If early reports are to be believed, Michael Peña steals pretty much every scene he’s in, in the upcoming Marvel juggernaut Ant-Man. It’s kind of become a theme with his career: playing that one dude opposite someone a bit bigger and managing to come out of whichever film it is being much more memorable – think End Of Watch, Fury, American Hustle.
Although Peña has found a spot in more multiplex-friendly fare, he’s never ventured over to the dark side, to speak. That’s all about to change as he’s finally dipping his toe into the world of horror with The Vatican Tapes, a smart, spooky and ultimately very memorable, exorcism-themed chiller in which he’s, once again, not really the main star, but sort of turns out to be the hero anyway.
Wicked Horror’s Joey Keogh was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with the man to talk superstition, possession, classic horror movies and what it means to play a holy man on the verge of having his faith/worst fears realised.
Related: The Vatican Tapes is Solid, Well-Written, and Well-Performed
Wicked Horror: So, tell me a little bit about your character, Fr. Lozano.
Michael Peña: He’s a priest who hasn’t been on the job very long. He just came back from the war and he’s trying to do some good. And he finds this girl who seems kind of off to him, a little bit, so he takes a video of her, he sends it to The Vatican, and they come back and say, you know, we might need to do an exorcism here. I mean, this is a very generic way of explaining it, but it all starts from there. But, he gets to experience an exorcism for the first time and he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s like a deer caught in headlights. And so he just goes along with it. I made him a little younger and not as holy, because in a lot of other movies, for some reason, they play the priest as the almighty, holy guy. But the guys where I grew up were just regular guys who just had the priest thing, and so I decided to play him like that. What’s cool about it, is it gave my character somewhere to go. Mainly in the last part of it, you know, where there’s an emotional change with this guy and he’s having to deal with this exorcism. It happens with some people, when you see evil, and when you have to confront evil for the first time, you either change or are submissive. I think Fr. Lozano wanted to fight it off.
Michael Peña: I do! I gotta be honest, I do. I don’t know why exactly, but, I mean, I grew up in the Catholic Church and I went to Catholic school. And we learned that, if there’s good, then what’s the balance to that? We know there’s good because we live in this world but we also know that there’s some evil and you have to sometimes explore the different kinds of evil. And this is one of them. You know, in a Mexican household, they’re very Catholic and they have this thing called Brujería, which is basically about believing in witches and black magic and stuff. My mother used to get an egg and rub my body with it and my brother’s too, and then she’d put it in a glass and tip it over. It’s called “the cleanse”. And so, as a kid, you’re taught, or maybe your awareness is raised, that there’s a possibility of evil. And you have to be careful because it can take you and you can really start thinking differently. With this thing [in the movie], if you’re agreeing with it too much, it can be dangerous. Actually the Pope, last year, said something interesting about it. He said that he believes the Antichrist is on earth. So it does feel like there’s a possibility that it could happen.
WH: This is such a generic question, so apologies, but, given the subject matter, did anything spooky happen during the shoot? Was anything a bit off?
Michael Peña: Yeah, actually, people were getting sick, and I remember there was a guy that broke his leg, and there were weird sounds. [Pauses] So, so weird. We were filming in a psych ward and I don’t even know why we were doing that in the first place, because it was really just so, so weird. But, anyway, there were these weird sounds and the director had his head-phones on and with the boom up he could definitely, definitely, hear something and he was like “can you hear that?” and I was like “dude, I don’t have a mic to my ear, I don’t know what you’re talking about” So, yeah, there were definitely some weird things going on.
WH: Am I correct in thinking this is your first horror movie?
Michael Peña: It is.
WH: So, why now? Are you a horror fan, or..?
Michael Peña: Yeah. When I was a kid, I watched A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, you know, movies like that.
WH: The classics.
Michael Peña: Are those considered classics!?
WH: Yeah, those are all classics. By most horror fans’ standards, anyway.
Michael Peña: Oh, cool. Well, I wanted to be part of that, I wanted to check it out. And hopefully to be in a good one, too!
WH: It’s funny you should say that, because there’s such a huge amount of these types of films out right now. What do you think makes The Vatican Tapes different? What makes it stand out from its contemporaries?
Michael Peña: The storytelling and the type of story it is, too. I watched lots of horror movies for research and they just weren’t scary because you didn’t believe in it, or think it was possible. They were pretty cool, a lot of it was based on the element of surprise, or it just gory, but… I don’t know, I watch Forensic Files, all that kind of stuff. Or even something like The Jinx, to me that stuff is exciting because it’s real, it has a possibility of actually happening. And so, I like those kinds of movies. To me, this was one of those movies and the script was great, too.
WH: So we’re not going to be seeing you in a slasher any time soon, then? Are you planning to do more horror in general?
Michael Peña: [Laughs] To me, that stuff is really funny. All that gory, over the top kind of “Aaaaaaaaaaah!” stuff just makes me laugh. Is it supposed to be funny? Because I watch all of the real-life, serial killer stuff, that stuff fascinates me. I mean, the idea of how crazy somebody needs to be in order to do that stuff. But as for the over the top stuff, no.
WH: What’s coming up next for you?
Michael Peña: Next I am doing this movie CHiPs in October. It’s with Dax Shepard and it’s based off the 1980s TV show of the same name. I play Poncherello. It’s interesting because it’s a little different than the TV show. I mean, we are on bikes, but it’s funny. It’s got a lot of humour in it. Hopefully it’s funny! [laughs]
Catch The Vatican Tapes in theatres nationwide from July 24th