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“I was just on the hustle” Michael Peña says when explaining to Off the Cuff how he went from singing in black churches in Chicago to performing in the L.A. band Nico Vega to landing his first big role in the 2004 Best Picture Oscar-winner Crash.
Since then the first-generation son of two Mexican immigrants has paid close attention to honoring his roots with projects like his titular role in this year’s Cesar Chavez and now Underwater Dreams, a documentary he co-produced and narrates which chronicles the story of how four Hispanic high school students entered an underwater robotics competition and won first place over teams like M.I.T. It’s a story that is both cinematic and challenging as it goes on to depict the harsh reality that later awaited the students whose parents were mostly undocumented and therefor were not able to follow the typical path to college and career that is afforded most students of such high merit in this country.
The story is personal to Peña not only as an immigration success story himself but as someone who was deeply touched by teachers who shook him out of his teenage boredom and pushed him to succeed – which he has since done in spades.
While the band he co-founded before acting took over, Nico Vega, is currently on tour with Imagine Dragons, Peña is enjoying L.A. life with his 5 year-old son and has a big movie coming out in November, Fury, helmed by his End of Watch director David Ayer and co-starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf. That isn’t to say he doesn’t sometimes miss the wild life of a rock n’ roller.
“Making movies is like making love,” he notes. “Playing music in front of people is like f—ing.”
Listen to Peña’s full interview in this episode of Off the Cuff, and be sure to subscribe to #pretapodcasts on iTunes for all the latest episodes.
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