Directed by Mark Neveldine, the thriller The Vatican Tapes tells the story of Angela Holmes (Olivia Taylor Dudley), an ordinary 27-year-old woman until she finds herself trapped in the ultimate battle between good and evil. When possession is suspected, the Vatican is called upon to exorcize the demon, and it’s up to Father Lozano (Michael Peña) to save Angela’s soul.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Michael Pena talked about why the script was so scary, that weird things happened during the shoot, growing up Catholic, wanting to be a part of a horror movie, his desire to keep his priest a normal guy, and not wanting to joke around on this set. He also talked about wanting to get involved with Vacation because he’s such a big fan of the original, shooting CHiPs with Dax Shepard later this year, working with Ridley Scott on The Martian, and that War on Everyone was just one of those movies that he had to do.
Collider: Was it fun to play a character like this, in a story that is so dramatic and intense?
MICHAEL PEÑA: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. I’ve gotta be honest, the script was so scary. I grew up Catholic and that kind of stuff always seemed to pull at people’s faith, in a way. We shot in a psych ward, so that was kind of weird. People were getting sick on set. It was just one of those weird shoots.
Did putting on the priest costume really help you get into character, or were there other things that you did, as well?
PEÑA: Since I grew up Catholic, I knew a lot of priests and the script reminded me about all this stuff I used to think about, when I was a kid, and how real it was. My son now doesn’t want the boogeyman in his room, and that’s so real to him. Some horror movies are just for shock value, so it doesn’t really feel scary. This is more the element of surprise.
Was the fact that the script creeped you out part of the attraction?
PEÑA: Yeah. I just wanted to be a part of something that’s a horror movie that scares you. I used to love those movies, back in the day, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining. I really liked those kind of movies, and I wanted to be a part of one of those kinds of movies.
Was this a character that was fully on the page, or were you able to give some input into who he is?
PEÑA: I just had the simple idea that’s based on the priest that I had, when I was in school. They were always just normal guys. They want to blend in. They have to wear whatever they have to wear, but they’re just normal guys and they’re there to talk to people. I wanted to portray that. He also seems like he’s a little bit of a newbie, and he doesn’t know exactly how all of this will go down. And it was a whole other hell that he had to go through [in the military]. What does that bring up to him, when he’s doing the exorcism?
What was it like to shoot the scenes where you had to give Last Rites and when you had to perform the exorcism? Was that totally surreal?
PEÑA: Yeah, it was surreal. I usually joke around, especially on set. But here, there was no room for that. I had to make sure I got that right. It was just a weird vibe. It didn’t feel like you could joke around.
Since Observe and Report, you’ve really shown that you can do comedy. Do you find that comedy comes really naturally for you, or is that something you’ve worked really hard at?
PEÑA: I have to work on that quite a bit. I remember one of my managers, back in the day, who I don’t work with anymore said, “Mike, you’re not funny.” I had to work at it and work at it to try to get my own thing and find what’s funny for me. The only thing that I found that’s good is just to work on the scenes. It almost seems like the humor comes in a little bit more naturally that way. It’s not quite comedy, but I do try to put a lot of humor into the things that I’m doing.
What made you want to get involved with Vacation?
PEÑA: I was just a big fan of the original. I always loved the fact that they were centered around the kid, too. I was just a fan. I’ve met Christina Applegate before, and she’s very, very nice. I read it and it just seemed like something fun to do. I was in Atlanta, at the time, so I just worked on it for a day. I play a cop at the Four Corners.
Are you looking to do more comedies, or do you want to keep switching things up between comedy and drama?
PEÑA: I would label it humor. Comedy is when the entire thing is a comedy. If there’s a drama or a dark comedy, that’s cool. I like when you don’t expect the humor. To me, End of Watch had a lot of humor in it, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a comedy.
You’re also currently developing CHiPs, right?
PEÑA: Yeah, we’re going to shoot it in the later part of this year. I have to get in shape and I have to learn how to ride a motorcycle.
What do you think works about the partnership between you and Dax Shepard (who also wrote the script and is directing)?
PEÑA: That’s kind of weird, right? We’re in rehearsals now, and we’re figuring that stuff out. Dax is naturally a funny dude. Just with the way he says something, he’s really funny. I’m looking forward to it.
Have you gotten to see The Martian yet?
PEÑA: No, not yet.
What was it like getting to work with Ridley Scott?
PEÑA: Ridley Scott loves making movies. He still loves it, and he’s very passionate about it. I couldn’t pass up the possibility of working with that guy. Thank god, he was really cool about it. We had a great time filming. I can’t wait to see it! The trailer looks pretty good.
How did you get involved with War on Everyone, and what was it about that script that attracted you?
PEÑA: I was attached to it a year ago, or maybe even longer. I read the script, and John Michael McDonagh is a hell of a writer. It just made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. I just thought that it was so cool. Somebody else was attached to star opposite me, but then they dropped out right before filming, and Alexander Skarsgård came in to save the day. It’s just one of those movies I felt I had to do, and that I’d be lucky to do.
The Vatican Tapes is in theaters and on VOD on July 24th.