When Cuban filmmaker Gerardo Chijona ¨Ticket to Paradise¨ (Boleto al paraíso) was preparing his previous film ¨ Un paraíso bajo las estrellas¨ (A paradise under the stars) he told a reporter: "I can´t have Elizabeth Pena, my friend from the Sundance Festival, for the protagonist role, but I have another Elizabeth Peña in Cuba who is named Thais Valdés."
It was 1998 and Peña was already known in Cuba for ¨El super¨ and ¨Crossover Dreams¨, by Leon Ichaso, ¨La Bamba¨, by Luis Valdés, and ¨Acero Azul¨ (Steel Blue), by the 2010 Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.
Her brunette skin and hair, her open face and intrinsic goodness in every performance characterized the histrionics of this girl who was born in New Jersey in 1959, but spent her early years in Cuba, homeland of her parents, Estela Margarita and Mario Peña, who was writer, actor and director.
Her father migrated to the United States in the mid 1960s with a job offer and there he co-founded the Latin American Theatre Ensemble, while the little Elizabeth was studying and a time later she graduated from the famed High School of Performing Arts of New York, in 1977.
The latter name says nothing to some people, but the ones who saw Alan Parker´s film, ¨Fame¨, which was followed by a popular TV series in the 1980s, will remember this location was the set where the actors undertook their daring studies.
There she made great friends such as Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Mission Impossible) and Esai Morales, who later would accompany her in the cast of La Bamba.
Peña’s debut came in 1979 through the excellent film ¨El Super¨, by Leon Ichaso, which was praised by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, it´s the story of a cynical man in the United States that many experts describe as the Cuban-American version of the Cuban film ¨Memorias del Subdesarrollo.¨
This was followed by ¨Crossover Dreams¨, also by Ichaso who unsuccessfully wanted to exploit the songs and popularity of the salsa singer, politician and lawyer Ruben Blades.
When it first appeared Touchstone Production Studios, belonging to the Disney Group, Elizabeth Peña was chosen to star, alongside Bette Midler, the successful saga of the film ¨Down and Out in Beverlly Hills¨, which some experts predicted as unsuccessful and however it became into a resounding hit, raising the fee of the Cuban-American artist.
After Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Touchstone produced the great hits Con Air, 60 seconds, Ed Wood, Pretty Woman and Pearl Harbour, and the TV series Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives.
Director John Sayles (Sin City), chosen Peña for his extraordinary film ¨Lone Star¨, along with future stars Chris Cooper and Mathew Mc Conaughey. Peña´s performance earned her an Independent Spirit Awards, the major prize for independent filmmaking.
Peña also worked, with a Latino cast headed by fellow Tony Plana (Nixon), in the TV series Resurrection Boulevard, performing aunt Bibi Corrades and also gave her voice to the character Mirage in the animated film The Incredibles.
She was the guest star of the eighteenth episode of the second season of ¨Numb3rs¨, together with the much sought-after Rob Morrow (Quiz Show) in the role of Sonya Benavides.
In ¨La Bamba¨ (1990), by Luis Valdes, she acted as the protagonist’s first girlfriend, also stood out alongside Tim Robbins in ¨Jacob ‘s Ladder¨ and worked under the direction of acclaimed directors such as Peter Bogdanovich (They all laughed) and Paul Mazursky (Down and Out in Beverly Hills ).
Elizabeth Peña distinguishes by her serious acting work and especially her expertise to choose scripts and characters to which she extracts all the possibilities, while leaving an indelible mark as a performer.
It also highlights the art she has contributed with independent productions, of which she is a consistent and warm promoter.