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HOLA! USA Interview

Michael Pena made filming ‘Fantasy Island’ in Fiji a family affair

The ‘Narcos Mexico’ star looked to pal Diego Luna for his role’s inspiration

Michael Pena has had a week to remember. It began by hitting the winning putt for Team Tiger Woods at the Celebrity Cup alongside Alex Rodriguez, Oliver Hudson and Chris Pratt to the release of his new film Fantasy Island on February 14. Ironically, the horror film comes out on Valentine’s Day, which the Mexican-American says will be perfect for date night. “You know when you're a little scared and imagine you jump into each other's arms,” the actor, who has been married to his wife Brie Shaffer since 2006, tells HOLA! USA. “Then like, oh, there you go. It makes the first date so much easier.”

Lucy Hale, Michael Pena in Fantasy Island©Christopher Moss
Michael and the cast including Lucy Hale filmed in Fiji for three months

While those watching at first will be transported immediately on a vacation of what dreams are made of, Michael’s character Mr. Roarke, who was played by Mexican legend Ricardo Montalbán in the original television series, will quickly flip the script and make the guests including Lucy Hale and Maggie Q wish they never stepped foot on the island. The cast ventured to Fiji for the three months of shooting, something that seems a lot more glamorous than it really was. “It was cool, but it's a vacation spot, and vacation spots are good for like a week,”the Chicago native admits.

Keep reading to see how he looked to actors like Narcos Mexico co-star Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal for his role’s inspiration, and what he would wish for on his own (non-scary) fantasy island –it’s extra heartfelt.

Michael Pena as Mr. Roarke in Fantasy Island©Christopher Moss
Michael plays the character made famous by Ricardo Montalbán in the original series

HOLA! USA: You’ve had such a wide-ranging career from Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Ant-Man and Narcos. What’s been your best experience on set?
Michael Pena: “There's been a lot of fun ones. I really can't remember any. These films are kind of in a way like high school where you share some really amazing times with people, and then you kind of move on into your adulthood. Every movie you get close with people, and then you have to leave. I definitely liked doing Crash. I liked doing Narcos. End of Watch was an amazing experience.”

So for Mr. Roarke, where did you get your inspiration for the role?
“I studied Ricardo Montalbán, but more the way he was in interviews. He’s a really well-spoken man. And he definitely emoted very well. And that's his charm and the way that he does it. He grew up in Mexico City, was a theater actor, and he did a lot of Shakespeare. In Mexico City, there's like these intellectuals like Diego Luna, Alfonso Cuarón, even Gael Garcia Bernal you know, he studied in England. These really smart people, and I thought, ‘Wow, how cool would it be to challenge myself and try to handle the language almost in a Shakespearian way.”

SPAIN-ENTERTAINMENT-MUSIC-TELEVISION-AWARD-MTV©GettyImages
Chicago-born Michael looked to Mexican actors for inspiration for his accent in the movie

Did you watch the original series? (Fantasy Island was on TV from 1978-1984)
“I watched it a little. It was slightly dated, so I don't know if it would play now to modern audiences. What I did take from it is that the idea still works. There's a difference between reality and say even Instagram life, you know what I mean like this is what they want and what do they really get? It's totally different, so I definitely borrowed from it a little bit.”

How was it to film in Fiji? You stayed on a cruise ship while there?
“Cruise ship makes it sound really nice. It was like a big boat. It was for two weeks and was just the shooting all the exteriors of the island. Then we would trek to these caves and different locations that were beautiful. I don't think we could have gotten that anywhere else.”

Being so far away, did you guys hang off set? 
“I didn't get as close to the cast as I wanted to mainly because I was hanging out with my wife and kid, and they were hanging out with each other.”

Warner Bros. Pictures World Premiere Of "The Mule" - Arrivals©GettyImages
Michael spent his time in Fiji with wife Brie and their son

Does your son think dad is really cool in all these movies?
“I'm still dad. You know what I mean? I still have to tell him to brush his teeth and go to bed, like cool kind of runs out. Maybe when he sees my movie I get that evening, but that's about it.”

With this movie out on February 14, are you a big Valentine’s Day guy?
“You know, I get my wife flowers and stuff. You can never go wrong with flowers. They're still pretty things that this earth produces. Somebody cuts them, puts them in a bundle, you give it to your wife, and she's very happy.”

Lastly, you are granted access to a (non-horror) Fantasy Island. What is your wish? 
“I lost my mom when I was younger, so I'd want to spend a week with her every year in December around her birthday, and just visit her for a week.”

Fantasy Island from Blumhouse and Sony is in theaters now.