For an actor who is known mostly for his roles in dramatic movies like “Crash,” “World Trade Center” and “Lions for Lambs,” Chicago-born Michael Peña has taken a giant step in a different direction for his first comedy feature, “Observe and Report.” In the film, Peña plays Dennis, a flamboyant mall security officer who is second in command to Seth Rogen’s bipolar character Ronnie Barnhardt. Both are on the trail of a man who has been exposing himself to female patrons in the mall parking lot.

During an interview with me, Peña, 33, talked about how he created his curly-haired character and what actors he looks up to in the comedy genre.

Who did you base your character on?

I saw this movie called “American Pimp” by the Hughes brothers. What was interesting [was that] I thought they were actors who were acting like pimps. All of a sudden, I realized that [the actors] really believed that they were full-fledged pimps. I thought it would be hilarious if there was a Mexican dude that thought he was a pimp. I went in for the audition and gave it to [director] Jody Hill and the producers and they liked it enough to actually put me in the movie.

I know you permed your hair for this role. Is that the most you’ve ever done physically to prepare for a role and would you ever do anything drastic for a role you really wanted?

I actually had to lose 30 pounds. for this movie I’m doing in July, which is going to be fantastic. I’m going to be eating grass and rocks for a couple of months. It’s going to be awesome. For “The Lucky Ones” I was down to 160 pounds. I was in really good shape. I’ve shaved my head, grown [my hair out]. This is what I do and I love doing it and I’ll do [anything] especially if it fits the character. It’s not like dress up; it’s more like [becoming] these people. There is a certain kind of enjoyment you get when you become another person on screen.

How did you stop from laughing constantly when making a film like “Observe and Report?”

You pinch yourself. I swear to God, I literally pinched myself in the back, especially when Seth Rogen was making me laugh. Aside from the pinching technique that I’ve acquired, I don’t know how I’m going to get through my next comedy.

How would you describe your sense of humor since this is your first comedy? I sense a lot of sarcasm, so who do you look up to in the comedy genre?
[Sarcastically] I think Steven Segal is good. I think Chuck Norris is excellent. Those guys are my idols. I’m also going to have to say Charles Bronson.

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