Elizabeth Pan

Never one to entertain ethnic stereotypes, actress Elizabeth Peña is a soulful on-screen performer who instead uses her Latin heritage to add extra, sometimes underlying, dimensions to characters that might have otherwise fallen flat. After mounting a slow climb through various bit roles in film and television, she delivered a breakthrough performance as a dysfunctional family's politically minded maid in the screwball satire of class "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986). Her subsequent heartfelt turn as the sister-in-law of ill-fated singer Ritchie Valens in the electric biopic "La Bamba" showcased a masterful versatility, ensuring that her professional schedule would be jam-packed for decades to come. From 1990 to 1991, she co-starred in indie auteur John Sayles' short-lived disgraced lawyer series "Shannon's Deal," marking the beginning of a recurring attraction to projects revolving around emotionally tortured characters. In that vein, she's appeared in such films as the inspirational paralysis drama "The Waterdance," the transgender road-movie odyssey "Transamerica," and Sayles's own Texas-set murder mystery "Lone Star," in which she portrayed the lost childhood love of a local sheriff. Later, Peña echoed the venturous actions of her father, a theater-founding director, when she stepped behind the camera on several TV productions.