Q&A: An interview with Michael Peña, the actor who stole ‘Ant-Man’ from Paul Rudd
“Ant-Man” may at its heart be a touching redemption story about ex-con Scott Lang finding a purpose in life that enables him to do right by his daughter by becoming a superhero, but it also takes advantage of the inherent absurdity of a hero whose superpowers are to shrink and communicate with ants to deliver plenty of comedic moments.
While Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang of course contributes to the comedy as he learns to utilize Ant-Man’s suit and become proficient in herding ants, the surprise comedic heavy hitter in “Ant-Man” is Michael Peña, who plays Luis, Lang’s fast-talking ex-cellmate and friend.
After 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which was praised for its humor, is Marvel intentionally striving to best “Guardians” and deliver more comedic offerings in its movie slate?
“That was not the intention,” said Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. “That’s great, but the goal [with ‘Ant-Man’] wasn’t ‘Now we’re going to make things funnier.’ The goal was to make a great Ant-Man movie and introduce him to an audience who not only doesn’t know who Ant-Man is, but is very skeptical when they hear even the idea of Ant-Man.”
However, Feige is aware that at least part of “Ant-Man’s” strength is in the comedy.
"[We wanted] to deliver a film that proves to them why Ant-Man is so cool,” said Feige. “And humor is a big part of that. Certainly with the cast that we have, that’s something that they’re very, very good at in expected ways, with Paul Rudd, and in unexpected ways, with people like Michael Peña almost stealing the whole movie at certain points, being so funny.”
Hero Complex spoke with Peña about his role in “Ant-Man,” the real-life inspiration for Luis and exactly how long he had to learn his lines for those memorable tip scenes.
How was it coming in and becoming a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
I gotta be honest it hasn’t hit me yet. We tried desperately to make it as entertaining as possible for people, [with] the parts that I have, and hopefully they enjoy it.
The telling tale will be when people go see it and enjoy it. Then that’s going to be a whole other thing.
Is there anything about playing Luis that you particularly liked?
I based [Luis] off of someone. It’s somebody that I grew up with. [He’s] kind of a criminal, kind of not a criminal. OK, a criminal.
He was in and out of jail and stuff [and] still slightly annoying, but at the same time lovable, you know, and I tried to play that. I don’t know if I pulled it off or not.
It’s great because there’s actually a civilian in the Marvel universe that’s not like a cop or a mentor. [Luis] really is just a civilian, and for him to be who he is in this movie I think is great. I’m pretty stoked and I liked the movie a lot. You can’t always say that about the movies that you do.
Did your character change at all through the entire process?
I remember initially I thought I’d do [Luis] a certain way and there were two characters that I thought of.
But me and Paul did a test with other actors to see who would fill out the gang and it just wasn’t working. I had to go back to the drawing board and I came up with this guy. The way he talks. I remembered this guy from where I lived and I was like I think it works.
It’s kind of nerve-wracking because when you go that big, you don’t know if it’s going to work or not. Thank God that it did.
Since Luis is more or less an original creation, did you make up a backstory for him?
It was already made up because of that dude that I’m portraying. He actually exists in Chicago. He sounds funny, and he is funny every time he talks. Last time he was trying to convince us that taste buds change.
He’s just such an individual that I had to like put him in a movie.
Did you tell him you based Luis after him?
I’m not going to tell him. I want to see whether or not he notices. He doesn’t have my phone number, so it’s alright.
Luis and the other civilian members of the heist gang added a real human element to the film.
This movie is a lot about redemption. Everybody does it, everybody has their moments and stuff, which I think is really rad.
I thought this movie was kind of touching, you know. I was really surprised and I was really excited that after all the rewrites [“Ant-Man”] really did well with some of the family points. It was really cool.
There are a lot of funny moments in “Ant-Man.” Was it hard not to just break out into laughter while shooting? Or were you the one making people laugh?
I was so nervous that I couldn’t laugh!
But Paul actually made me laugh a bunch, to be honest with you. Because his well of improv and ideas is just endless.
He says things in such a way and just makes it humorous. He finds the humor in it, which is really kind of amazing. It’s a tough thing to do what he does and he does it really well.
One of my favorite Luis moments is when he goes back to rescue the person he knocked out during the Pym Tech heist.
All the guys at Marvel are really passionate and they love entertaining folks and they really think about the story and there’s a lot of thought that goes into that.
We thought we’d get a shot of [Luis] redeeming himself. Finally doing what’s good for his conscience.
I liked that moment. I just saw it two days ago and it works in the movie. It’s not cheesy. It’s something that he just does.
How far in advance did you get the script for the tip-off scenes?
Twelve hours. It was a blessing in disguise, but if there’s a sequel, just give me more than 12 hours.
I improvised a lot in between [some of the lines] because I couldn’t remember the next part and I was trying to fish my way through it.
For the ending one there was another shoot. They gave [the script] to me like the day before, and I was working on another movie at the time. I worked Wednesday on another movie, flew in Thursday, shot [that scene] Thursday night, [then] had to travel Friday morning to be back in Albuquerque on another movie so I had no time to spend on it.
It was almost a blessing in disguise because that’s why the feeling’s like kind of off-the-cuff, and not really well prepared, with the story all over the place, which really helps for that kind of scene.
How much of the final one was improvised? Did you really just learn that bit really fast?
There was pieces in the middle [of the first scene] that were ad libbed but the second one for sure is mainly word for word. That one I really focused on because it was very specific and the ideas were very specific and I had to get that right.
The first one was a little bit more relaxed but the second one was more word for word.
Luis seems to have the least amount of practical skills of the group but he provide the most heart to the group. How was it to be this glue that sort of brings everyone together?
I think that Luis considers himself the leader of the gang even if Ant-Man agrees or not. I think that’s what’s funny. That kind of power struggle between the two where I send everybody off to do things, and I really do think that I’m like the captain of the ship.
Because they’re delicious. Who wouldn’t want waffles? Plus it makes a lot of sense. If you get out of prison there’s ramen and then you can make waffles for cheap.
If Luis and his gang were to help another Marvel team, who do you think they’d have the best fit with?
I think the Avengers would be amazing. The Guardians of the Galaxy would be too convenient, plus they have [Rocket] Raccoon that’s really funny and they have Groot who’s also really funny. But I do think with the Avengers, if there was this entire room full of Avengers and I’m trying to give them a tip, I think that would be hilarious.
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