October 10, 2008
By Kiko Martinez
Originally from Chicago, actor Michael Peña has led a successful 14-year career in Hollywood. From starring in a number of Academy Award-worthy films like “Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Babel,” to working alongside industry icons like Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, and Oliver Stone, Peña has created his own path to stardom and continues to be one of the most sought after Latino actors working today.
Currently, Peña stars in the film “The Lucky Ones” alongside Oscar winner Tim Robbins (“Mystic River”) and Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”). In the film he plays T.K. Poole, a solider sent home from Iraq after suffering a painful and embarrassing injury during an ambush.
Along with his film, Peña is also celebrating the birth of his first child (a son named Roman) with his wife Brie. During an phone interview, he talked about the politics of his new movie and how luck has played a small part in his life.
You play a different kind of soldier in “The Lucky Ones” than you did in your last film “Lions for Lambs.” How did you approach this role?
Michael Peña: It’s a totally different character with a totally different mindset. One is a guy who thinks he knows it all and the other is a guy who knows he has more to learn. I don’t think this movie has a lot to do with war to be honest. It’s more of a drama. In “Lions” I was in more of an action sequence.
The film may not be about war, but do you think it has political undertones?
I don’t think so. It does have people coming back from the war, but it doesn’t have anything to say about the war. It doesn’t have anything to say about Iraq. I think it has more humor than any political statements.
I read somewhere that the word Iraq isn’t said once in the film.
Exactly. I don’t think you have to. I don’t think you have to beat a dead horse especially since you know what war they’re coming from.
Did you talk to any soldiers before making this film?
I usually like interviewing people before I start a movie but it was hard to find anyone that had the misfortune of getting shot in [the groin] area. I basically just relied on the script and create the character based on that.
Your character’s name is T.K. Poole, so I’m assuming it wasn’t necessarily written for a Latino actor. How do you feel when you land roles like this in comparison to roles that were written for a Latino?
I don’t think it matters either way. I just think it’s cool that I’m Latino and I’m doing a role like this that is true to the character. I think if there are any more Latinos in the limelight I back them 100 percent.
Do you believe in luck?
The most real thing for me is that luck comes with hard work. You have to be in a position to be lucky.
Would you consider yourself lucky with the success you’ve had in your film career?
Sort of. I mean, it wasn’t an easy life in all honesty. I definitely struggled from time to time. There was a time I lived in a van and lived in a studio apartment for four years in New York. But I still worked hard. So, when it came time for a big break I was sure to take it.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor since breaking out in films like “Crash” and “World Trade Center?”
That I don’t know everything. That’s the one thing that I found out. You come into this [industry] saying, ‘All I got to do is this and this and that,’ but it’s a little more complicated than you think it is. It’s like a pitcher who pitches 90 mph and all of a sudden they ask him to throw a curve ball and it takes him years to learn how to throw that kind of pitch. There’s always more to learn.