Michael Pena had a bit of pressure on him for his role as Gordo in Fury, he tells us in our exclusive interview. First, writer-director David Ayer writes parts that are so rich that it requires every ounce of talent from his actors. He would know -- Pena was in his End of Watch.
Second, Pena’s Gordo is one of the few Latinos we’ve seen in World War II movies over the years, and given that there were 17 of them that won the Medal of Honor for service during the Second World War, the actor felt a duty to nail it impeccably. Then, there is the fact that there isn’t much out there for him to research on the subject. Talk about a mountain to climb! But as teased in that Fury trailer, he totally nails it.
Movie Fanatic: We haven’t seen a lot of Latinos in World War II movies... One, did you feel any pressure to give them the justice they deserve, and two, you have said that there wasn’t a lot of research to be had, was it freeing or stressful when you were creating the character of Gordo?
Michael Pena: There was definite pressure because Ayer doesn’t write the easiest characters. Shia was able to go and talk to a chaplain. There was nobody for me to talk to. These guys who won the Medal of Honor, most of them are dead or don’t want to talk about it. There was a lot of pressure. I’m fortunate now to be in a movie where I am representing a lot of people and I want to keep that going. It was Edward James Olmos doing Stand and Deliver and then Luis Valdez directed La Bamba and Esai Morales saying, “Richie!” I love those movies. I grew up on those movies. I’m not lying to myself, it does inspire. Edward James Olmos was able to do both, which I want to do. I don’t shy away from those things and I do have an added pressure. There are movies where I don’t feel nerves at all, and twice with Ayer -- End of Watch and Fury -- he loves Latino history. We have long conversations about it.
Movie Fanatic: Ayer sure knows what he wants from his actors and you’ve worked with him twice now. What do you think sets him apart?
Michael Pena: He offers you a fantastic script to read and then he tells you that he wants to shoot it simply, or at least whatever the script wants to be. That’s the style he shoots it. Then what he does is in the first meeting, he tells you what his vision is, because he’s done a lot of research. If you ever need help, he’s right there. I’ll never forget he told me, “You know, it’s April 1945, so it’s a little cold. You know what you can do, the receiver has a little bit of warmth behind the tubes, just put your hand on it.” He knows so much about it. That makes it really cool. He’s an actor’s director and not everyone is. The reason why a lot of actors have their best moments with Ayer is because it’s so informed that you really don’t have to play something that’s not there.
Movie Fanatic: The dinner scene is one of the most riveting moments in Fury, and it doesn’t even involve a battle, at least with bullets. You have to deliver that monologue that is so gripping. Were you able to let that go when it was over, or was that a powerful moment that hung over you? Or was it a relief that it was done?
Michael Pena: It wasn’t a relief -- the entire movie wasn’t a relief until it was over [laughs]. Even one line, I would be nervous with this one. I was definitely giving it my all. The (expletive) got really personal, really quickly. How Brad’s reacting to my story, how Shia and Jon are reacting to it, and how unknowingly Logan Lerman is – it kind of magnifies what I’m saying. They have tears in their eyes!
Movie Fanatic: One of the first times we talked was for Battle Los Angeles. You had just come off a little time off to work on the role of a father to your little one. You had said that you hoped that Hollywood hadn’t forgotten you because you felt it was important to be there during the first year of your child’s life. Here we are several years later, and you are more in demand than ever… looking back at that choice and where you are now, how does that decision sit with you?
Michael Pena: I am very glad I did that because I have an incredible relationship with my son. We all work for the traveling circus, so to speak, and so do you, and it’s hard to be away from your kids. Spending that first year with my kid was awesome, I gained a lot of weight, but it was awesome! When I did come back, it was tougher, man. I had a good thing going. To be gone for a year means you’re gone for two years on the screen because you have nothing in the can when you do come back. For two years, you didn’t see me. That was tough to come back, especially when you’re building some momentum. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Watch End of Watch online and witness Ayer and Pena's first stroke of genius.