” So I have a couple buddies—one this guy Rich who is in a band. He’s from Toledo, but he’s got the strangest accent. Then there’s another guy who’s a caddy at Wilshire Country Club and I kind of meshed the two and then just went in with the accent. This was my idea too [he points to his hair] because the caddy at the country club has big curls, but he’s one of the best caddies that I’ve ever had. He’s really serious and pays no mind to his accent.
Is that your hair or a wig?
This? It’s my hair dude. Dude it’s tough. I just don’t want to spend that much time in the makeup chair and so I was like dude let me just perm it bro. I swear to God Jody [Hill] was emotional and was like, “Man would you do that for me man? That’s so cool man. Come here man.” [Makes big hugging motion] I don’t think of it any different because if I was working for Redford or something and if they wanted me to perm my hair, I’d perm my hair. But this one I think adds to it. If you guys see there’s a gold chain, there’s a pinky ring—very subtle stuff.
You said you’re not known for comedy, but I’ve seen you on “My Name is Earl” so do you think you’ll start doing more of this genre?
“My Name is Earl” was the first one and I’ve got to say I was really, really nervous. It was great doing that. It’s still kind of spontaneous or what not, but it’s still a whole different vibe and it’s still as playful as can be, but it’s just a whole different animal. So I have been trying to ease into it with “My Name is Earl” and now this.
What is the vibe on this movie like? It seems very loose and improvisational.
That’s exactly it and the thing is that the structure is basically the same, but in drama everything is tracked because the screenwriter in the beginning is talking about something in the past or whatever and in the middle there’s a definite kind of objective. The screenwriter wants to have a kind of affect. What affect does he want to have with this scene and in the end it’s like the conclusion or resolution of that will lead into another one. This one it’s like make you laugh, make you laugh, make you laugh.
How is it for you working in this R rated environment where you can pretty much say and do anything?
It’s really interesting because I’ll say some outlandish kind of stuff. I don’t know if you guys have seen any of the dailies, but I’ll say some crazy out of this world stuff and the director comes in, “Cool, cool can you do more of that?” and he takes it to a whole different level and I’m like, “Oh my God I think Jesus is going to hate me for this. I don’t want this to happen.” He’s like, “That’s the way to do it man. Just roll with that. Just roll with it man. Let it feed you.” At the end of the day you just pray to God that comes out alright. I think it’s alright. Seth Rogen and Jody Hill –I don’t know if you’ve seen “FOOT FIST WAY,” but I’m in pretty good hands.
When that kind of improv is happening and everyone is kind of topping each other, how hard is it to keep a straight face?
I’m the worst at it dude. That’s why I was asking if you guys seen the dailies because I think I’m the worst actor here of all time. I know for sure when you see Seth say something really funny you’re going to see my head shake and I look at that when I’m seeing a comedy. I look at the person’s head shake. There’s a couple of times where I have to just look away and pretend like that’s a choice. Somehow filter that in there.
We saw Seth do about four takes of a scene and he says something different each time. Do you say the same line or do you add to it?
Even in drama that’s the interesting thing. The dialogue doesn’t change, but the action and the intention and whatever the moment gives you depending on the spontaneity of the other actor as well. That kicks in and then sometimes the dialogue changes. On this one you really have to appreciate Seth’s take on it. We’ve done 15 takes on one thing and he says everything differently, but with a different point of view and he changes it each and every time. Me, I do pretty much the same, but not as well. He’s a master at that, plus he’s a writer so he’s got this vocabulary. He’s talking about votives or something like that for candles. I have no idea what that is. So I’ll use that in the scene.
Are you one of the characters who initially wasn’t a mall security guard and Seth recruits?
No, no I’m mall security along with Seth. I play Seth’s best friend.
So you’re part of that…
Special league taskforce. We’re on our way to catch a pervert. Well that’s the thing he puts together a team to catch a pervert who’s like just going on an assault of flashing and we’re going to catch that guy.
There’s also some other friends who come into so does your character have interaction with them?
Yeah he does a little bit and it’s interesting doing it with Ray [Liotta] because the first day I think all we asked him about was, “So in “Goodfellas…” How can you not dude? It was fantastic working with Ray.
I had a hard enough time not cracking up while I was doing my scene so I don’t know how you do it.
