"When it's a friend, it is kind of weird, frankly," she admits. "But being that it was Steven and I know him and know what a crazy psychopath he is, it was awesome because I could trust him. Had it been some actor who wasn't a friend of mine and taken off his pants, I probably would have yelled 'Cut!' and said, 'I hope you got that because I'm not doing another take!"
Peña confides that spending a month shooting Garcia Girls on location in Arizona during a heat wave may not have been exactly pleasant, but it did help her get into character.
"It was very helpful that it was oppressively hot. I'm normally a fast person and it slowed me down," she explains. "They put us in this crappy little motel and I decided, 'I'm gonna use it.' There's nothing to do. I'm not gonna put the TV on. I'm not going to entertain my head. I'm going to use the tedium of every day. But after seven days of doing that I looked at myself and said, 'Enough with the friggin' Method! Use it when they say 'Action!'"
The movie was shot in 2005 and made the festival circuit, but couldn't secure distribution until Maya Releasing picked it up this year. America Ferrera's breakout success in Ugly Betty may have had something to do with that, but Peña saw her as a star long before.
She already had Real Women Have Curves and won Best Actress at Sundance. She's very talented, and also a very grounded young woman. She knows what she wants." In the three years since she shot Garcia Girls, Peña has worked on such projects as Andy Garcia's The Lost City, the TV movie Racing For Time, and two independent films just now getting release, Love Come Lately and Adrift in Manhattan.
"In Adrift I play a woman who has a full life and then she falls in love with an elderly man. In Love Come Lately, which is with Barbara Hershey and Rhea Perlman, I'm a woman with some serious psychological issues," she describes.
Come November, Peña will be seen in the ensemble cast of Humboldt Park opposite Alfred Molina, Debra Messing, Freddy Rodriguez, and John Leguizamo, who plays her son despite the fact that he's just three years her junior.