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Elizabeth Peña

Elizabeth Peña

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Also Known As: Elizabeth Pena Died: October 14, 2014
Born: September 23, 1959 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Elizabeth Peña, a striking, stage-trained Latina, first gained recognition as the maid-turned-revolutionary in Paul Mazursky's "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986). Born in the US to Cuban immigant parents, Peña was raised in Cuba and moved back to Manhattan at the age of eight. She was acting professionally two years later and subsequently attended the famed High School of Performing Arts. Peña went on to appear in more than 20 off-Broadway shows and toured for two years as Shakespeare's Juliet. She also worked with such renowned theater companies as Joseph Papp's Public Theater, La Mama, and San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater before moving behind the camera as a director. Elizabeth Peña died at the age of 55 on October 14, 2014.Peña's film career started slowly, with small roles in the Cuban/US production "El Super" (1979) and the American punk exploitation feature "Times Square" (1980), Peter Bogdanovich's "They All Laughed" (1981) and Ruben Blades' "Crossover Dreams" (1985). The spitfire role in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" finally gained her attention from public and industry alike. Peña went on to play the battered wife of Ritchie Valens' half-brother in "La Bamba" (1987),...

Elizabeth Peña, a striking, stage-trained Latina, first gained recognition as the maid-turned-revolutionary in Paul Mazursky's "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986). Born in the US to Cuban immigant parents, Peña was raised in Cuba and moved back to Manhattan at the age of eight. She was acting professionally two years later and subsequently attended the famed High School of Performing Arts. Peña went on to appear in more than 20 off-Broadway shows and toured for two years as Shakespeare's Juliet. She also worked with such renowned theater companies as Joseph Papp's Public Theater, La Mama, and San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater before moving behind the camera as a director. Elizabeth Peña died at the age of 55 on October 14, 2014.

Peña's film career started slowly, with small roles in the Cuban/US production "El Super" (1979) and the American punk exploitation feature "Times Square" (1980), Peter Bogdanovich's "They All Laughed" (1981) and Ruben Blades' "Crossover Dreams" (1985). The spitfire role in "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" finally gained her attention from public and industry alike. Peña went on to play the battered wife of Ritchie Valens' half-brother in "La Bamba" (1987), the friend of policewoman Jamie Lee Curtis in Kathryn Bigelow's "Blue Steel" and Tim Robbins' temperamental lover in Adrian Lyne's "Jacob's Ladder" (both 1990). Her subsequent screen credits included a supporting role in "The Waterdance" (1992) and playing the girlfriend of a suddenly-dead man in "Dead Funny" (1995). She won particular acclaim for her 1996 turn as a schoolteacher and former lover of the town sheriff (Chris Cooper) in John Sayles' acclaimed mystery "Lone Star" (1996).

Peña was also known for her TV work, beginning with a supporting role in the police sitcom "Tough Cookies" (CBS, 1986). She had the title role in the short-lived "I Married Dora" (ABC, 1988), which became briefly notorious for its tasteless and politically incorrect premise (a widower marries his housekeeper to prevent her deportation). Peña also played the regular role of an aggressive secretary on the John Sayles-created legal drama "Shannon's Deal" (NBC, 1990-91).

Peña also turned in strong performances in nearly a dozen TV-movies, miniseries and anthologies, starting with the 1989 pilot for "Shannon's Deal" (NBC). She was also the widow of a DEA agent in the award-winning "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story" (NBC, 1990), turned up in the AIDS drama "Roommates" (NBC, 1994) and was featured in the HBO TV-movie, "The Second Civil War" (1997).

As Peña continued to rack up supporting film credits--including the hit buddy comedy "Rush Hour" (1998) and rocker Dee Snider's bizarro horror film "Strangeland" (1998)--and telepic turns such as playing the wife of a notorious real life spy in "Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within" (1998), she also became a television series regular when she starred as Beatriz "Bibi" Corrales in the Showtime drama "Resurrection Blvd." (2000-2002).

Always an extremely in-demand actress, Peña would regularly strike a balance between appearing in Latina-specific roles, such as her turn opposite Hector Elizondo in "Tortilla Soup" (2001)--a Latin interpretation of Ang Lee's Chinese drama "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman"--and non-ethnic parts, such as her warm, wise portrayal of a pre-operative transexual's therapist opposite Felicity Huffman in "Transamerica" (2005). Peña also had a side career as a voice actor, lending her distinctive vocals to such animated projects as "Justice League," ""Maya & Miguel" and, most notably, as the bad-girl-gone-good Mirage in Disney/Pixar's CGI-animated mega-hit "The Incredibles" (2004). While maintaining a steady career in small film and TV roles such as her recurring role as Pilar, the mother of Sofia Vergara's Gloria on the hit sitcom "Modern Family" (ABC 2009- ), Peña moved behind the camera to begin her career as a director with episodes of the TV series "Resurrection Blvd." (Showtime 2000-02), "The Brothers Garcia" (Nickelodeon 2000-04), and the web series "Ylse" (2008). Elizabeth Peña died following a brief illness, later disclosed to be alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver, in Los Angeles on October 14, 2014.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Grandma (2015)
3.
 In the Dark (2013)
4.
 Blaze You Out (2012)
5.
6.
 Mother and Child (2009)
7.
 Down for Life (2009)
9.
 Racing For Time (2008)
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1969:
First lead role in a play at age ten
1979:
Debut feature, "El Super"
1980:
First US film role, "Times Square"
1985:
Made TV debut in an episode of "Cagney and Lacey" (CBS)
1986:
Breakthrough film role, "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"
1986:
TV series debut, "Tough Cookies"
1987:
Played title character in the short-lived ABC sitcom, "I Married Dora"
1989:
TV-movie debut, featured in two-hour pilot for "Shannon's Deal" (NBC)
1990:
First starring role in a feature, "Jacob's Ladder"
:
Cast as a regular on John Sayles' quirky legal drama "Shannon's Deal" (NBC)
1996:
Delivered a superb performance in John Sayles' "Lone Star"
1997:
Appeared in the HBO movie "The Second Civil War"
1998:
Co-starred in the Showtime original "Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within"
1998:
Had featured role in the box-office hit "Rush Hour"
1999:
Was one of the titular "Seven Girlfriends"
2000:
Co-starred in the Showtime series "Resurrection Blvd."
2001:
Portrayed the oldest daughter the ensemble feature, "Tortilla Soup"
2001:
Had featured role as a doctor in the sci-fi film "Impostor"
2004:
Voiced Mirage in the animated feature "The Incredibles"
2005:
Starred opposite Felicity Huffman in the indie-drama "TransAmerica"
2006:
Cast in Andy Garcia's feature directorial debut "The Lost City"
2007:
Cast in the Korean dragon fantasy feature, "Dragon Wars"
2008:
Cast in the indie feature, "How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer" (filmed in 2003)
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Education

The High School of Performing Arts: New York , New York - 1977

Notes

"I'm not getting hired, man, that's the fact. I could tell you a fancy, sweet story, but the roles I could have easily played and been absolutely right for--like 'The Perez Family'--they're giving it to other actresses not remotely close to being Latina. . . When they write a Latina role, in general they don't have a relationship in real life--unless it's maybe a housekeeper." --Elizabeth Pena, quoted in DAILY NEWS, June 21, 1996

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Steve Kibler. Teacher. Former talent agent; 20 years older than Pena.
husband:
Hans. Carpenter. Married in 1994; father of Pena's children.

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Margarita Pena. Arts administrator. Worked with the Latin American Theatre Ensemble.
father:
Mario Pena. Actor, writer, director.
sister:
Tania Pena. Younger.

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