Michael Peña is perhaps best known for his dramatic work in films such as End of Watch and Fury, but in Ant-Man (which hit theaters on Friday), Pena tries his hand at comedy … and steals his scenes with adroitness of a seasoned pro.
The actor has played it funny before in works such as Observe and Report and Eastbound & Down, but he says comedy is still “fairly new” to his arsenal. Not that anyone could tell, because onscreen in the new Marvel film, Peña is a natural comedic talent as Luis — an ex-con with a good heart who helps his friend Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a.k.a. the newly minted Ant-Man, pull off a heist to stop bad guy Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from changing the course of military history.
As a testament to his funny appeal, Peña was met with riotous laughter every time he appeared onscreen at the Los Angeles premiere of Ant-Man earlier this month. EW’s Chris Nashawaty called him a scene stealer in his review of the film, and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn said that Pena killed it onscreen, and that this film would make him a big-time star.
Peña is central to the film, to be sure, but it wasn’t always that way. “[Paul] was really supportive, and would come in every morning and would get me involved,” he says. “At first, the part wasn’t very big. I think I had maybe three or four scenes and that was about it. They kept writing for me and even when they weren’t writing for me, Paul would say or ask, ‘What do you think, or what else can we do? Do you feel good about it?’ Especially when a guy is nervous because he’s not used to doing comedy, I think it’s pretty awesome.”
He credits Rudd and Marvel Studios — including its president, Kevin Feige — with getting him more involved.
Peña modeled Luis, who has a signature vocal style and positive outlook on life, on a friend of a friend (according to the actor, that friend knows he was the inspiration for the character and is proud). “That’s just the way he talks and the cadence,” Peña says. “He’s got this grin on the entire time and he doesn’t care. He’s the kind of guy where you’re like ‘Hey, what’d you do this weekend?’ and he’s like ‘I went to jail, dawg,’ with a smile on his face. Not a lot of people do that. Not a lot of people think of life on those terms.”
As for the actual funny, he has a number of one liners — and some comedic bits involving waffles and whistling, respectively — but the real laughs are with Luis’ narration about A) a potential heist coming together, and B) a person, who we won’t spoil here, looking for Scott. He goes into way too many, unnecessary details — like how the idea for the initial heist first came to him when he and his cousin were wine tasting, drinking rosé. (For the record, Peña himself enjoys rosé.)
Beyond those scenes, which were improvised at parts, Luis’ interests — again, rosé — lent themselves to laughs as well. “I thought it would be funny to have this guy who is a past criminal to have these funny, little tastes and say things like exquisite and delightful, because it’s the opposite of what you think is going to happen,” he says. “A lot of comedy uses that. It’s when the unexpected happens. That’s what comedy’s all about — the element of surprise as well.”
Could more comedies be in store for Peña? “If it’s a part as good as that one, even though I’d be nervous, I feel confident going in and doing those,” he says. “I’ve been studying a little bit of comedy lately. I feel more comfortable doing characters, so that would be cool. I’d like to work with Melissa McCarthy or Will Ferrell or somebody like that. So I guess the point is yes, if the opportunity presents itself, then yes.”