EXCLUSIVE: Michael Peña on 'The LEGO Ninjago Movie' and Advice to Latino Actors

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Michael Peña is a trailblazing Latino actor who has starred in many films, such as Crash (2004), World Trade Center (2006), Ant-Man (2015), and The Martian (2015). He was raised by Mexican immigrants on Chicago’s south side and moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of an acting career. Latina chatted exclusively with the inspiring Cesar Chavez star about his role in the recently released animated film, The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Co-starring alongside Dave Franco and Jackie Chan, to name a few, the movie is an action-packed and adventure filled-story about secret ninja warriors who unleash their inner powers. It's in theatres now! 

 
 

"In order to be successful, you have to study, read, and know about the story. You have to give it your all. Literally, for four years I didn’t go out or do anything, I just practiced and acted as much as I could. You have to be diligent."

 

MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Michael Peña Discusses 'Cesar Chavez', Latino History, Immigration, and more

Michael, how would you describe your character in The LEGO Ninjago Movie?

My character’s name is Kai. He’s energetic, and he’s a firecracker. He’s actually my son’s favorite character, which is a huge reason why this is so special to me.

How is playing a character in animated movies different than the big screen, do you find it more challenging or more fun?

It’s a lot harder than people think. But you kind of just have to go for it. And you have to give it your all- as much as possible and be willing to look like an idiot.

What has been your favorite role so far?

My favorite role...is the first one I ever did. I was broke, my life literally changed overnight. Before that, I was struggling for 15 years. It was Crash, and it was my first real part.

Can you tell us about those struggles you faced and how it molded you into the actor you are today?

Well at first, I did it as a career move. I honestly wanted to just make a living out of it. But as time went on, I started to really love acting, you know, I’ve always been a big fan of movies. I didn’t know I was going to be successful, but then I wanted to do it, and I appreciate it so much more. Today I’m thankful to be here and able to do what I love. I consider myself very fortunate.

What is your advice to young Latino actors looking to break into Hollywood?

In order to be successful, you have to study, read, and know about the story. You have to give it your all. Literally, for 4 years I didn’t go out or do anything, I just practiced and acted as much as I could. You have to be diligent.

You mentioned your son earlier, do you think he would want to become an actor?

I believe he’s a cool kid. But all he says to that is, “nope!” and he just wants to play with LEGOs. He loves Ninjago.

PLUS: EXCLUSIVE! Shonda Rhimes: 'The Lack of Diversity in Hollywood is Embarrasing'

2016 was the worst year for Latinos on screen, with less than 4% being represented. Do you have any idea why Hollywood doesn’t hire more Latino talent? Is there a lack of roles for Latino talent?

To be honest, things are changing so quickly. I think that right now is a great time to venture in. Recently I was hanging out Mario Lopez, and Oscar De La Hoya, just watching the fight. And I thought it was just amazing and eye-opening to see three different Latinos together, with different fields in one place. It’s exciting and you have to be willing to accept growth.

Be sure to catch up with Micheal Peña and his new film The LEGO Ninjago Movie in theatres today.