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Chicago native Michael Pena relates to his role on Fox mystery ‘Gracepoint’

Chicago native Michael Pena plays the father of a murdered boy in Fox’s upcoming whodunnit, “Gracepoint.”

The 10-episode series is based on the stellar British original called “Broadchurch.” In that version, Pena’s character is falsely accused of committing the crime — as is just about everyone in the grief-stricken small town.

“I didn’t have to do a lot of research for the role,” Pena quipped at the TV critics’ press tour Sunday in Beverly Hills. “I grew up as a Mexican-American, so I had a lot of experience with that.”

Pena (“Chavez,” “American Hustle”) recalled spending part of his early childhood living across the street from North Lawndale’s Douglas Park, where fights often erupted between rival gangs. Cases of mistaken identity between the cops and his Hispanic friends often happened, said Pena, adding that “I was mischievous, but I didn’t go to jail for something I didn’t do.”

Michael Pena as Mark Solano and Virginia Kull as his wife, Beth, in "Gracepoint." (Photo courtesy Fox)

Michael Pena as Mark Solano and Virginia Kull as his wife, Beth, in “Gracepoint.” (Photo courtesy Fox)

The cast of “Gracepoint” includes Scottish actor David Tennant (“Doctor Who”), who plays the same homicide detective he portrayed in BBC America’s “Broadchurch,” which has been renewed for a second season.

The first two “Gracepoint” episodes made available to critics look strikingly similar to “Broadchurch.” Producers assured reporters Sunday at the TV critics’ press tour that the U.S. version, which is two episodes longer than that show’s freshman season, won’t just be a retread of the original.

"Gracepoint" cast at TCA. (Photo courtesy Fox)

“Gracepoint” cast at TCA. (Photo courtesy Fox)

The U.S. remake unfolds in a California coastal town. Pena’s character, Mark Solano, is a married plumber and father of two. Virginia Kull co-stars as his wife. The cast also includes Jacki Weaver, Nick Nolte and Northwestern alum Anna Gunn (“Breaking Bad”).

Pena said his Hispanic heritage isn’t played up in the show.

“We have darker kids but that’s about it,” he said.

Pena’s increasingly prolific acting career started in Chicago on a bit of a lark.

His best friend’s mom urged him to go to an open casting call at Lane Tech High School for the 1996 Chicago-filmed TV movie “To Sir, With Love (Part II).”

Pena didn’t get the part he wanted but he was a featured extra. And he knew acting was what he wanted to do, so he relocated to Los Angeles. (Pena’s brother is a correctional officer at Cook County Jail; his father lives in Cicero.)

Unlike many of Pena’s “Gracepoint” co-stars, this father of a 5-year-old doesn’t have any formal acting training. He graduated from Hubbard High School but spent his freshman and sophomore years in the early ’90s at Marist, a Catholic high school on the South Side.

“I loved that school,” said Pena, adding that he had to leave because he could no longer afford the tuition. “I used to wrestle there. That was the first time I realized hard work can get you somewhere.”

“Gracepoint” premieres Oct. 2 on WFLD-Channel 32.