Carlos PenaVega is bursting with energy. You would too if you were starring in the buzzy, inspirational film, Spare Parts, in theatres today. The film, produced by George Lopez, details the true story about four undocumented students who defied the odds and won big in an underwater robotics competition. In his first starring film role, PenaVega shines brighter than Times Square at night. Here, he talks about working on Spare Parts with his wife, Alexa PenaVega, his upcoming solo album and his Valentine’s Day plans.
Tell us about your new film, Spare Parts?
It’s about four undocumented students from Phoenix, Arizona. They have a ton of obstacles in life that are stopping them from what they want to do. My character, Oscar Vasquez, he just wants to serve in the U.S. army but the U.S. won’t let him unless he has his papers. So he’s like “What can I do to make something of myself?” So he enters a robotics competition that if he wins people like NASA, people of all these huge corporations, can sponsor you for college and can give you internships, jobs.
They end up going to the big competition in Santa Barbara and they win. They beat MIT, Cornell, Duke, all these huge colleges, with an $800 robot. My character went to college, still couldn’t get his papers, self-deported himself, and then one reporter wrote an article, Senator Dick Durbin, saw the article, and his big thing is the Dream Act and immigration, so he went down and he contacted his wife Carla. He got him the papers and within seven days Carlos was back in the country. And what did he do? He enlisted in the army and he went into Afghanistan. That’s literally all the kid wanted to do, and I say all that because we all dream.
Ultimately, what’s the film’s message?
This movie’s message is dream big, work hard, and persistence—and yes, it’s a bunch of Latinos, and it’s Latin pride—but I feel like it’s meant for so many other people because it’s that underdog story, and everybody can relate to an underdog. Big Time Rush, for us, the way that we did the show, we were underdogs, and I feel like that’s why it was a success because it wasn’t like “Hey, we’re here, we’re famous, love us!” It was like, we’re four dudes from Minnesota who play hockey, let’s try and make a boy band. And people root for the underdog, and this whole movie is underdog. And I’m really proud of it.
This is a departure from your Big Time Rush days.
Well, George [Lopez] and I always talk because for both of us, this was a complete different realm of what we’ve done. He’s a comedian, and for me it was the complete opposite of what people have seen me in. This movie is going to have people talking, I mean, we screened it last night for a bunch of Congress people. And man, these politicians were so passionate yesterday, they were like, “I love this movie! I wish we could play it for all those people!” And that’s what we want: to kind of ignite a fire in people.
What role does your wife, Alexa, play in the film?
She plays my girlfriend... I know, so tough. It was so much fun. I mean, she’s been doing this for years, but for me it’s my first big movie. I was like, “Okay, I’m leaving home for 3 months” and then she got on and I was like, “yes!” Because, you know, she can run lines with me, she can be on set, she can be like “Babe, that was an awful scene, you should do it again.”
So what was the worst thing about working with her?
Her honesty! So sometimes she’d be like, you know, I didn’t like what you did there. And sometimes I’d do a scene that was super serious and emotional and they’d say cut and she’d want me to do it again. But it’s nice to have that because it’s part of the learning process and having her there is so much better.
You’ve been married for just over a year. What’s the most annoying thing she does to set you off?
She gets up like really early sometimes and I like to get up early and workout. But there’s something about getting up and her being asleep and like walking around the house and doing my thing and being alone, and then walking in the room and checking on her and going down and make myself some breakfast, and being like “I’m the man of the house.” No, she gets up before me, and goes about her day and I of course feel awful because I’m still sleeping. And I’ll like wake up at like 7 or 6:30 in the morning and she’ll be like “Baby, are you up-up?” I’m like, “No, I want to be up by myself!” My gosh it frustrates me!
What are some of the things that have changed from dating to marriage?
Well, the bills are definitely easier, because we just half them. It’s so weird, I mean Alexa and I are life friends—so I have a life partner now. Before I was really worried about having a lot of friends, but now like she’s my dude, if that makes any sense. We love just being with each other, and when we’re home it’s nice. I never go out anymore, we just hang, and that’s the biggest different to me. If we have nothing to do all day, we’ll maybe sleep in until like 9 or 10, and maybe play Gameboy for a few hours and play Pokémon. We’re huge game nerds. That’s what’s changed too – I was never a gamer. So this past Christmas she was like what if we get each other Gameboys? So we did.
How are you spending Valentine’s Day?
With my wife, of course! I like doing crazy things like skydiving or something so I’d probably do something crazy like scuba diving or maybe driving somewhere. I’m kind of into this thing where I’m like, “Babe, wanna go to so-and-so? It’s six hours away…” and it’s cool.
We heard you’re working on a new album as well.
Yeah, I’m working on a Spanglish solo album right now. I’ve been going to Miami like once a month, working with the coolest people and they do everything, like mixing what I did with Big Time Rush with salsa/merengue. I’m working with MAFFiO, who’s incredible. The only problem I have with Miami producers is that they start at like 8 or 9pm. I get in the studio and stay there until like 5am.