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'The Vatican Tapes' Star Michael Peña Talks Career Path, Adapting to New Roles, and More [EXCLUSIVE]

First Posted: Jul 23, 2015 04:00 PM EDT
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"The Vatican Tapes" is a horror-thriller that delves into a modern day story of good and evil. It takes believers and non-believers to the dark depths of a secret vault in the Vatican, where there is "an immense library that chronicles all of the possession incidents since the beginning of the Catholic faith."

Mexican-American actor Michael Peña ("American Hustle," "Cesar Chavez") plays Father Lozano, who is faced with the greatest test as a priest, yet his character -- and the actor in real life -- manages to keep the faith alive.

Latin Post caught up with Peña in an exclusive interview to chat about the perils of demonic possession, joining the Marvel Universe, and channeling Frank "Ponch" Poncherello from the late-1970s TV series "CHiPs."

Melissa Castellanos: As mentioned, "The Vatican Tapes" infiltrates the fear of the unknown, the secret vault in the powerful Vatican where there is a huge library that chronicles all demonic possessions since the inception of the Catholic faith. With that said, what did you learn about this secret vault, is it real? 

Michael Peña: Apparently it's real and it's based on true stories, so that already makes it kind of weird. I tried to look up as much as much as possible, like any kind of exorcisms and stuff like that. I also grew up Catholic and was studying and studying as a kid. For you to believe in God, it feels almost necessary to believe in the devil and evil as well.

When I was reading the script, what I liked about it ... it's a sort of genre movie, which is a departure from what I usually do ... just the fact that 'wow, maybe it can happen, maybe this thing is possible, which makes it even scarier.

MC: Was there anything really bizarre that you learned about the secret vault in the Vatican?

MP: I learned something about the Vatican, which is interesting. In Italy, it's its own city, it has its own government. It's not a country, but it's not "quote, unquote" a part of Italy. I never knew that, but I thought "wow, just how strong the Vatican and their influence is on a large part of the world -- and if they want to keep anything secret, they can keep anything secret."

MC: It's no surprise that the Catholic Church has had its share of secrets and scandals, but when it comes to the Antichrist trying to challenge it with demonic possession, that's a whole different story. Has this film changed your perspective on religion at all?

MP: A little bit. It kind of just reignited the things that I thought when I was a kid, the possibilities. ... You can't help but be affected a little bit.

When we were doing the movie, a stunt guy broke his leg on the first day of shooting. Different things were going on. There were weird noises going on when we were filming. I found out we were filming in an ex-mental ward. So it's good because it was able to scare you, which is what you want to do in the movie, but just not in real life.

MC: What are your favorite horror flicks? Are you more of a blood and guts type of guy or do you like physiological thrillers and demonic-inspired flicks better?

MP: I like both of them, to be honest with you. In a weird way if you just watch Freddy Kruger, "A Nightmare on Elm Street," and then Jason and things like that and you kind of just get desensitized in a way.

Then you have "Rosemary's Baby," which I thought was fantastic. "The Shining," for instance, and what could possibly happen to you, and then it starts to become fun.

MC: There have been other movies that have challenged the Vatican, such as "The Da Vinci Code," etc., were you into those types of films?

MP: I loved "The Da Vinci Code." I love that kind of stuff and psychological thrillers when it asks you "can this really happen?" All of this stuff could potentially be happening right under your nose. It's a toughie for sure.

MC: You've had an interesting and impressive trajectory in your career; you've starred in Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning film "Crash," Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning film "Million Dollar Baby," and the recent Oscar-nominated film "American Hustle."

You have also played the treasured Cesar Chavez, you're now a part of the Marvel Universe (starring in "Ant-Man" as a civilian, Luis) and now you play Father Lozano, who is faced with the greatest test as a priest in "The Vatican Tapes." How has it been making these transformations and becoming a chameleon at your craft?

MP: Growing up I was pretty much like the quiet kid, so this is pretty much a way in for me to 'quote, unquote' do characters.

With "Cesar Chavez," I had to gain way and learned how to talk in a specific way, which was very much like him and then with "Ant Man," I had a completely different attitude and way of being. You're not too worried about life, and that's the character of Luis.

My parents saw that movie ("Cesar Chavez") and were very touched. It was for a very specific audience. I was really aiming for my parents and hopefully for people to understand the struggle of these people.

MC: And we can't forget about "Ponch!" You are slated to play police officer Frank "Ponch" Poncherello from the late-1970s series "CHiPs," a role that was played by actor/telenovela star Erik Estrada.

MP: "That is true! I have to start working out. I have to start getting in really good shape. I may have to whiten my teeth, I don't know. I have got to work on my smile. But we're doing it on our own; we're doing our own thing. Hopefully people like this one!

MC: Do you have your aviator sunglasses ready?

MP: I sure do! That's really funny!

"The Vatican Tapes" hits theaters on Friday, July, 24.

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