WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Chicago native Michael Pena didn’t hesitate when asked how he’d organize a Chicago tour for his “12 Strong” co-star Chris Hemsworth. As the amused Australian actor sat next to Pena to chat up their new film (opening Friday), the man best known as Thor admitted, “I probably need a Chicago update, considering I haven’t been back in quite a while.”
Pena noted: “Chris eats well, but that won’t stop me. I’d first take him to all my favorite taquerias. Then Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Uno and Due’s pizzerias — maybe not all in one day!
“We’d have to hit Taylor Street for some great old-style Italian food. And we can’t forget Polish sausages, which you can get anywhere in Chicago.”
Turning cultural, Pena noted he’d want Hemsworth to catch a play at either Steppenwolf or the Goodman, “probably both, if we had time!”
“12 Strong” focuses on the long-secret mission of a dozen Special Forces troops who parachuted into Northern Afghanistan in the weeks following 9/11 to attack a key installation of Taliban forces. They were led on that mission, on horseback, by friendly Afghan allies.
Pena’s character in the film obviously is uncomfortable when he realizes he has to ride a long way on horseback — a trait that didn’t require a lot of acting on his part. “What do you think?” Pena said. “I’m a kid who grew up in the inner city in Chicago. What do I know from horses? No way! Not my strongest suit. When I heard about this, I asked, ‘Why can’t I just stand next to this horse, and just talk?’ ”
• Their “12 Strong” co-star Rob Riggle, best known for his comedic roles in films like “The Hangover” and his TV gig on “Saturday Night Live,” told me he loved being in Our Town “last year to run in the Chicago Marathon.” In “12 Strong,” the actor liked having the chance to play not only a serious role, but a real person he knew well: Col. Max Bowers, the commanding officer he actually served under during his own tour of duty in Afghanistan, shortly after the real-life events in “12 Strong” occurred in 2001.
“I knew what they were talking about,” he said. “I know the difference — as they say in the old joke — between a F-16 and a M-16, and I knew about this particular mission, having served with those guys just a month afterward.”