Interview: for Michael Peña It’s all About Keeping it Real – Currently starring in BATTLE: Los Angeles and The Lincoln Lawyer
The Lincoln Lawyer is a courtroom action drama, and Michael Peña brings much of that drama in one scene alone, as the wrongfully incarcerated prison inmate Jesus Martinez, raising the stakes for Michael Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Continental sedan.
Peña’s career has been a combination of starring and smaller roles, in both major studio and indie films like the Academy Award winning Crash or The World Trade Center. His range of roles is evident in his two most recent films; a prisoner in San Quentin in The Lincoln Lawyer, and a caring father caught in the wrong side of the battle with his son in BATTLE: Los Angeles, released last week. Peña’s choice of roles are by design, as we learned when we interviewed him recently:
You’ve done some memorable roles, such as your character in Crash and the more recent comedies like Observe and Report. What is your process for choosing your roles?
A part is a part, there is no difference. I do small or bigger ones depending if I like the script. Right after I did Crash I took a small part in Alejandro Iñárritu’s Babel. I did a small part in Million Dollar Baby also after Crashand both were up for an Oscar that year.
I look for the humor in the dramatic roles and the drama in comedic roles. It makes sense to me.
LH: What attracted you to do The Lincoln Lawyer ?
Michael Peña: I just want to be in good movies and do good parts. The role of Martinez is a pivotal to the story, and I was also allowed to improvise. For instance, the scene in the strip club was a lot smaller then what ended up in the film.
LH: You character does not interact with John Leguizamo’s character in the film, but you actually got to work back in the start of your career, in an indie called Sueno. Did you actually meet him back then?
MP: No I didn’t, but I had been a huge fan of his comedy shows, Spick-o-Rama and Mambo Mouth and I did get to talk to him a bit. I hope to have a chance to interact with him more in the future.
LH: You’ve been able to play both Latino and non-Latino roles, how were you able to cross over to mainstream roles in an industry which tends to typecast you?
MP: In the beginning I was going out on a lot of gang banger roles. I even had to do research, because I grew up going to prep schools. One day I just got fed up and said to myself, ‘I’m just going to play this like a real person,’ no one is purely a bad person. I feel it is important to play whatever role as a real person, don’t play to the stereotype.
LH: You’ve done your fair share of comedies, most recently in 2009 Observe and Report and later this year we will see you in another comedy, Tower Heist with Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy? Tell us about that.
MP: I play Rick Mallory and I am part of a group of hard working guys who find out we’ve fallen victim to a wealthy business man’s Ponzi scheme ala Bernie Madoff (played by Alan Alda). I love the cast, I love the script and I actually had too much fun doing it. When they were doing coverage on Ben Stiller, I couldn’t help but bust up laughing – a little too much, I think they might cut me out (he laughs).
Peña will next be seen in the film The Good Doctor alongside Orlando Bloom then in August in 30 Minutes or Less. Tower Heist is schedule to release on November 2, 2011. Meanwhile on television you can catch Peña in the racist, sexist, everything-ist HBO comedy Eastbound & Down as a semi-sleazy owne of the minor league baseball team. The show airs its final season early in the Spring of 2012.
One thing for sure, Peña is serious about his acting and when asked about his success after coming to the attention of Hollywood with his stand out performance in Crash he simply says “I feel super fortunate, there are a lot of talented people that don’t make it, and I don’t know why. I’m just lucky.” Yes Michael, lucky and very talented.
The Lincoln Lawyer is distributed by Lionsgate and premieres on May 18, 2011 domestically. Cast also includes: Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher and Margarita Levieva. Directed by Brad Furman the film is produced by Sidney Kimmel, Richard Wright, Scott Steindorff, Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi and executive produced by Eric Reid, David Kern and Bruce Tol.
Source: Bel Hernandez for Latin Heat
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