Michael Peña on the long road to the big-screen Chips re­boot

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - James Mot­tram

Michael Peña still re­calls the meet­ing with his agents where he laid out his ca­reer goals.

“I re­mem­ber say­ing: ‘I want to learn how to do com­edy’. I was mainly a dra­matic ac­tor,” he says.

Af­ter ap­pear­ing in films such as End of Watch, The Mar­tian and Fury, Chicago-born Peña could hardly com­plain about his lot. But af­ter read­ing books by act­ing gu­rus Michael Shurtl­eff and San­ford Meis­ner, he wanted to tickle some funny bones.

“They all talk about hu­mour – and to learn how to find hu­mour in drama,” says the 41-year-old.

“And then I thought about it: there’s so much hu­mour in reg­u­lar life. Just play­ing the ac­tual drama is not real. Even if the stakes are re­ally high, some­times peo­ple do say some­thing funny out of ner­vous­ness or out of anger. If you re­ally watch an an­gry, an­gry per­son, they’re re­ally funny. Like road rage for in­stance – if you’re not in it, it looks ridicu­lous.” Peña now has achieved more than he could have wished for. Af­ter comedic per­for­mances in Marvel su­per­hero movie An­tMan and in the cor­rupt law­men tale War on Ev­ery­one, he stars in Dax Shep­ard’s Chips, a re­boot of the old 1970s and 1980s TV show about buddy cops work­ing for the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol.

“I watched the TV show – I was a big fan of it,” says Peña, who plays Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, a role played by Erik Estrada in the orig­i­nal.

Peña, who met Estrada be­fore pro­duc­tion be­gan, cites this up­date as an ac­tion-com­edy in the Lethal Weapon mould, mak­ing it a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the TV show, which ended in 1983 af­ter 139 episodes and six sea­sons.

“You can’t re­ally make a movie with the tone of the TV show,” he says.

“The hu­mour has changed. The ac­tion se­quences have changed. It is so much more vis­ceral these days – any ac­tion se­quences, you have to feel like you’re re­ally in there.”

Ever loyal to his projects, and per­haps an in­di­ca­tor of just how keen he was to try his hand at com­edy, Peña was at­tached to the film for three years.

“Three years of ‘ is it go­ing to hap­pen? Is it not go­ing to hap­pen?’ It was tough,” he says. “Even in the ta­ble read, I didn’t know if we were go­ing to get green­lit fully or if they were go­ing to push the start date. Af­ter the ta­ble read, they gave us their bless­ing and we were off to the races.”

The film is writ­ten and di­rected by Shep­ard, who also stars as Jon Baker, Ponch’s part­ner, a role played in the orig­i­nal TV show by Larry Wil­cox. Un­like in the TV se­ries, Baker is a hap­less rookie, in­ept at ev­ery­thing but rid­ing his po­lice mo­tor­cy­cle, while Ponch is an un­der­cover FBI agent on the hunt for cor­rupt cops. In re- al­ity, the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol prob­a­bly is not the coolest branch of the po­lice force to be a part of.

“They’re usu­ally sher­iffs – they ba­si­cally write [speed­ing] tick- ets,” says Peña. But these new ver­sions of Ponch and Baker pur­sue a bunch of crooked cops, led by Vincent D’Onofrio, who have stolen US$14 mil­lion (Dh51m), en­sur­ing plenty of high-oc­tane ac­tion along­side the laughs.

“You can feel the com­edy is com­ing but it is very real,” says Pena.

What about rid­ing one of those big po­lice bikes? “I’m not good. I’m not good,” he ad­mits.

“If you got on one of those cop bikes, they’re re­ally heavy. Then you have to feather the clutch and it was re­ally tough. I dropped the bike once, for sure. I got off of it – I didn’t get hurt, not even close. But a bike is not some­thing you want to mess around with.”

is in cine­mas from to­mor­row. Check to­mor­row’s Arts&Life for our re­view

Peter Iovino / Warner Bros via AP Photo

Michael Pena in Chips.

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