Get Crank’d with Pedro

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Q: How did you make your move to pursue an acting career?

A: Well, I grew up in East L.A., so my parents had my brother and me do after-school activities, and one of them was theater, so I did a lot of theater. But it was just a hobby of mine and it was fun, we enjoyed it, and we never got into all the trouble that was happening in the neighborhood. I grew up watching "CHiPs" and "Fantasy Island" and you see that and you go, "Wow, is that possible?"

Q: So you grew up emulating Erik Estrada and Ricardo Montalban at first?

A: Yeah, I did. And I thought, "Wow, is that possible? Is that how you do it?" You know, no one knocks on your door and tells you how to do it, so my mom and me, and my brothers would go out and we’d get work as extras. But even in high school when I was doing theater, I never got into the business because my mom and dad had two jobs, they wanted my brother and me to go to a private school so they we could get our education. It was only in college when I started to really pursue it, and go to acting school and study acting and do showcases in front of agents and managers where I’d sign to agents and I started auditioning for a couple commercials. It wasn’t easy because I’d always have to be taking chances; I’d have to take the bus from East L.A. to Beverly Hills, to coming home late at night and being stopped by police officers asking me if I was a gang member and I’d say, "No. Please, I just want to go home, I’m hungry!" There was a lot of that, there were a lot of struggles, but it happens.

Q: Before "Napoleon Dynamite" what projects did you audition for and try to get attached to and which really helped you make those steps forward?

A: I remember having to audition for a project called "Dangerous Minds" with Michelle Pfeiffer and the director said he liked my work a lot, but I was just too young for the role. That would happen a lot actually. I remember auditioning for another project called "Go," and the director said, "Efren, we love you, but you’re just too young for the part." And I said, "damn it!" But I got to the point where I had an audition for "The Alamo" and "Napoleon Dynamite," and "The Alamo" was a big studio picture and I said, "You know what, I want a leading role in a film as opposed to one of the billion of other actors in the film." Because, again, it’s about taking chances and really, really thinking about them, and "Napoleon Dynamite" became such a hit and ended up changing my life completely.

Q: "Crank," "Crank 2," and "Gamer" are all directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Did you establish a kind of friendship with these guys?

A: Yeah, those guys are like my brothers. They’re really nice guys and I really like their work. One of the things about the way they work is they challenge the art of cinema, and their originality and the way they shoot is constantly moving the camera. If you look at it, you can find the formula, and they found the formula but they reinvent it in a way. And the position that I’m in, being a Latino, there’s a lot of factors at stake; but through the work they give me, I’m able to do it. I just hope that I’m able to work with a director who’s able to guide me in challenging films.

Q: How physical are these roles? Do you have to be put through any physical training at all?

A: I did. When I was in "Crank 2," I was playing my twin brother from the first one, and for any actor playing twins you want to make sure you capture the look completely. And when I got "Crank 2," I asked the directors, "how far can it go?" They said, "do what you want." So I got a couple of trainers and I was studying gymnastics and things like kung fu and weaponry. So everyday I was training for like five hours. Throughout half the film I’m running around with just pants and no shirt on, so you might as well look badass, right? You’ll say, "Oh hey! That’s Pedro! Wait, maybe it’s not…"

Q: Do you see yourself making a shift from comedy to action with these new movies? Or are you trying to keep your options as open as possible?

A: Well, when I was first starting out and doing guest starring roles on TV shows, I would do some comedy and I would do some drama. It seems like a stretch after "Napoleon Dynamite" because people want to see the same character, and it’s fun because you can do that and it’s funny, but you can end up stuck in that world. I didn’t want that; I wanted to let everyone know that I could change constantly. So I play all these characters and I think I’m lucky, and I can thank all my teachers. I thank them so much.

Q: What future projects can we look forward to seeing you in?

A: I’m in a film called "Pool Boys" with Matthew Lillard and Rachelle Lefevre from "Twilight," and that’s a comedy. There’s another film called "When in Rome" with Will Arnett and Jon Heder that I’m working in. People will want to see us again, but now I’m at a point where I’m reading scripts. There’s a lot of good scripts and there’s a lot of not-so-good scripts and it’s difficult because now everything that I do in my career, I’m very critical.

Q: Are you comfortable with the fact that everyone identifies you as Pedro?

A: I got to say "Napoleon Dynamite" was the film that had blown my career up, and the character of Pedro was a character that people just embraced. I’d rather play characters that people love rather than one that people hate. You think about Jack Sparrow, the character Johnny Depp plays, people love that character and that’s great. People love Pedro, and that’s cool. People recognize me because of that, and that’s great. Some people see me and they get so nervous they’re shaking and they want to give me a hug and I say, "OK, come here." So that’s always cool.