'The Enemy Within' EXCLUSIVE: Coral Peña on playing a CIA analyst and working with Hollywood legends on 'The Post'
Coral Peña opens up to MEA WorldWide on being a woman of color in Hollywood and working with screen legends Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in Steven Spielberg's 'The Post'
Fans who waited with bated breath for the release of NBC's new spy-thriller, 'The Enemy Within', have not been disappointed at all, and are all praise for Coral Peña, who plays an ambitious CIA analyst in the series.
Along with her role in the new series, Peña, in an EXCLUSIVE with MEA WorldWide, told us a bit about her work on 'The Post', where she worked alongside screen legends Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Peña's Anna Cruz is an ambitious CIA analyst enlisted by FBI Special Agent, Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut), to assist in the hunt for a former Russian SVR agent turned rogue operative who’s responsible for the deaths of her fellow CIA officers.
Apart from talking about the recurring role of the analyst on this series, Peña also shed light on being a person of color in the industry and her journey in it so far.
How was your experience working alongside legendary director, Steven Spielberg, in 'The Post'?
It was an experience I will never forget. He was so kind and hands on. He really trusts his actors and is so passionate about the work. Sometimes we would do a take and he would jump for joy (literally)! He loves what he does and that really is an energy that is passed around the whole set.
You played a young government employee named Nancy, how did it feel to secure the only person of color in the movie to get a speaking role?
It wasn´t something I was thinking about when I shot the film or was on set. Even when I saw the film, I almost forgot that I was the only one. It's meant something to a lot of people which is both amazing and difficult. As a woman of color, I want nothing more than to represent people and be a part of a larger shift in representation. But it also reminded me that as a person of color, my body is always political. That I cannot just exist in a space, that me being in the room has to mean something more than what it is. Either way, I'm willing to take the responsibility that comes with being a representative of my people, and it equally means so much to me that people feel represented by me.
You share powerful screentime with Meryl Streep. Could you share with us your takeaways from the scene and any behind the scenes anecdotes with Streep and Tom Hanks?
Meryl was one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people. Tom was also amazingly kind. They both set such a comforting and open tone on the set, and I think everyone followed suit. I think because of that energy people really felt free to do their best work, and really be bold without judgment. Working on a set like that has really taught me a lot on how to foster an open, comfortable and creative set.
'The Post' was based on real-life events, why did Spielberg look to create your character separate from the actual events that took place?
Both Steven Spielberg and writer Liz Hannah were a big part of my character's existence. I think it's one of those roles and scenes that really sums up the message of the film. One of the larger takeaways that both Liz and Steven wanted to highlight is that real everyday people were affected by the war in Vietnam. But one of the other messages that this movie was trying to send is women working together and rooting for each other, even in a society that doesn't take women seriously. After we filmed the scene, Steven said to me: "Above all else, this is a feminist film, and I think your scene really made that message come alive."
'24: Legacy' has seen you skyrocket to fame as a CTU computer analyst, would you say your role in 24 is akin to that in your new series, 'The Enemy within'?
Mariana and Anna couldn't be more different...you'll see as the show progresses! I'll say this: they both share a naivety, a need to be part of something bigger. And they both want to prove themselves, and as a result, sometimes take matters into their own hands.
What do you enjoy the most about playing characters in the spy genre?
The genre is not something I actively have ever sought out. But I do love the mystery of it all. Not knowing who to trust is a fun layer to add on top of any role.
Could you walk us through your audition process for the role of Anna Cruz in 'The Enemy Within'?
I actually auditioned for just a guest role in the pilot. After I auditioned, both Ken Woodruff, the writer and showrunner, and NBC decided I would be a better fit for Anna Cruz, so then they just offered it to me.
How was your character connected to Jennifer Carpenter's character in 'The Enemy Within'? Could you tell us a little more about your role in the series?
My character's arc connects more with Morris Chestnut's character actually. His character sees a lot of hope in me, and that's something both his character and mine deal with throughout the season that hangs heavy on both of us.
If you could play any other character on 'The Enemy Within', who would it be and why?
I think it would be Jennifer's although she is so fantastic I couldn't do half as well as she does!
Since your film journey began back in 2015 what would you say is your biggest achievement so far in the industry?
I'm proud of every bit of my journey so far. When I graduated college I was just so happy to work, I didn't really take into account how difficult and complicated this career would be. So many things are out of my control, I'm just happy to constantly have a chance to show my work.