Actor Michael Peña stars in the new dark comedy Observe and Report with Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall security guard who takes his job way too seriously. With Peña’s character Dennis serving as his right hand man, Barnhardt is on a mission to make the mall he works at a safer place. While Peña is known for his dramatic work (The Shield, Crash, and Lions for Lambs), his role as Dennis is the comedic glue that keeps Barnhardt from letting his job go straight to his head, while he dreams of being a player and livin’ large, gangster style!
In time for Observe and Report’s premiere on Friday, April 10, Peña speaks with nocheLatina on exploring comedy for the first time, whether his raunchy character was based on his real persona, as well as the famous Latin icon that he would like to play someday.
nocheLatina: What is Observe and Report about?
Michael Peña: Observe and Report is about this guy who wants bigger and better things, my character included. Basically, these security guards want to protect the mall at all cost because it’s their major thing in life. Then a flasher invades the mall and they want to catch this predator to make sure all men, women, and children can safely shop.
nocheLatina: Would you ever shop at a mall with the same kind of security guards that were featured in Observe and Report?
Michael Peña: I would probably be really good friends with those dudes, and I’d want to know what’s going on. If there was a real dude like my character Dennis, I’d say, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I never met anyone like that who wants to be a full blown pimp, but it would be really interesting. Maybe Seth’s character might not be as cool, but I bet you he’s cool later. The Yuen twins, hell yeah. Meeting Jesse Plemons’ character would be awesome too.
nocheLatina: Did you have to go to security guard training school for this role?
Michael Peña: Not at all. I saw this movie from the Hughes’ Brothers called American Pimp. My character came from all that. Like the dude is trying to be ghetto and handle his bitches. At first I thought it was fake, but then I realized that these guys are really serious. So that was it and I just auditioned, and thank God they liked it.
nocheLatina: Tell me about your character Dennis in the film.
Michael Peña: He’s working and trying to be the best security guard that he can possibly be. Dennis has a dream that he doesn’t keep hidden of being a pimp someday. Whether or not he’s going to sell women is to be determined. But he’s definitely looking to be successful, and he’s driven because he wants to go up in the security guard world.
nocheLatina: Do you see yourself having anything in common with Dennis?
Michael Peña: No man. This is one character I have nothing in common with. I don’t talk like that, walk like that, sound like that, or look at women like that. He’s kind of a pig. He’s so much more different than me. It’s basically something I created out of my imagination.
nocheLatina: Was it difficult to play this character because you don’t have anything in common with him?
Michael Peña: No. It’s almost like the real case of playing pretend in a way, which I found cool because you can really let your imagination grow. You can imagine when you have to improv, especially with his voice and the tone of it all. You really have to become this character. It was fun to play a lot of stuff just based on my imagination.
nocheLatina: I imagine working on a comedy was fun for the most part.
Michael Peña: Oh my God, I gotta be honest. The thing I tried to do the most was not laugh while we were shooting, which I was completely unsuccessful at. I fucked up some scenes a couple of times. I wasn’t able to make it through without laughing. There’s a scene where I have literally one word to say, and people would start laughing, including me. It ended up not being in the movie. I couldn’t keep my shit together. But it was a really good time.
nocheLatina: You weren’t on set when the flasher ran through the mall were you?
Michael Peña: Hell no dude! I was not going to be there.
nocheLatina: This role was a departure for you in that you’re known primarily for being a dramatic actor. Did you take this role because it was a comedy?
Michael Peña: I pretty much did it because I wanted to do it. To me, I want to do whatever is good and whatever I feel like doing at that time. It starts with a script and then the people that are involved with telling that story. So for me it’s pretty basic, but it always follows a script first, and then whoever attaches themselves to do it. At the end of the day, the result should be a good movie.
nocheLatina: Would you like to do more comedies in the future?
Michael Peña: Yeah! I think it would be great.
nocheLatina: What would be a dream role or is there someone you’d like to portray in a movie one day?
Michael Peña: It would be great to play Cesar Chavez. That would be an interesting role for me. I think I’d have to be a little older, but that is somebody who I think is, for the Latin people, a Gandhi-like figure.