Previously Known For: As Carmen Cortez in Spy Kids
|Currently Known For: As Shilo Wallace in Repo! The Genetic Opera, Ruby Gallagher in Ruby & The Rockits, and KillJoy in Machete Kills|
“If a script comes together, and you end up liking the people who are part of it, that’s when you can make magic happen. It’s a huge combination of trying to find something you think you can deliver on and a director you think you can collaborate with to make a good picture.” One of six children born to a Columbian father and an American model, Alexa Ellesse Pena Vega came into this world on August 27, 1986 in Miami, Florida. She spent the next four years chasing her brothers and sisters around on the family’s ranch in Ocala before her parents moved the entire Vega brood to California in the early 1990s. Making the move at only four years old, Vega quickly called California home as she discovered her natural talent for performing and made her feature film debut as Priscilla O’Shea in the 1994 film, Little Giants. Luckily, that was only the beginning of Vega’s stellar career in the limelight!
Vega honed her talents as a young actress with credits on popular television series like ER, Ghost Whisperer and The Bernie Mac Show before she joined Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in the 1996 disaster adventure film, Twister. From there, she added in credits on the silver screen in Ghosts of Mississippi and The Deep End of the Ocean before she turned heads in the new millennium for her performance as Carmen Cortez in Spy Kids, which grossed over $147 million at box offices worldwide and spawned three sequels. As Vega reprised her role in Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, she skyrocketed to even bigger stardom as a teen celebrity and was named one of the hottest teens in the world by the prestigious Vanity Fair magazine.
Riding the wave of her Spy Kids fame, Vega added in credits in Sleepover, State’s Evidence, Odd Girl Out, Walkout and Remember the Daze while facing another challenge—transitioning from a teen star to a serious adult actress. “I always think it’s hard for any young actor to make that transition to more grown-up roles,” she said. “Because you don’t want to alienate your audience who has been supportive of you for so many years, so you kind of have to tiptoe through that process.”
Expertly tiptoeing through the process and making it look effortless, Vega had little to worry about thanks to her performance as Shilo Wallaco in Repo! The Genetic Opera in 2008, which she followed up with a starring role on the ABC Family drama, Ruby & The Rockits. Wrapping up the show after one season, she made cameos on The Middle, Unsupervised, and Big Time Rush before pursuing her music career as she lent her voice to soundtracks for Spy Kids, Repo! The Genetic Opera and Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe.
In 2013, Vega proved that she was no longer a teen star when she convinced film director Robert Rodriguez to cast her in his 2013 project, Machete Kills, starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Mel Gibson, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Sofia Vergara and many others. “I called Robert up and was like, ‘I know you’re about to start Sin City 2 and Machete Kills, and I just want you to think of a cool role for me in Sin City,’” Vega said of asking for the part. “I said, ‘People aren’t taking me seriously. I think it’s time that we show them that I’m capable of doing other roles. It’s going to take me forever to prove that to these other Joe Schmoes in this business, whereas I know I can do that with you in two seconds. You’ve just got to give me a shot!’”
Rodriguez took a huge chance on Vega and ultimately gave her the freedom to make KillJoy into who she wanted, which was far more than Vega imagined as she embraced the role and made her character into a sex symbol complete with chaps and a metal bra. “I’m such a tomboy in real life that to be able to take on somebody as fierce as KillJoy is so awesome,” Vega said of the part. “And to do it in a sexy way was super empowering and different. I had to have this confidence, going on set, that I’ve never had to have before for a role. I would just go in there and play whatever sweet character I was playing. But I had to dive into this role, full force, in a completely different way and I loved that. You’re taking yourself to a place that you’ve never had to go—to play with the guns and work with the people I was working with, it was such a fun thing to dive into. But, I had to fight for it. They didn’t want me to do this role, at all. They all still picture me as a little kid, so I had to prove myself.”
Vega certainly proved she was far beyond her youth as a sex symbol in Machete Kills and followed up the flick with credits in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and Square Parts as well as in television series like Nashville and Dancing with the Stars. She also found love a second time after divorcing Napoleon Dynamite producer Sean Covel in 2012 when she met and fell in love with actor and singer Carlos Pena Jr. Marrying on January 4, 2014 in Mexico, Vega continued to act but saw her interests shift toward her life at home as she and husband launched their LexLovesLos YouTube channel in addition to releasing their Christian devotional, WOW: Word of Wisdom. Then, in December 2016, the happy couple added to their family with the birth of their son, Ocean King PenaVega.
Today, the 29-year-old is determined to give her son the best life imaginable and has spent less time in front of the camera and more time at home where she parents with one particular thing in mind: “Kids now are so smart, fun, and they have so many great ideas… I want Ocean to never feel like he’s held back… I want my son to know that he has the ability to do whatever he wants just as long as he’s willing to work.” And, speaking of work, luckily Vega’s attempts to channel her son’s creativity (even at such a young age) has inspired the actress to return to television as Hallmark’s newest leading lady. That’s right, the former Spy Kids star can be spotted in two of Hallmark’s latest flicks—Destination Wedding and Enchanted Christmas!