I don’t do it. I crack up. There was a scene where all I said was one word and we were all cracking up because of that one word and it was really, really tough to go through. Drama you’re trying to affect the other person and impinge on them emotionally as much as possible, but this one if Seth is trying to make me laugh, nine times out of 10 he’s going to make me laugh.
What was the word?
Sweetburn. It’s not a funny word.
Was it because of the way he delivered it?
No, I delivered it, but we were all cracking up because he said some things that we’re going to a candle store and I’m like, “Oh sweetburn?” It’s not that funny dude. It was just cracking us up. Hopefully it’s funny in the movie.
What do you have coming up after this?
I don’t know because of the impending actor’s strike. This has been a tough year. I have a movie with Oliver Stone right before and it’s funny that I’m doing this now, but I had a movie with Oliver Stone and because of the writer’s strike we couldn’t have a writer rewrite it so people were just dropping out right and left. The movie got canned or whatever. There was no work and now if the actor’s strike…big budget movies I don’t know if it matters because if they stop, they’ll start up again, but with the lower budget movies or something that isn’t $150 million I think it’s a lot tougher to do.
Do you think it’s possible that people will come back for the movie that was canned?
I don’t know. It would be an amazing character for me to be honest with you. I’ve never played a character like that. I think it would be amazing. I hope so.
Do you think the strike is going to happen?
I hope not. I hope that they resolve it as quick as possible, but I didn’t think the writer’s strike was going to happen. I’m not a good person to gage that on.
Do you think once SAG resolves their differences that a lot of projects will be green lit?
Absolutely dude, immediately. You can’t shoot a movie without actors. Even if it’s a cartoon there’s voiceovers and what not. That’s what happened right when the writer’s strike was over—boom this came in my life. They’re starting it really quick so that the actor’s strike doesn’t affect it which it won’t.
You’ve done a little TV, but you’ve mostly done films…
I started off doing TV though.
Would you consider going back to TV even if it meant signing a five year contract?
Right now I’m doing pretty well in them [movies]. I either get to co-star or star in some movies which is literally a dream come true. You’re watching movies when you’re starting acting and you’re like, “Oh I wish I could so that.” Now I’m doing that so I think I’m going to keep that and ride it out to see what happens. Right now it’s an interesting time because there’s amazing television shows. “The Sopranos”, just even one show in particular. It would be really tough to turn that down if it was going and something like that was starting out and the cable shows. I was on “The Shield” for a year before “Crash” came out and it was like doing an independent film every week. I don’t know. It would be tough, but right now I think movies are the way to go.
Would you like to be an action star?
Well I did “Shooter” which was my first little bit [of action]. I thought the script was good for that kind of thing and was talking about something. Antoine Fuqua would be like “Alright man we’re going to blow up the house. You run.” I was running and the house blew up and you could see it in my face that there is no acting whatsoever. [he makes a big running motion with his eyes really big] Then there’s a helicopter that blows up and you feel the pressure dude and you’re like [pretending to scream]. He’s like, “Alright man just don’t scream next time alright?” So that’s a whole nother thing and trying to keep the action up and even with the scenes with dialogue and I just saw “Iron Man” and I thought that was a really well made movie for what it was. The mixture of humor and action and also had you thinking a couple of times. To do something like that would be great and also Robert Downey Jr. is one of my favorite actors. He’s so versatile in just about everything he does. I hope to do something like that.
What’s the perk of shooting in New Mexico?
I think golfing. There’s literally eight of the top 10 courses are in Albuquerque or really close to it which is probably not what you were wanting to hear.
Did you ever play with Wahlberg?
I did. He’s the one who actually got me started. I fiddled around with it a little bit and he was so good at beating me with such a consistent pace. I’m competitive as it is. I think I started getting better like two years after so now I’m like a 10 handicap or something like that.
What did you start off at?
Probably like a five or six. He’s smashed the ball like a long way. He’s a strong guy. You’ve just got to not look at what he’s hitting because you’re going to want to go in there and blow out your back or whatever, but he’s surprisingly really good.
Do you have any fight scenes in the film?
I do have a fight scene. I want to see if I can do some UFC stuff in there—choking a guy out. Sleep, sleep. I don’t know. Who knows?
I love your costume. It doesn’t even look like you.
This is my first comedy and I’m going to go big.