"I am not afraid to play Latin roles - that was a big part of my life," says the Mexican-American actor who was born and raised in Chicago. Yet Peña says it has been great to be able to transcend more "stereotypical" roles; he plays astronaut Rick Martinez in the new blockbuster movie 'The Martian,' with actor Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott.
"I've been an actor for 20 years, and I think the first 14 years it was all struggling," said Peña. "At first it was all gangsters," he said, laughing, of the roles offered him for many years. "The reality that everyone is stereotyped; every one gets typecast so you have to work to get out of that," he said.
But Peña has been recognized for his stellar roles in movies like "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby."
Peña sat down with Today's Natalie Morales and spoke of his family and his roots. His family was not wealthy but he grew up in a warm, loving family. His family keeps him humble; his brother, who is a police officer, jokes with him that he is a real officer, whereas Peña just plays one. Peña will be in the upcoming movie remake of the popular TV show "Chips."