Michael Pena hopes family-friendly ‘Turbo’ will bowl over his son

Hollywood, California - For a guy who rarely goes bowling and is content with breaking 100 on the score sheet, Michael Pena - best known for his roles in “Crash” and “End of Watch” - sure carried himself like a big shot on the lanes last Monday. But it was all in good fun, other than the fact that Pena really wanted to win.

“Are you nervous?” asked Pena, 37, before the first of our two embarrassingly low-scoring games at Lucky Strike Lanes in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. “I feel like you’re nervous.”

In addition to red and black shoes, the Chicago native was sporting a pompadour he said was for the WWII film “Fury” with Brad Pitt (his “Babel” co-star) and Shia LaBeouf — as well as the same black pants and button-down shirt he’d been wearing all day while promoting his animated film, “Turbo,” in theaters Wednesday.

Pena screened “Turbo” — about a snail that races in the Indianapolis 500 with the help of a taco stand employee (voiced by Pena) — July 7 for friends and family, including his 5-year-old son, Roman. Like so many other actors who lend their voice to animated films, Pena said he got involved in the movie because he wanted his son to enjoy his work for once.

“When I watch movies with my kid like ‘Shrek,’ I’m like ‘Wow, this is pretty funny,’” said Pena, following a gutter ball. “That’s why I wanted to start doing movies like that — so my kid would laugh at my jokes. I’ll do anything to make my kid laugh. … My best friend said afterward, ‘Hey Roman, what’s the better movie: “Despicable Me” or “Turbo”?’ and he goes, ‘I got two words for you: Tur. Bo.’

“I remember I used to think my dad was really cool working at a factory. He used to make buttons. I used to brag, ‘This button here, My dad made it.’ There was this sense of pride. It’s knowing your dad is doing something cool. What’s cooler than to be in (Roman’s) favorite movies?”

Pena followed his more unsuccessful frames with four-letter words and his occasional strikes and spares with either jubilation (“Daddy’s getting in on it,” he boasted at one point) or exaggerated nonchalance (“Anyway, what were you saying?”). It might have been a blessing that the heavy rain that day forced us to cancel our mini-golf plans and bowl instead; otherwise Pena, an avid golfer, would have made it a really long day for this writer.

Pena said his love for golf is the most Hollywood thing about him and isn’t the sort of hobby you would expect from someone raised by Mexican parents in the North Lawndale area. And because his family members are so far removed from Hollywood, they do have a tendency to let their inner fan come out on occasion.

“I remember my brother called me up at 3 in the morning L.A. time and said, ‘Mike, I really need you to call me back,’” Pena said. “I was like ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ (He said) ‘Mike, I need Nicolas Cage’s number. He’s in town and I want to have a beer with him.’ This is when I did ‘World Trade Center’ with him. I was like, ‘Don’t call me with this’ and hung up on him.”

The second of our two games ended with Pena once again the victor. Still, his score was hardly anything to brag about — or so I thought.

“I bowled a 125,” Pena told his handlers proudly as he left to make his way to the next promotional stop.

Amused by his boast, I asked Pena if he was looking for approval.

“Of course,” Pena said. “We all want approval. That’s why I made this movie for my son.”

Additional information