Actor Michael Peña admits he’s not quite sure if he’s gotten funnier throughout his career, but his film choices over the last two years are proof he’s trying to show off his comedic chops.

After roles in comedies like “Observe & Report” and “30 Minutes or Less,” it seems like Peña is getting the hang of the techniques and timing that can trigger laughter. Just ask Peña’s 3-year-old son, who thinks his daddy is the funniest man on the planet.

“Whenever I say the word ‘poo poo butt’ he thinks that’s just way too funny,” Peña told me during an interview for his new comedy “Tower Heist.” “He’s like, “Oh, did you just say poo poo butt again?!’ He thinks I’m the coolest dude ever because I say poo poo butt.”

While “Tower Heist” doesn’t boast poo poo jokes, Peña is doing all he can to get the same kind of laugh-out-loud reaction from moviegoers. In the film, he plays Enrique Dev’reaux (AKA the Puerto Rican Mohican), a newly hired bellboy at a high-rise New York City hotel who teams up with his fellow employees to steal back the money taken from them by a crooked Wall Street investor.

During our interview, Peña, 35, talked about the two men who inspired his character Enrique and what he thinks about Eddie Murphy as a comedian.

So, I got the Puerto Rican Mohican on the phone. That has a nice ring to it.

Yeah, that was actually Brett [Ratner’s] idea. I had something else, but he came up with a much better idea for that.

“Tower Heist” marks your second comedy this year after “30 Minutes or Less.” I’m guessing after you did “Observe & Report” and some episodes of “Eastbound and Down” the comedy bug bit you.

Yeah, for sure. I always wanted to get into comedy. I remember when I first signed with [my talent agency], I told them I had a dream of doing comedy. I didn’t know if I was good at it, but I definitely wanted to try. They did get me a couple of auditions with directors.

So, have you found yourself getting funnier over the years?

I don’t know about that. Since I’ve had a kid, dude, I will literally do anything to make that little son of a gun laugh.

What do you do to make him laugh?

I kind of do this one little voice of – God, I forgot the little red guy’s name.


Yeah, Elmo! I do this little Elmo voice that he just absolutely loves.

What was it about your character Enrique Dev’reaux that you liked so much?

Well, I remember when I was doing the movie “World Trade Center,” and I would go to this coffee shop around the neighborhood I was staying. There was this guy at the coffee shop that would always be talking and talking and talking. I’d be trying to order a coffee and he’d be talking and talking every morning. He’d be like (in a New York accent), “Yo, that’s what I’m talking about. Know what I’m sayin’? Know what I’m sayin’?” He would do all that talking and would literally say nothing.  I thought that would be an awesome character to portray. Some of the character, though, wa also based on Brett, like his energy and his vibe. It was cool to mesh the two characters.

You’ve done that before where you take someone you’ve met in your life and create a character out of their personality. Is that something you’re always paying attention to – the people you meet on a daily basis?

Yeah, I mean, if they’re bigger than life and real I do. I feel like I’m a little bit more of a conservative person. Those kinds of characters are interesting to me because they’re not like me. I feel it’s really cool to portray that. It doesn’t always happen. But I do catch myself looking at people and thinking, “Whoa, dude, that’s crazy! How do they get to be like that?” I’m just like a kid interested in imitating grown-ups.  I had this favorite uncle. His name was Narsico. He would was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met in my life. I definitely would imitate him as a kid.

You’ve worked with some big-name comedians in the past like Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen. What was it like being on set with someone as iconic as Eddie Murphy?

Well, first of all, I think Eddie is a fantastic actor. He’s been doing it forever and I think he’s paved the way for a lot of people and changed the game around with “Beverly Hills Cop” and all those things. It’s kind of hard not to be in awe with this guy while he’s doing his thing. Of course, I have to concentrate and do my own thing, but while you’re shooting you realize, “Wow, this guy is a star for a reason.” He’s so talented. He does what he does and does it so well.

What would you say your favorite Eddie Murphy movie is?

Shit, that’s a tough one. Um, I would have to say [his stand up specials] “Delirious” and “Raw.”

How do you think he’s going to do hosting the Oscars in a few months?

I can’t wait. I think it’s going to be an event. I think it has all the potential to be something completely memorable. Brett’s said it before, but all the best hosts have been comedians, like Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and those guys. I think the sky’s the limit with Eddie Murphy.

“Tower Heist” has a few timely themes with a story centered on a white collar crime that affects a group of hard-working people. How much of that do you think will resonate with the audience or is it more about just having fun with the characters and situations?

No, I think that is another reason I wanted to do this movie. You have the characters that you can really relate to and really love. I think that’s what makes a really cool comedy. If you didn’t have that, I think it would still be a cool comedy. Would it be as good and would you get the talent you wanted? I don’t know. I definitely think it’s an asset with all the shit that’s going on right now.

If you ever found yourself in a situation where the livelihood of yourself and your family were in jeopardy, do you think you might be able to knock over a bank or a convenient store to put food on the table?

I think I would just work or have something saved up. I don’t think I would ever do that, to be honest with you. That’s almost like taking other people’s money. But in TV Land and Movie Land, absolutely.

OK, so you don’t have to admit anything to me that will have the FBI knocking on your door, but have you ever stolen anything before? A pack of gum? Cable?

(Laughs) I did, man, when I was a kid, but I got caught. I was stealing a Snickers and the guy was like, “What are you doing?!” and I was like, “I don’t know! I’ll buy it!” That was the last time I did anything like that. I think it’s good for me to feel bad even for attempting to do something like that. I don’t think it’s in my nature.

Well, have you ever had anything stolen from you before?

Yeah, well, I remember in my neighborhood in Chicago, I lived on 16th and California and it wasn’t the nicest of neighborhoods. I remember having my first bike for exactly one hour. I went to the park and this group of big kids jumped me and took my bike. I was like, “Aw, man. Where’s my bike at?”

How difficult was it to watch Ben Stiller smash up that Ferrari in the movie and did you get a whack at it like your character wanted?

Nah, I tried to get a whack at it. I love that they kept that line in the movie. I was like, “Yo, let me take a whack at dat!” That was one of my favorite scenes to do in the movie. When you read it, it definitely seems like a tough scene to pull off. I think it was a really important scene and Ben did a good job. I didn’t think you had to get too jokey with it, but at the same time he was really able to bring it and really say F-U to the guy.

I don’t know about you, but with Matthew Broderick in that scene, all I could think about was the similar scene in “Ferris Buller’s Day Off” where Matthew, once again, witnesses the demise of another red Ferrari.

Yeah, I was actually quoting Matthew Broderick to Matthew Broderick. For too long apparently because he told me (in a surprisingly dead-on impersonation of Matthew Broderick), “Michael, OK, you can stop now, Michael.”

What did you think about the idea that Universal had about making “Tower Heist” available On Demand only three weeks after it hits theaters. Do you think we could see this happening with movies in the future?

Oh, man, that question is way above my pay grade.

Well, as a movie fan, would you like to see new theatrical-released movies at home?

Ah, I’m old-school about that. I love going to the theater. I go to movie theaters all the time. I’m a huge fan of it. It’s a weird thing watching movies with strangers. It’s such an experience for me. I think sometimes you have to keep doing that. There is a certain mystique about watching movies in a theater. They seem bigger than life.

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