NEW YORK, NY -- Actor Michael Peña is one of the stars in the much-anticipated summer movie Ant-Man, in theaters Friday. But you have already seen Peña dozens of times in your life; he has over 72 credits between television and film. He is in that indelible movie poster in Crash, which won an Oscar for Best Picture in 2004 and which showcased his talent. He also played the iconic civil rights leader in the 2014 movie Cesar Chavez.
The Chicago native of Mexican descent (Dad is from Jalisco and Mom is from San Luis Potosí) has been working in film for the past 19 years. He first appeared in the movie To Sir, with Love II, with the great actor Sidney Poitier and the acclaimed late director Peter Bogdanovich. Flash forward to 2015 and Peña is in a position where his acting peers - especially Latino actor friends - dream of being in today: a part of a cinematic superhero production.
Ant-Man, Marvel’s latest Hollywood fête of people with superhuman powers, is being described as a link between the end of Marvel’s ’Phase 2’ plans and the start of their ‘Phase 3’ strategy. Peña stars as Luis, a criminal friend of the film’s star Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), who helps him break into the house of Michael Douglas’s character, scientist Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man whose prime is past him now.
We had a chance to talk to Peña not only about Ant-Man, but about what a Latino superhero film would look like if he directed one, his thoughts on the so called ’superhero fatigue’ and - how could we not - his take on Donald Trump’s now notorious comments about Mexicans.
NBCLatino: I was just looking at the calendar schedule. You have 3 movies coming out back to back to back these weeks… Ant-Man, The Vatican Tapes, Vacation...Is that a first for you and is that like some sort of Hollywood feat?
Michael Peña: I did one scene in Vacation and I’m not sure if it made the cut or not, you never know how these things go. The Vatican Tapes I still haven’t even seen yet, but I did enjoy Ant-Man.
NBCLatino: Universal Pictures’ ‘Jurassic World’ beat ‘The Avengers 2’ at the box office this year and it is still going strong. Do you think audiences are starting to experience superhero fatigue?
MP: I don’t think people are experiencing superhero fatigue. Do you hear people complaining that there are too many action movies? I think it’s good entertainment. When I was a kid, I lived in a poor part of Chicago and I remember my brother and me using towels as capes. My son does it too. I’ve been seeing superhero movies as long as I can remember. I don’t think they’re going anywhere.
NBCLatino: You’ve talked about becoming a director at some point. Your appreciation for Alexander Payne and Woody Allen’s writing has inspired you to write perhaps something within the genre of a dramedy. If you had to direct a Latino superhero movie in the future, what would that film be like?
MP: I’ve always liked the idea myself of being invisible, but that wouldn’t work today. I think my Hispanic superhero character should have limited powers, like someone who’s always late and has good excuses (laughingly).
NBCLatino: As an actor who is of Mexican descent and who has played great Mexican leaders such as Cesar Chavez and even undocumented immigrants in Frontera with Eva Longoria, what do you make of all of these Donald Trump Mexican comments?
MP: I thought it was a comedy skit at first. Whoever his campaign manager is… letting him go off on that rant, I was surprised. I thought it was funny to be honest, [that] in one speech he shunned a third of the country just like that. Immigration is too complex of a topic and I never really believe polls, whether he’s a frontrunner or not, where are they getting these polls? I haven’t voted for him or been asked.
NBCLatino: Up next for you is the long awaited film adaptation of the TV show CHiPs. Wasn’t Wilmer Valderrama supposed to be attached to it?
MP: Dax Shepard took over the film and it’s going to be more like a Lethal Weapon movie. It won’t be jokey, it’s plot driven. I’ll be playing ‘Ponch,’ Erik Estrada’s character. I reread the script and really like it. I have to ride fast motorcycles, it’ll be fun. But no, I haven’t heard that Wilmer is involved in it.