Michael Peña never wanted to be an actor. He was happy with his position as a teller at a bank in Chicago and was looking forward to working his way up the ranks of the financial institution while studying business in college.

When his friend’s mother talked him into going to an open audition at the age of 19, Peña began to slowly realize that his calling in life had nothing to do with deposit slips and mutual funds.

“For some reason she had the vision before I did,” Peña told me during a phone interview.

Now, the vision is also his and Peña is making the best of everything that is coming his was in the film industry.

In 2001, Peña starred with Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix (“Walk the Line”) in “Buffalo Soldiers” and followed that film with roles in the Best Films of 2004 and 2005, “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.”

Peña, now takes on his most challenging role ever as New York City Port Authority officer Will Jimeno in Oliver Stones drama “World Trade Center.”

Where were you on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001?

I was at my girlfriend’s apartment. She’s got a lot of family in Brooklyn. We watched what was going happening on television. It was pretty unbelievable. Immediately, I called up a friend and asked if we could go over there. This movie focuses on people coming together on that day. There was that feeling of support that you kind of need as human beings.

When you’re watching the events unfold on TV, what was going through your mind?

I could not help but feel helpless. I asked myself, What can I do to help?

What was it like to work on a film like this from an emotional standpoint?

At first it was very emotional when I read the script and when I met Will Jimeno and saw Ground Zero. And then about a month into it I started treating it like a job, which I needed to do. I just really focused on the story this worthy story that needs to be told.

A lot of the times, an actor, who is portraying someone in real-life, doesnt have the opportunity to talk to that person. What was it like to get the opportunity to talk to Will Jimeno and what did he bring to the production?

The reality and depth of it. It gives me more reality on how someone would approach it. I think hanging out with him was definitely something I cherished. He is a great guy and is going to be a friend for a long time. I have so much affinity for the guy. His attitude is what really surprised me.

Tell me about working with Oliver Stone.

It is fantastic. I had the luxury of working with Paul Haggis and Clint Eastwood. I just started realizing how these masters of artistry really contribute and are able to tell these kinds of stories. (Stones) attention to detail is amazing. It really helps you out in times when you need it.

When you first heard about this role, did it ever enter your mind that it might be a little too soon to be telling this story?

It’s a different story than people might think. It’s not a story about conspiracy or doesn’t delve into the bad parts about it. It is really telling an uplifting story. It would be too soon if there was any conspiracy. Somehow it just wouldn’t feel right. But this is different thing. This is focusing on the good of that thing. This movie is a real human story. It’s really about family, love, support and camaraderie and getting through something.

How much did Will talk to you about the things that happen to him while he was trapped under the rubble? Did the things that happen in the film actually happen to him that day?

He says that 95 percent of the script was right. Little things like I did it with my left hand instead of my right. Nothing was drastically changed.

So you had to have sat with Will for hours to get into this character and make it as true as possible.

Yeah. I asked him all the questions possible. Basically, I exhausted every question that I could think from every aspect. I have a huge sense of duty for this country and the world to do right by this story. My sense of duty came first.

What was it like visiting Ground Zero?

It was amazing. I could not believe I was there. I was much bigger than I thought it was. I kind of humanizes it. I wanted to tell the story even more because of that. I wanted to do right by these people. It sparked me.

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