When it comes to action-packed blockbuster fun, Marvel Studios and their Cinematic Universe are the ones to beat at the moment.

Many of the biggest stars on the planet have willingly submitted to Marvel’s heavily producer driven operation ever since Robert Downey Jr. first donned that Iron Man suit for his big-screen comeback. The Cinematic Universe will be drawing its second phase to a close when Ant-Man hits theaters next week (July 17), and two more of the world’s biggest stars have found their way under the Marvel tent: Tip “T.I.” Harris and Michael Peña.

“It was very covert and secretive,” Harris recalled. “But what can I say? I think the outcome was definitely worth it and it shows.” Tip’s career started off in 1999 when he signed to LaFace Records as an MC who had a hand in creating trap music, and eventually added actor/producer to his resume, too. His breakout flick, the Atlanta-based drama ATL, vaunted him to Hollywood studios. In fact, we may not have much longer to wait before Tip takes us on our next trip to ATL. “As of right now, the scripts are still in development and we’re basically waiting to get a hit up from the studio,” he confirmed.

Peña, on the other hand, has been (almost) solely an acting force since his break onto the scene in 2004 as a part of Paul Haggis‘ Crash. Peña’s been a reliable character actor ever since, recognizable in movies like Million Dollar Baby, Babel, End of Watch, and last year’s WWII tank drama Fury. With a resume that packed, it’s a surprise to hear that even he had difficulties with Marvel’s secretive nature: “They’re even secretive with the cast members, I’m like, “Jesus!” There were a couple of times where I was like, “Just give me the damn script, I’m reading the damn script.” Peña remembered. “It’s always marked or whatever and I totally understand because when it comes to the Marvel movies, it’s the element of surprise that really works and you really want to be surprised as an audience member so if you know some of the plot points … it kind of takes away a lot of that aspect from the movie. Which is why I was definitely in it to win it and I wanted people to experience that movie for the first time.”

In Ant-Man, Tip and Peña both play criminal friends of master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who help him break into the house of reclusive scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), before Lang’s tenacity reveals him as the perfect candidate to take on the mantle of the Ant-Man (they’re working on the name). Ant-Man is hardly what you’d call a recognizable character, but since Marvel managed to turn Z-list characters like Drax The Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot into megastars with Guardians of the Galaxy last year, Ant-Man’s sure to be in the same ballpark come next week. Marvel characters are dominating the big screen and paperbacks across the country, and Harris and Peña’s answers for a favorite character verified that wide reach: Harris stuck with Wolverine (“Wolverine just has a very bad ass attitude, man. He doesn’t take any stuff. He’s kind of like the 2-Pac of the Marvel universe.”), while Peña went with Spider-Man. As far as working with Rudd, Douglas, Evangeline Lily, and the rest of the cast, the two were practically falling over themselves. “There are so many legends and future legends and even more important likeable people, it made it very easy to just dive in,” Harris recalled.

But Peña’s standout moment(s) in the film were some of the movie’s comedic highlights, strange considering that he mentioned that “comedy’s not really my thing.” There are two big heists going down throughout the course of the movie, and Peña’s relaying of all the dialogue is cut over footage of them saying it, so the entire thread is being told in his voice; but he didn’t come up with the ideas alone: “There was actually these two young writers that were on set. I was bouncing ideas off of them all of the time and I did, I talked about the scene with them and it’s this guy, Matt and Gabriel, that I was just bouncing ideas off of and they were like, “Cool! Cool!,” he remembered, further breaking down the improvisational nature of the scenes. “When you do improv, a lot of the time what happens is it’s out of context. What’s really funny on the day isn’t really funny in the movie. So you want to keep it in context, and that’s what they were helping me out with.”

Ant-Man was supposed to have been directed by British filmmaker Edgar Wright, but he and Marvel had creative differences and he stepped off the project. Peyton Reed later stepped on, while Wright and Joe Cornish‘s original script was revised and added to by Adam McKay and even Paul Rudd himself. Either way, Tip counts it among one of the most fun and substantive parts of his career. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with the directors. And fortunately I’ve actually liked all the movies that I’ve been in. I got to give credit where credit is due to  all of the directors who took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity.”

– Dylan “CineMasai” Green

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