Peña was born and raised in Chicago, to Nicolasa, a social worker, and Eleuterio Peña, who worked at a button factory. His parents were originally from Mexico. After graduating from high school, he went to an open casting call for the Peter Bogdanovich feature To Sir, with Love II (1996), and to his surprise, beat out hundreds of other young men for a role. After relocating to Los Angeles Peña quickly booked a succession of roles in features including Star Maps, Président? Vous avez dit président? (1996) (opposite Jack Lemmon and James Garner), La Cucaracha (1998) (winner of the Best Picture in the Austin Film Festival), Bellyfruit (1999), and the Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer feature 60 secondes chrono (2000). Michael resides in Los Angeles, where he plays bass guitar with his band, plays golf, and boxes for relaxation.