Lovely and talented Cuban-American actress Elizabeth Pena has a distinctive benefit in coming from a long line of gifted entertainers. The daughter of a famous Cuban-American writer/actor/director who founded the off-Broadway Latin American Theater Ensemble, Pena had her first brush toward fame as the maid-turned-revolutionary in Paul Mazursky’s 1986 Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Ten years later, the stage-trained Latina gained even more recognition for her outstanding scene-stealing performance in John Sayles’ acclaimed mystery Lone Star (1996), in which she won an Independent Spirit Award and NCLR Bravo Award. She continued to build good reputation by collecting four ALMA Awards for her works in Contagious (1997, TV), the blockbuster hit Rush Hour (1998), Tortilla Soup (2001) and “Resurrection Blvd” (2000-2002). Additionally, Pena is also known for playing roles in such movies as Blue Steel (1990), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Gridlock’d (1997), Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within (1998, TV), Impostor (2002), Transamerica (2005), The Lost City (2005) and D-War (2006). Recently appearing in Adrift in Manhattan (2007), she will play Rosa Maria in the upcoming Goal! 2: Living the Dream... and Goal! 3 (both 2007).
Pena also had a side career as a voice actor. She lent her distinctive vocals to such animated ventures as “Justice League” (2004-2005), “Maya & Miguel” (2004) and, most remarkably, as the bad-girl-turned-good Mirage in Disney’s mega-hit The Incredibles (2004).
Outside the spotlight, Pena is married to Hans Rolla and has two children with him. Her love life was once linked to Steve Kibler, a former talent agent who is 20 years her senior.
Mother of 2
Childhood and Family:
Elizabeth Pena was born on September 23, 1961 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a famed playwright, actor, director and novelist. She spent her early years in Cuba before moving back to the US at age 8, when her family settled in Manhattan, New York. Inspired by her parents, who opened off-Broadway’s Latin American Theatre Ensemble, she started acting professionally two years later and subsequently studied at the celebrated High School of Performing Arts.
Pena married Hans Rolla in 1994 and they have two children.
Raised in a family with connection to off-Broadway’s Latin American Theatre Ensemble, Elizabeth Pena knew that she wanted to become an actress when she was 8 year old. She scored her first lead in a play two years later and found occasional work in repertory theater and in television commercials while still in high school. Pena made her screen debut with a feature role in the Cuban/US production El Super (1979), which was followed by appearances in the American features Times Square (1980), They All Laughed (1981) and Crossover Dreams (1985). Also in 1985, she debuted on the small screen, guest starring as Adelita Carrena in “Cagney and Lacey.”
A year later, Pena had a screen breakthrough when director Paul Mazursky cast her in the supporting role of lusty maid Carmen in the comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills. The role won the actress attention from public and industry alike. She went on to portray the assaulted wife of Ritchie Valens’ half-brother in the high profile feature La Bamba (1987), Marisa Esteval in the family film batteries not included (1987) and Consuelo in the Cyndi Lauper-Jeff Goldblum vehicle Vibes (1988). Meanwhile, she found herself having regular roles on the television sitcom “Tough Cookies” (1986, as Off. Connie Rivera) and the short-lived ABC series “I Married Dora” (1987). In 1989, she made her TV movie bow as an aggressive secretary, Lucy Acosta, in the NBC drama Shannon’s Deal, penned by John Sayles.
After a performance in the award-winning miniseries “Drug Wars: The Camarena Story” (1990), Pena offered a good turn as the damned pal of policewoman Jamie Lee Curtis in the Kathryn Bigelow-directed Blue Steel (1990) and had her first starring role as Tim Robbins’ moody lover in Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Her next film credits have included a supporting turn in 1992’s The Waterdance and a starring role as the girlfriend of an unexpectedly-dead man in 1994’s drama Dead Funny. She maintained her presence on TV with such gigs as a recurring role in “L.A. Law” (1993-1994) and costarring role in the NBC AIDS drama Roommates (1994), along side Randy Quaid and Eric Stoltz.
It was not until 1996, however, that Pena eventually collected particular praise, with her excellent interpretation in John Sayles’ much admired mystery Lone Star. As Pilar Cruz, a schoolteacher and ex-lover of the town sheriff (Chris Cooper), she picked up an Independent Spirit for Best Supporting Female and a NCLR Bravo for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film. She went on to enjoy success on the small screen with her role as Det. Luisa Rojas in the Joe Napolitano thriller Contagious (1997), where she was handed a 1998 ALMA for Outstanding Actress in a Made-for-Television Movie or Mini-Series.
Next, Pena received an ALMA nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film for her work in the comedy film Gridlock’d (1997), opposite Tupac Shakur, Tim Roth and Thandie Newton, and was featured in the HBO TV-movie The Second Civil War (1997), directed by Joe Dante. She broke craniums with action superstar Jackie Chan in the hit buddy comedy Rush Hour (1998), in which she won an ALMA for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film, supported Kevin Gage in rocker Dee Snyder’s bizarro horror film Strangeland (1998), portrayed the wife of a tarnished real life spy in the Showtime original Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within (1998), where she earned an ALMA nod, and was one of the titular role in the comedy feature Seven Girlfriends (1999).
As the new millennium rolled on, Pena gained fine critical reviews for her regular role on the Latino-themed television series “Resurrection Blvd” (2000-2002), playing Beatriz “Bibi” Corrales. The role brought the actress a 2001 ALMA for Outstanding Actress in a New Television Series. Always an enormously productive actress, she attracted viewers as never before with her supporting turn, opposite Hector Elizondo, in the comedy/romance feature Tortilla Soup (2001), a Latin interpretation of China’s Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Intensely playing Leticia Naranjo, she took home her forth ALMA in 2002, for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.
The following years saw Pena in such movies as the big-budget Impostor (2002), the indie-drama ZigZag (2002), The Hollywood Mom’s Mystery (2004, TV), How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer (2005), Transamerica (2005, as a pre-operative transsexual’s therapist ), Down in the Valley (2005), Keep Your Distance (2005), Andy Garcia’s feature directorial debut The Lost City (2005) and Sueño (2005). She also did voice-overs in the CGI-animated mega-hit The Incredibles (2004, voiced Mirage) and in TV shows “Maya & Miguel” (2004, as Rosa Santos) and “Justice League” (2004-2005, as Paran Dul). In 2006, she was cast as Agent Linda Perez in D-War, an action/drama based on a Korean legend, and portrayed Esperanza in Old Love.
The striking performer recently was featured alongside William Baldwin, Adrianna Bremont, Dominic Chianese, Marlene Forte and Heather Graham in Alfredo De Villa’s drama Adrift in Manhattan (2007), playing Isabel Parades. She is set to play supporting role Rosa Maria in the sport-themed Goal! 2: Living the Dream... (2007) and in its continuation Goal! 3 (2007).
- ALMA: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Tortilla Soup, 2002
- ALMA: Outstanding Actress in a New Television Series, “Resurrection Blvd.,” 2001
- ALMA: Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film, Rush Hour, 1999
- ALMA: Outstanding Actress in a Made-for-Television Movie or Mini-Series, Contagious, 1998
- Independent Spirit: Best Supporting Female, Lone Star, 1997
- NCLR Bravo: Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film, Lone Star, 1996