Michael Pena
Birth Date:
Birth Place:
Chicago, Illinois, USA
5' 7
Famous for:
His breakthrough performance in two Paul Haggis penned films, "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) and "Crash" (2005)
Hubbard High School in Chicago, Illinois
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"If you watch a race, that's part of participating in a race." Michael Pena

Actor Michael Pena received his breakout roles in the Oscar winning films “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” (both 2004). He had previously appeared in the films "My Fellow Americans" (1996), "Bellyfruit" (1999), "Gone in Sixty Seconds" (2000), "Buffalo Soldiers" (2001), "The United States of Leland" (2003), and "The Calcium Kid" (2004). Following his award-winning performance in the 2004 films "Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash," he went on to co-star in "Babel" (2006), "World Trade Center" (2006), "Shooter" (2007), "Lions for Lambs" (2007), and "The Lucky Ones" (2008). He will next be seen in the upcoming films "Observe and Report" and "Pinkville."

On the small screen, Pena had recurring roles in "Felicity" (as Brian Burke; 1999-2000) and "The Shield" (as Armando 'Army' Renta; 2005). He has also guest-starred in the TV series "Pacific Blue," "Touched by an Angel," "Homicide: Life on the Street," "The Sentinel," "7th Heaven," "Moesha," "Roswell," "ER," "NYPD Blue," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and "My Name Is Earl." In 2006, he starred as a high school teacher who inspires his Mexican-American students to stand up for their rights in the HBO movie “Walkout” (2006). He won a Black Reel Award and an Imagen Award for his performance.

This 5' 7" Hispanic actor is married and has one son.

Blue-Collar Roots

Childhood and Family:

Mexican-American Michael Anthony Pena was born on January 13, 1976, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were originally farmers, but subsequently pursued factory jobs in the city. His father worked at a button factory and his mother was an assistant to a social worker. Pena has one brother.

Young Pena attended Hubbard High School in Chicago, Illinois. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Brie Shaffer, and their son, Roman (born in September 2008).

In his free time, Pena plays bass guitar with his band. He also plays golf and boxes for relaxation.



While working as a bank teller, then 17-year-old Michael Pena was encouraged by a family friend to try out for a local acting audition for the Peter Bogdanovich film, “To Sir, With Love II” (1996), a made for TV sequel to the original 1967 film with Sidney Poitier reprising his role. He eventually managed to beat out hundreds of others in an open call and made his feature debut in the movie.

He subsequently landed small roles in the Peter Segal-directed comedy film "My Fellow Americans" (1996; starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner), Miguel Arteta's "Star Maps" (1997; starring Douglas Spain and Efrain Figueroa), and Craig Hamann's thriller "Boogie Boy" (1998; starring Mark Dacascos). He was also cast in the dramatic thriller "La Cucaracha" (1998; starring Eric Roberts), "Paradise Cove" (1999), and the independent drama "Bellyfruit" (1999).

On television, Pena guest starred in the USA Network drama series "Pacific Blue," CBS’ drama "Touched by an Angel," NBC’s police procedural drama "Homicide: Life on the Street," UPN’s science fiction drama "The Sentinel," The WB family drama "7th Heaven," UPN’s sitcom "Moesha," and NBC’s crime drama "Profiler." He also landed his first recurring role, that of Brian Burke (1999-2000), on The WB Golden Globe-winning primetime drama series starring Keri Russell, “Felicity.”

Hitting the new millennium, Pena appeared in the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action film, "Gone in Sixty Seconds" (2000; starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie), a remake of the 1974 H.B. Halicki film. He then appeared in the critically acclaimed Gregor Jordan's film adaptation of Robert O'Connor's 1993 book, "Buffalo Soldiers" (2001) and teamed up with actor Don Cheadle in the Kevin Spacey-produced drama film starring Ryan Gosling, "The United States of Leland" (2003).

2004 saw Pena with breakthrough performances in two Best Picture Oscar-winning Paul Haggis penned films, “Million Dollar Baby,” which was directed by Clint Eastwood, and “Crash,” which was directed by Haggis in his directorial debut. He played Omar, the wise cracking amateur boxer, in “Million Dollar Baby” and starred as part of an ensemble cast in “Crash,” playing Daniel Ruiz, a Mexican-American locksmith who faces discrimination. The latter film won him an ALMA Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture and nominated him for a Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast.

"The opportunity is definitely different. After 'Crash,' it was a lot easier to get an audition for a certain movie and it was before it even got the Oscar. Oliver Stone saw 'Crash' and hired me without reading me, which was the first time that had ever happened. I was like, 'He doesn't want me to read? Are you sure? Should I read for him just for the hell of it? Are you positive?' He dissected it and made sure that he saw whatever he wanted and he had a talk with Paul Haggis about how I was to work with, but it's a blessing man, because I like good stories anyway. I like to read a good story. I like to see a good story. There are a lot of them out there and I just want to be a part of them." Michael Pena

The following year, Pena joined the cast of FX Networks’ drama television series “The Shield” as Armando ‘Army’ Renta, a semi-corrupt detective.

When asked if he will return to “The Shield,” he replied, "No. I think that movies are pretty much taking over. I love that show though. It was a good show and it was almost like shooting an independent film every week and those actors are phenomenal – Walter Goggins and the character of Vic Mackey. It was a really cool show to be with. It's funny because a lot of people still only know me from that show. I'll be in the supermarket and they're like, 'Army!’”

Pena went on to portray Will Jimeno, a New York City cop trapped in the rubble on 9/11, in Oliver Stone's “World Trade Center” (2006), which earned him an ALMA Award nomination for Outstanding Actor - Motion Picture in 2007. He also starred as Sal Castro, a high school teacher who inspires his Mexican-American students to stand up for their rights, in the HBO movie “Walkout” (2006), which won him a Black Reel Award for Network/Cable - Best Supporting Actor and an Imagen Award for Best Actor – Television. He also received an ALMA Award nomination for Outstanding Actor - Television Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie for his performance in the TV movie that was based on a true story of the 1968 East L.A. walkouts.

In 2007, Pena played rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis in Antoine Fuqua's political thriller starring Mark Wahlberg, "Shooter," which was based on the novel “Point of Impact” by Stephen Hunter. He also portrayed a soldier stationed in Afghanistan in Robert Redford's war drama "Lions for Lambs," alongside Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep.

On how the "Shooter" script came to him, Pena revealed, "Well, my agent sent it to me and said that he really liked it. He said, 'I like it. You should give it a read.' I thought, 'Okay, cool.' It's an action movie, which is something that I've never quite done before and so I didn't know how to receive it, but the script was good. Jonathan Lemkin really did good by it because it was page turner. As I turned each page, I just really liked what I was reading and it was intriguing and it actually kept my attention and those are usually the kinds of scripts that I would do anyway, something that actually interests me; something that I want to go see."

Pena recently co-starred as T.K. Poole, one of three soldiers (the other two were played by Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins) returning from the Iraq War, in Neil Burger's film, "The Lucky Ones" (2008; originally titled "The Return"). He will soon complete his upcoming film, "Observe and Report," a comedy by writer/director Jody Hill starring Seth Rogen and Anna Faris. He will also co-star with Bruce Willis and Woody Harrelson in Oliver Stone's new film about the My Lai Massacre investigation, "Pinkville," portraying Captain Ernest Medina, the commanding officer of the unit responsible for the My Lai Massacre of 1968.


  • Black Reel: Network/Cable - Best Supporting Actor, "Walkout," 2007

  • Imagen: Best Actor - Television, "Walkout," 2006

  • ALMA Awards: Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture, "Crash," 2006

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