Actor Michael Peña has been making moviegoers laugh and cry for two decades. In the disaster epic Moonfall, he’s adding yet another skill to his repertoire—saving the Earth. We sat down with the actor to get to know him better—but first, the basics:
- Tastiest Chicago restaurant? Taquerias Atotonilco
- Biggest vice? Too much coffee
- Best Jack Ryan movie? Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford
- Favorite travel destination? London
Men’s Journal: What’s it like making a movie about Earth’s destruction with Roland “Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012” Emmerich?
Michael Peña: I loved all those movies—plus Stargate. I remember watching it as a teenager and seeing a Latin actor in it named Alexis Cruz, and thinking it would be a dream to be in one of [Emmerich’s] movies. It was crazy doing Moonfall, I never knew what to expect. People are gonna have a good time watching the movie.
There aren’t many people in Hollywood who can do drama and comedy equally well. What’s the secret?
I’m a character actor. I actually don’t really approach dramas and comedies any differently. The only real difference is that I write more lines for myself in comedies.
You played the legendary farm labor leader Cesar Chavez in a biopic. What should people know about him?
He was ahead of his time. My parents were both farmers when they came from Mexico, and Chavez fought for migrant farm workers and for people without a voice, raising awareness about injustices. Regardless of where you sit politically, you should want people to be treated fairly—and that’s what he was going for.
Season 4 of Jack Ryan was greenlit. How has that character lasted through five movies, five actors and one Amazon show?
Because of [creator] Tom Clancy’s books. He was so good at describing worlds, and the characters he wrote are just so rich. He makes Jack an Everyman who tries to find an edge in fights just through pure hard work. The movies and show capture that—plus they’ve been lucky with casting.
Speaking of, John Krasinski didn’t seem like an obvious choice.
When I first heard he was playing Jack, I was like, “Wait, what?” But in a weird way it works perfectly and makes total sense that the smart guy from The Office is Jack Ryan.
What was it like growing up in Chicago?
We lived a mile north of Cook County Jail. Not the greatest part of town. But I didn’t know we were poor—it was just life. We still had a great time. And my brother now works at the jail.
You’ve been married for 15 years. Is there a secret to that success?
You have to give who you’re with the freedom to be their own person. But really, I don’t know any secret. I think you just don’t take anything for granted, and you never stop going on dates.
Any genius parenting moment raising a teenage son you’d care to share with us?
The name of the game is trying to raise someone who can be themselves. When my son was 7, he asked me, “Dad, do you think I’m lame?” It was heartbreaking, but I sat down with him and we talked. He likes animating, but he didn’t think it was cool. He thought Pixar was cool, though—and I told him, “Listen, those guys didn’t grow up being the coolest guys in their class. Sometimes the things you like are cool—but they just take time until you’re older.”
Sounds like good advice.
Well, I’m not gonna lie—I also told him high school might be a little rough.
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