Michael Peña is a textbook definition of a scene-stealing actor. Whether he’s working opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch, Paul Rudd in Ant-Man, or headlining the Cesar Chavez biopic, you can never take your eyes off the Mexican-American actor, not least because he just gets better and better with every role. As we wait to see what he does with his upcoming high-profile projects — which include Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time and Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express — those attending the Los Cabos International Film Festival, got to see him in full-on buddy-cop movie mode in John Michael McDonagh’s caustic satire War on Everyone.
Peña and Alexander Skarsgård play Bob and Terry, two corrupt cops. The first scene sees them pursuing by car, Starsky & Hutch-style, a mime. When they catch up to him, Terry doesn’t stop the car, wondering aloud whether mimes make a noise if they get run over. You soon find out. They stow away with the mime’s cocaine loot before we realize they weren’t even on official business.
Where Terry is your average lumbering, rage-filled, hopelessly single, alcoholic lead, Peña’s Bob is a family man who bickers with his wife (played by Mexican actress Stephanie Sigman) over Simone de Beauvoir quotes and playfully doesn’t give a shit about his two sons. When Terry and Bob get involved with a criminal who has plenty of money and a sadistic side, the film gleefully embraces its title and declares war on political correctness. When their police supervisor lectures the two rogue cops on good behavior, he points out he has a “chink” for a wife, while they agree that the police force is filled with racist pigs. The jokes get furiously more offensive as the story moves along.
Remezcla sat down with Peña and Sigman at the Los Cabos Film Fest to discuss the movie’s tone, the joy of working together, and the giant, orange-hued now president-elect elephant in the room. Check out highlights from our chat below.
Let’s start by talking about what drew you to this irreverent project.
“I don’t get a lot of parts written for me. Maybe Joaquin Phoenix does. But like, not me.”
Stephanie: I really like John Michael’s work, from Cavalry and The Guard, and I think he has a very precise and specific tone. Maybe not a lot of people get it. Probably a lot of people don’t get it. But I like it and I find it very interesting and funny. So when they called me and I auditioned for it, I was like how can I make this interesting? — You know, the scenes for the tape. It was a challenge for me, and then I was thinking that I didn’t want to do this movie because it’s a challenge for me to do a comedy. I’d never done one before. And then I really wanted to work with this guy too [gestures towards Michael Peña].
Well, he’s really funny.
Michael: Thanks, bro.
Stephanie: … That’s it. You’re next.
Michael: Alright, cool. Well, immediately I loved the script and I loved how complex it is. Actually there’s a lot of setups and payoffs, like even in the beginning with the mime — I wish there was more of a mention and a diving into, I wanted there to be more of a justification, like “He’s no Marcel Marceau, dude!” And then we’d actually get into a fight about mimes. But I think France would get mad. So it was more like “Fuck it!” and just let it die. A part like that isn’t really written that many times for… listen, I don’t get a lot of parts written for me. Maybe Joaquin Phoenix does. But like, not me.
Stephanie: Or Benicio. You should get a lot of parts written for you!
Michael: I just love the script. I actually went backwards. I read the script first and then I went back to watch his movies and was like “Holy shit! This guy can actually pull it off.” So I was really stoked on that.
Speaking of the film’s tone and given its title: was there anything that was out of bounds in terms of what could be tackled in the movie?
“I think you really can’t make anything interesting if you’re always thinking about who’s going to be offended.”
Michael: No, I think because it is a war on everyone, you absolutely make fun of everybody. It kind of made it safe in a way. It wasn’t like there was a focal point of one particular viewpoint and then everything is seen from that point of view. It’s actually just shit on everyone. That’s probably what the name would’ve been if it could’ve been: Shit on Everyone.
Stephanie: I think you really can’t make anything interesting if you’re always thinking about who’s going to be offended. Or [think] “we shouldn’t do that” because some people are gonna get sensitive. You’re creating something so it should be your vision. And I think John Michael has a very clear vision.
Michael: It was a lot of fun working with that dude. Sometimes you improv and they’ll bullshit you a little bit and then he’s more like, “Nah, I don’t like it. I think the line is better the way it’s written.” But at least you have that honesty, you know what I mean? I kind of like the movie, I don’t know why, but it’s just odd. I don’t think my son’s gonna see it anytime soon, but I like it.
Speaking a bit to that. I watched the movie this morning and I wondered how my vision of the film was colored by the election or by what’s happened.
“I don’t think my son’s gonna see it anytime soon, but I like it.”
Stephanie: Yeah, it must be really weird to see it. Because I saw the movie like a year ago.
Michael: What do you mean? How did you see it, from your point of view because of the election? You voted for Hillary?
Well, I am not a U.S. citizen so I couldn’t vote. But what I kept coming back to was that the film is sort of aggressively politically incorrect. It’s at the heart of the story. It’s at the heart of the tone. And I wondered whether it plays differently now.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Stephanie: I think so. I honestly didn’t think about the connection. But it is, everything is connected.
Michael: It’s a very American movie. They’re very crass at times. And it’s only a very specific point of view, specific tone. Of those crass kind of people. Not everyone in America is like that.
Stephanie: I feel like it’s very Irish. But it’s interesting. I’d love to see it again after what happened — the tragedy.
Michael: The surprise, really! Because I think his people thought he was gonna lose too. Maybe that’s why people didn’t show up and vote. Maybe I’m pulling this number out of my ass but there were like 7 million less Democrats this year than when Obama won.
Stephanie: I heard a lot of people saying, “Oh I’m not gonna vote cause she’s gonna win anyways.” Anyways, let’s not talk about politics.
Let’s end then, on a happy note and talk about your favorite moment on set of War on Everyone. It looked like you guys were having a ball.
Stephanie: Hanging out with the kids. They were great. It was the best part of the movie for me, when they’re on screen.
Michael: There was on kid he just didn’t give a shit about being in a fucking movie.
Stephanie: I think that’s the beauty of it.
Michael: Yeah, he’d be just like, “Huh? What do you want me to do?” And it was his first movie! And he just wanted to go home! It was so refreshing. That’s a real view point, to be honest. I was like, I sometimes feel like that too. I sometimes want to go home too!
Read the rest of our coverage of Las Cabos International Film Festival here.