Most Known For: “Observe and Report,” “End of Watch,” “American Hustle”
Snubbed For: “Crash,” “End of Watch”
Perhaps one of the great tragedies of the Oscars is the general tendency of who gets nominated in the supporting actor/actress categories. A lot of the time a majority of the nominees are big names foregoing top billing to work with a particular director or on a passion project. Their performances are usually great and worthy, but that fact often leaves long time character actors who have made their careers with great supporting performances overlooked. One such actor is Michael Peña.
Hopefully most of you know Peña by face if not immediately by name as his star has been on the rise over the last few years. But Peña has impressed us for quite some time now; it just took us a while to notice. It’s been twenty years since he made his feature film debut in “Running Free;” he has filled his resume with studio films and indies like “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” “Babel,” and “Observe and Report.” He has showed a wide range but has failed to muster up enough support to gain the Academy’s attention.
Peña’s career started to take off in 2004 when he would star in back-to-back Best Picture winners “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.” In Eastwood’s boxing tale, Peña would star along a fellow character only a few years away from breaking out, Anthony Mackie, as bullying boxers who give Hilary Swank and Jay Baruchel’s characters a hard time. It’s a brief role, but clearly Peña was on the right track with a filmmaker like Eastwood taking notice.
He would prove that the very next year in “Crash.” It has become popular to bash “Crash’s” Oscar win for Best Picture, and its hard to argue that, but Michael Peña’s performance is right on par with Matt Dillon’s Oscar nominated turn. As a locksmith who wants to protect his daughter, Peña is superb as a loving father. His scene under the bed with his daughter is a highlight of the film. Peña would earn his first SAG trophy as a member of the ensemble.
The next few years would see strong performances from Peña in “World Trade Center,” “The Lincoln Lawyer” and others, but his best performance to date came in David Ayer’s police drama “End of Watch.” “End of Watch” was a hidden gem from 2012, with two outstanding performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Peña. The two actors truly had an amazing chemistry that went far beyond just entertaining, it added a real depth to their characters. There was a small underground movement to get Peña an Oscar nom for his performance, but he would have to settle for an Indie Spirit nod for Best Supporting Actor.
Peña’s stock is higher than ever though. He won his second SAG award this past year as a member of the ensemble in “American Hustle,” he has his biggest film to date on the horizon in Marvel’s “Ant Man,” and he will have another go at Oscar in 2014 when he plays Cesar Chavez. Peña stars as the human rights activist in the aptly named “Cesar Chavez” that comes out Mar. 28. The early release will leave Peña an uphill challenge for a nomination, but if the work is good enough a campaign will surely form for this respected character actor.