Interview: The Lincoln Lawyer's Michael Pena

By Eric Eisenberg 2011-03-16 22:58:31discussion comments
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Interview: The Lincoln Lawyer's Michael Pena image
Each and every one of us have been in a situation where weíve been blamed for something we didnít do. All it takes is to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and all of a sudden you have blood on your hands. For most of us when this happens itís inconsequential. In the case of Michael Penaís character in The Lincoln Lawyer, he ends up serving a life sentence.

Playing one of Mick Hallerís (Matthew McConaughey) former clients, Pena finds himself taking a plea bargain for a crime that he didnít commit, but the twist is that Hallerís new client, played by Ryan Phillippe, is the one that set him up. Speaking with Pena in a roundtable interview, the actor discussed his real life encounter with that type of situation; how he balances doing both drama and comedy; and his idea to play a half-alien/half illegal alien. Check out the interview below.

You have a pretty emotional scene in this movie. How many takes did you have and how difficult was it to cry?

The first one, you mean? I think I only had three scenes in it. That one, the flashback, and then the one in present time. Thank God I had some lemon and pepper, you know what I mean? No Iím kidding Iím kidding. You would have seen the lemon drops. Either that or, like, ďWow this guyís got a fountain in his eye!Ē I donít know itís one of those things where you just know what, I was lucky because sometimes, Iíve gotten parts like this before, and I donít know itís that part in my life where I was just hungry for it because I just did two comedies in a row. And when I read it, it captured my imagination so I just zoned out for like an hour and I was able to do it. And while it was happening I was like, ďOh my god itís happening,Ē but you donít want to pay too much attention to it you just want to let it ride. And itís weird because your body actually like... I donít know Iíve noticed that girls cry way easier than guys do. You know what I mean? Theyíre like on first take, I was like, ďYou already did it! Dude!Ē and me, theyíre like, ďTake 46.Ē You know what I mean? And Iím still going at it. But this one it was one of those things, where just something happened and I was able to ride the wave.

Itís a pretty common fear to just be somehow caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this is exactly what happens to your character. Is that a fear that you had before getting on this role?

I think I tapped into some of that because I lived in Chicago and it was a kind of shady part of town and like, the cops would always stop me, because Iím Mexican and I look like the other dudes. And styles kind of played a part in it, like youíre not really gonna dress in a suit and tie, I mean you kinda dress like everybody else in the neighborhood, you know which is, somewhat similar, to that. I remember I had a shaved head, and mustache, goatee, whatever, when I was in fifth grade. Just kidding. That would have been a mean fifth grader! I got stopped by the cops, and I was going to prep school at the time, like private school, but I still had that kind of style or whatever so you know theyíre like, ďWhat are you doing?Ē I was like, ďIím coming back from football practice.Ē Heís like, ďNice. Whatís in the backpack?Ē And then looking in itís like, shoulder pads, kneepads...So you know it does happen. And I think, I donít know, maybe subconsciously it hit a nerve.

Do you have a preference for comedy or drama, and how do you approach each one?

I donít. Literally my managers and agents, I have really good managers and agents, this guy Rick Hertzman and Jack Wiggerman CAA, and Eric Cranzerís been with me the whole time. They basically will send me like, sometimes five scripts. Or theyíre actually very selective of what they send me, you know what I mean because heís like, ďI could tell it to you but youíre never gonna do it.Ē I was like, ďOkay, whatís the budget?Ē and heís like, ďItís a hundred million dollar movie but, itís like, youíre not gonna do it.Ē And I read it and I was like, ďI wonít ever do it.Ē Which maybe sucks for them, you know. Iíll read like ten scripts, and then sometimes if Iím lucky there will be two or three scripts that I like, and sometimes theyíll all be dramas or theyíll all be comedies, or there will be two dramas and a comedy, and then Iíll go for whatever. If I have to audition, Iíll audition. If itís an offer, great.

When youíre reading a script, how do you know that thatís the right one?

