We chatted with Grease: Live star Carlos PenaVega about playing Kenickie Murdoch, what it’s like to work with Vanessa Hudgens, and why he never gave up on his acting dream.
Actor, singer, and all around multi-talent Carlos PenaVega is certainly no stranger to high-pressure gigs. Fresh off the 21st season of Dancing with the Stars (where he competed against his wife of two years, Alexa PenaVega), this former Nickelodeon star and Big Time Rush boy-bander landed a prominent role in Grease: Live, the highly-anticipated small screen adaptation of the famed '70s musical.
PenaVega will reprise the role of Kenickie Murdoch, a rough-around-the-edges greaser and second-in-command to Danny Zuko (played by heartthrob Aaron Tveit) of Rydell High’s popular “T-Bird” group. He also stars opposite High School Musical leading lady Vanessa Hudgens, who plays his character’s love interest, Betty Rizzo. Though PenaVega admits that the show’s rehearsals have been anything but easy, his endless motivation and persistence combined with his impressive track record prove there’s no feat he can’t conquer.
With the live and one-time-only show airing on Fox on January 31 at 7 p.m. EST, we caught up with PenaVega on landing the iconic role, who he considers his role model, and why he never quit acting.
What’s it like to play such an iconic character? CARLOS PENAVEGA: It’s really exciting. I was really nervous in the beginning because Jeff [Conaway] is Kenickie. Coming into a role where everybody knows what the character should be is pretty nerve-racking. But our director and our producers sat us down and said, 'Guys, we’ve seen the movie, we’ve seen the TV show, but let’s make our own version of Grease, so we can pay homage to all the characters and all the scenes, but let’s make it our own.' I think we’ve succeeded in doing that.
Do you think your time on Dancing with the Stars has helped you prepare for this role? CPV: Yeah. They were live, and we’re live, too. I think, with the whole live aspect, I’m more comfortable with it. As for dance, it’s a completely different type of dancing. It’s not harder, but it’s definitely different and I have to train myself to think differently and dance differently.
What is it like playing opposite Vanessa Hudgens? CPV: Vanessa Hudgens is amazing—I didn’t really know what to expect coming into it. I just knew of her work and I knew her from High School Musical, and she completely blew me away. She can sing her butt off, she’s a great actress, and she works really hard. She’s been a pleasure to work with and I’m looking forward to, hopefully in the future, working together again.
What’s your favorite Grease song? CPV: My favorite song would probably be “Grease Lighting,” because it’s the dudes song. We have so much fun—our number has so much energy and we dance our butts off. And again, it’s all live. So when you’re singing it and dancing, and the sets are moving and the lights are going, it’s a lot of fun.
Who is someone who inspires you? CPV: I really look up to Marc Anthony. He’s made a really good name for himself and has proved himself as a great actor, too. He’s truly a real entrepreneur. He’s got his hands in so many different projects that he’s producing and developing, and that’s something that I would like to step foot in—to attack those obstacles and not just be in front of the camera or onstage.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors? CPV: This is something a lot of people say, but it’s so true, and it’s persistence. Back in high school, I wasn’t the coolest kid and everybody was like, 'Oh, you’ll never be an actor.' And in my head I was like, 'No, I’m going to do this. I’m going to be an actor, I’m going to do this and I’m going to get this far.' I just didn’t give up. Even when things got hard, I just kept going. It’s the same thing with my life now—when I don’t have work, I make work for myself. I go out of my way to find something, so I stay busy. Sometimes, it’s not the best paying gig or something that I’d want to do exactly, but I find myself craving to progress, and I think that’s something that people need to continue to try to have because you can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen.
There has been speculation that you and your wife Alexa want to expand your family. Is this true? CPV: Yes! That is true. For us, when it happens, it happens. It’s all in God’s hands. I’m definitely looking forward to it, though. I have a lot of friends who have little girls, and I just want a little girl because I just think they’re so cute—they’re their daddy’s little girls.
Would you want your children to follow in your footsteps and go down the same career path? CPV: At the end of the day, it’s whatever he or she wants to do. A lot of parents are like, 'I’ll let them choose.' I think that’s the right answer. Nobody forced me to want to do this, I kind of just fell into it and I really enjoyed it. If they like fishing and he or she wants to be a fisherman, hey, I’ll support it! It’s all good.