Turns out Gabriel Luna, Hollywood’s newest flaming-skulled Spirit of Vengeance, is a pretty chill guy.
Luna, of course, is the actor bringing Marvel Comics’ latest incarnation of the iconic Ghost Rider character to life on television, portraying demonically possessed street racer Robbie Reyes as he makes his way to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s” fourth season.
Despite his role’s expected angst and intensity, Luna himself – best known for his stint on the El Rey Network’s “Matador” – is about as affable a presence as they come, and especially pleased to bring his take on a character he’s come to embrace. In his youth he was an avid comic book reader during the 90s heyday of the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider, but after studying up on the Reyes version introduced in 2014, he’s became a major enthusiast, as he revealed to CBR.
CBR News: As an actor, what got you especially amped up when this role came your way and say, “Yeah, I'm going to tear into this one!”?
Gabriel Luna: You know, the moment I found out, all they had to say was two words: “Ghost Rider.” If that doesn’t get you fired up and make you want to do everything you can and do all the work necessary to make that character the best you can make him – first of all to get the job, but then to execute once you’re there – I don’t know what does. But it was also cool just knowing that the audience is built in. It’s been here since the '60s.
I guess the true indicator came when my little sister called me. She’s 21 years old now, and she’s the coolest kid ever. I thought I’ve done some neat things in my life, but nothing has impressed her, until this moment. She calls me and she’s nearly in tears. “I’m so proud of you, I love you.” “I love you too, sweetheart – It’s cool that all I had to do was become a superhero for you to be impressed.”
It also must have been cool to know that, yes, you were going to get a flaming skull effect, but you weren’t going to be Johnny Blaze. You were going to be able to do your own thing and unveil this character on screen for the first time.
It’s extremely cool, man. The book itself, the “All-New Ghost Rider” book by Felipe Smith and penciled by Tradd Moore and Damion Scott – it’s such a cool take. The Spirit of Vengeance has inhabited many individuals in the past, and Robbie just happens to be our latest iteration of Ghost Rider - just in time for me to step in and represent him as a Mexican-American, and as a kid from LA. I am from Austin, Texas, but I seem to play a lot of kids from LA.
But yeah, I just thought it was a great opportunity, to expand on the canon and to do things that are going to be known as the things Robbie Reyes’ Ghost Rider did.
Tell me about doing the homework and really researching the comics version of the character, and figuring out what you wanted to bring to the TV version of the character.
You know, there’s only 12 new issues of the “All-New Ghost Rider,” so I got to just, like, inhale that in one breath! The moment I started reading the books, which is funny because I went down to the Golden Apple, which is my neighborhood comic book store, and I set the books on the counter to do my research, and I asked the kid at the counter “Is this the entire run?” And he says, ‘Yeah, there’s 12 issues.” I said, “Cool.”
Then the owner of the shop was, like, "Did you hear about that stuff coming out at Comic-Con in San Diego? They have a train down there wrapped in an 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' wrap with, like, a flaming chain!" It took everything in my power, man, to not spill the beans at that point. Just to see firsthand -- that was really the first true moment where I felt that I was doing the work, the work had begun, but not only that, the people who were eventually going to appreciate it and hopefully love it are already just completely lit up about it.
So you've been following the comics a lot?
I read all those books. I grew up in the Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch age, and read a lot of those books. I was a big Wolverine fan. Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, Hulk - those are my books! My brother, similar - X-Men. We would share the same interests. He was more of a Spider-Man fan, just back in late '80s, early '90s, and throughout my life. I still love those books, and I still follow the storylines.
My brother actually let me borrow “Secret Warriors,” which is a book where Chloe Bennet’s character, Daisy Johnson, takes a large part of. It was so cool. Here we all are, working together, all of the characters are in the flesh. I mean, Clark [Gregg] has now been drawn into books. Maybe at some point my likeness as Robbie will join the books. It’s a thrilling thought. It all rests on me to do the work and to make people want more, and hopefully they’ll get it.
It’s a great time to be exploring diverse characters in the superhero TV landscape. Tell me what that means to you, to be bringing in another great leading character like this, who has an element of diversity.
It’s reality. It’s the reality of our world. It’s funny that it has to appear in these fantasy worlds for it to start to kind of [gain hold] because it’s happening in the books. It has been happening for the last, I’d say, eight, ten years. You have Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, you have Lunella Lafayette, “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,” and she’s the smartest person... the young black girl is the smartest person in the universe, and it’s amazing. And the Ghost Rider is now a Mexican-American dude. Just in time for me to come in and do my absolute best to be him.
I’m so thankful, and it is not lost on me the gravity of that type of thing. I take it very seriously. I’m going to do my best to just be Robbie. It’s great -- it’s just cool. You put on the costume... I talked with Chris Evans, who plays Captain America at a party once, and I’ve also heard interviews with [Robert] Downey Jr. and all the other guys talking about the moment you first put on the costume. Chris echoed that that night. We got to talking about the costume. He’s like, "Yeah, you put it on, and something happens. Something clicks.”
I think what, in fact, did click after I stood there in my wardrobe fitting and I put the jacket on. I get fitted with this crazy skull cap that has all these lights on it so that it could cast the flame lights on the surfaces around me, and my costume, of course. But I put it on, and I realize what that is is your imagination. Everything you’ve ever built for the character in your mind, reading the books growing up, reading the ones that I just read, all the concepts that they represent falling into alignment with your own spine, basically. I think that’s the click. It was really a great moment.