Well, if youíre enjoying a script and you think youíre like... Number one, thereís a couple times when youíre like, ďOh my god.Ē Iím envious of writers. My ex-girlfriend who I have a kid with, sheís a writer. And right after I read her script I was like, ďHoly shit!Ē Thereís something about coming up with something out of nothing. Like I work with somebody elseís creation already and I try to make it better. But to sit at the typewriter and be like, ďAll right Iím clearly not a writer.Ē You know what I mean? That is, it takes once or twice of trying to do that to know, and Iím always a fan of them. Like I always, like, whatís Allan Loeb doing? Iíll read every one of his scripts. I read like seven of his scripts in one week. And I wasnít right for any of them, but just because Iím a fan of the writer and the writing.

What other comedies are you doing?

I just finished 30 Minutes or Less, which comes out in August. Itís great. Itís got Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, I donít know if you guys know him, Nick Swardson, whoís in all of the Adam Sandler movies, and Danny McBride from Eastbound and Down.

Whatís your role in that?

I played an assassin. Itís hard to believe I know. But I played the assassin, and itís kind of a character, so Iím sure Iím going to see you guys for that one. They told me that I had to do a lot of press for that one.

Can you talk a little about Tower Heist?

Tower Heist? That is a movie that itís hard not to name drop, but, itís a crew of five, and itís Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, me, Matthew Broderick, and Casey Affleck. And weíre like, on a heist. Iím like, everybodyís like really cool in the cast pictures and Iím like [smiles goofily]. Winning! Maybe not.

You guys just wrapped recently right?

I wrapped two weeks ago. Then I hopped onto this press tour.

Is it kind of exciting to have two movies coming out at the exact same time?

Well itís just a lot of press, man. Iíve been all over for Battle: Los Angeles and I donít even have big parts in both of them, you know what I mean? I think they pay me now to do press more than they do to make the movie. You know what? I like the movies man, and when I donít like the movies, you wonít see me that much, to be honest with you. But there has only been like one or two in the last six years that I thought they were okay movies.

Would you consider doing more sci-fi films?

I want to do more sci-fi films, I want to play like a half-alien, half-illegal alien.

There you go a pitch for your next movie.

You guys should not write that down because Iím seriously going to use that shit. Half-alien, half-illegal alien.

Is there a role that youíd like to play aside from the two aliens that you just talked about?

I saw Gosling just kill it in Blue Valentine. I thought he was just amazing at that and I wouldnít mind maybe doing something like that. Which I think is cool, I can do that kind of stuff, but when itís super glossy, like big, like thatís when I have, with dramas like that that are super glossy, thatís when Iím like, I think Iím out of my element when it comes to that. But if itís like indie, documentary-style type of stuff, either that or its like wishful thinking, but I actually think he knocked it out of the park. I was really surprised he wasnít nominated. The other guys were fantastic, but that guy was just put on a clinic. It wasnít like line reading or anything. It was just like, if you go to acting class, thatís when they would be like, ďThat was great. That was fantastic,Ē taking notes.

How long have you been in the biz now and are you where you think you should be, at this point in your career?

I do think, I mean Iíve been at it for like fourteen years, Iím going to say...fifteen. Fifteen years. Ever since I was a fetus. Like in the womb. Yeah I mean I took a year and a half off, when my kid was born, because I donít know for some reason I just had this thought in my head I didnít want to be one of those dads, that like, the kid doesnít know who his dad is. You can have a kid and just be off to work all the time and itís basically mom, mom, mom. And so I took a year and a half off and spent a lot of time with him so now anytime I see him heís like, ďDada! Look!Ē and then heís sharing, you know which is different. Then heís like, ďHi Dada.Ē But as far as where Iím at, I think so, because I took a year and a half off and then I was like, I called the agents and Iím like, ďIím ready dude,Ē and heís like, ďWell... shit man.Ē I was like, ďWhat, Iím not getting costarring roles anymore, right off the bat?Ē And heís like, ďYou gotta work up to it just a little bit, but youíll do it.Ē Which happened, so, Iím happy.

Well youíve got a really good track record, especially within the past year, especially this year.

Well this year, yeah, but before that for like two years I didnít have any movies coming out. So, maybe mental note, donít do that again.
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