Long one of the best-deployed secret weapons in Hollywood, with electric turns in films like "Fury," "American Hustle," "Crash" and "Cesar Chavez," PeÃ±a gets to show off his comedy chops in Marvel's "Ant-Man" working opposite Rudd as Scott Lang's good-hearted but not-so-eager-to-reform sidekick with a distinct way of disseminating information on potential scores and a knack for whipping up waffles. And in doing so, the actor walks away with nearly every scene he's in.
In a conversation with Comic Book Resources, PeÃ±a admits he didn't do the job alone: he had an inside man named Pablo. He also reveals the Avenger he'd most like to share future scenes with and has his nerves calmed about whether he's getting the stamp of approval from the icon who first played one of his upcoming roles.
CBR News: I've got to hear about the real-life Luis, the guy you knew that inspired your take on this character.
Michael PeÃ±a: I wish I'd never said anything, dude -- basically, I just steal personalities! This guy I knew since I was, I think, 16. Grew up in Chicago. My best friend who's here for the premiere, him and his daughter and my stepmom -- I call her my stepmom but literally, she was like my second mom -- they introduced me to him, and he had such an interesting way at looking at life. I remember, I was like, "Oh, what'd you do this weekend? He's like [in character], "I went to jail, dahg..."
They use it in the movie like that after like wanting to say something, almost. It's really funny. He does that. I have video of him, because I wanted to study his voice. Because I never heard, in East LA or Chicago, anyone have that specific accent. And he still has it. His name is Pablo. Maybe I can bring it up [on my phone]. It's actually kind of crazy.
[He finds Pablo on Facebook.]
Oh my God, dude! Holy shit. That's him right there, bro. Dude, look at this brah. Look at this fucking picture right here... so that's him, dude. And look, with the 'stache. You know what I mean? This is who I met. This kid, right here. Look at him. Holy cow, dude. Now, I want to see if there's a video of him, because that would be nothing but like epic-ness!
He's been a little gift for you, to help you put this guy together.
Yeah, I mean, I have a semblance of this guy like in other movies, but not really. This was the first time where I'm like, dude, let's just go for broke. Screw it, you know what I mean? I pray to God people like it.
Trust me, everyone's saying you're practically stealing the movie.
Well, thanks man. I appreciate it. You never know.
You make a lot of movies. What was the fun for you of this particular one? What made it a cool experience?
Well, it's nerve-wracking, because I don't do comedy, you know what I mean? This is my third attempt. It was "Observe and Report," "Eastbound and Down," and then this one. I don't really have -- that's why it was nerve-wracking for me, man. But you kind of want that pressure to see if you can do it or not. To see if you can pull it off. There are sometimes when I didn't feel it, and they cut it out. So you want to be a little more consistent when it comes down to comedy. But I was nervous, man, I was a nervous wreck the entire shoot.
So much of everything you do hinges on your chemistry and back-and-forth with Paul Rudd. Tell me about when you knew it was going to work with him.
I think we talked about acceptance. No matter how crazy he is and no matter what I do, there's no -- or very minimal -- evaluation of who the person actually is or what his downfall is or whatever. To me, that really worked. With whatever I said, he's like, "Huh." Like, he really considers it, no matter how crazy and wacky I was.
Tell me about being on the inside of the Marvel movie-making process.
I've never done a movie like this. I've never done a movie like this. Basically, new pages all the time -- like, whatever's working is working. Whatever's not, it's cut out. A couple of times, they're like, "You're not working today." I'm like, "What happened?" They're like, "Scene's cut." "Wow -- didn't know." Then they would add different scenes to it. Whatever it is -- like, "Wow, this is really cool." Then there were reshoots -- planned reshoots just to punch some things up. The ending was a reshoot. It was just something concocted by the Marvel Universe [team] by Kevin Feige, and it's pretty amazing, to be honest. They're, like, fearless when it comes to movie making. It's because they're fans. They want to see a good movie, and I was really impressed by those guys.
With all the changes then, did you know you were going to get some action in the movie when you started?
Yeah. He was part of the heist. That's the one thing that I can say I knew.
Did you have to do anything to get prepared for those scenes? Or were you able to just kind of walk in and pull them off?
No, I didn't work out. I didn't do anything. I literally just sat back and just let it all come to me, I guess.
That's the best way: no time at the gym!
I've got to do "CHiPs" next, so I'm like, "I've got to do a lot of reps." I'm like, "This is going to suck."
Tell me about the training for that one.
I mean, I've just been throwing up all the time from the training, man. I've tried to be cool about it, man, but I'm like, "I've got to train like seven times a week." And it's a lot.
Have you gone down riding the bike yet?
No, no. I'm not going to go down on the bike. I'm going to keep rolling!
How close are you guys to starting shooting?
We're starting in October now. I've got like three months to work out and get in shape and try to not look fat. Because in movies, that's ten pounds, you have to be ten pounds lighter just to look normal.
Have you gotten the official blessing to play Ponch from Erik Estrada?
I haven't talked to him about it yet, man. But I'm like, I met him, and I remember him from "CHiPs" and I used to love that show. They just used to bust people and solve crimes or whatever, and I thought it was really rad.
Are you nervous to meet him again, now, that you have the part?
I've talked to him about it, and he's a fan of yours.
Oh, right on, dude! Yeah. I'm not nervous. I don't want to be nervous. Don't make me nervous.
Who do you want to see Luis mix it up with, now that you have the whole Marvel Universe that you could wander into at any moment? Is there a superhero you'd like to see him bounce off of?
Scarlett Johansson. It would be awesome just to have a scene with her. And for him to not be able to talk. Which wouldn't be difficult. She's one of the most beautiful women ever.
Black Widow's rebounding from the Hulk though, so who knows? Are you signed up to do more?
Yeah, there are three movies. I think they have the option to drop me if they want -- which could happen! [Laughs] You never know.
Tell me about the scenes when the whole heist team's together because you guys all have such a good back and forth. The group in the heist scenes, they really click.
How are your real-life waffle-making skills?
I don't make waffles. I don't even make pancakes. But I can cook up some eggs and bacon. My son loves that.
Marvel's "Ant-Man" arrives in theaters July 17.