Spy Kids made stars of its titular kids: Alexa PenaVega and Daryl Sabara. They were the faces of a blockbuster franchise before either of them could drive, and they were so convincing as globe-trotting, cool, but occasionally overwhelmed spies that it was tough for us to see them any other way.
Alexa PenaVega has continued to act as an adult, but her choices have become much more selective in recent years, which has led some fans to wonder where she went. The topic of Spy Kids feels especially relevant in 2023, as we are on the cusp of a Netflix reboot, Spy Kids: Armageddon, that has fans of the original trilogy up in arms. That’s a story for another article, though. Let’s discuss what PenaVega has been up to in the time it’s taken for Hollywood to reboot her iconic franchise.
Alexa PenaVega, born Alexa Vega, made her debut on the sitcom Evening Shade in 1994. She continued to act steadily throughout the decade, despite being less than ten years old. She appeared in Nine Months (1995) opposite Hugh Grant, The Glimmer Man (1996) opposite Steven Seagal, and The Deep End of the Ocean (1999) opposite Michelle Pfieffer. PenaVega was a seasoned professional by the time she was cast in Spy Kids (2001), but it was her spirited turn as Carmen Cortez that made her a movie star. She was 13 years old.
PenaVega’s stardom grew thanks to the sequels, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002) and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003). She also starred in the teen comedy Sleepover (2004), which has gone on to become a cult classic. PenaVega was such a big deal during this time period, that she appeared as herself in popular shows like All That and Big Time Rush. The latter proved to be an especially important gig, as she would go on to marry one of the show’s stars, Carlos Pena, in 2014. They both use the name PenaVega, which is a combination of their respective surnames.
PenaVega continued to act throughout the 2010s, and her most notable collaborations were with Spy Kids director Robert Rodriguez. They worked together on Machete Kills (2013) and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), and PenaVega made a cameo in Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (2011). She also finished sixth place during season 21 of Dancing with the Stars.
In more recent years, PenaVega has shifted to making Hallmark films. She debuted on the channel with Destination Wedding (2017), and has appeared in at least one Hallmark film a year since. Her most recent appearance was in the romantic comedy Never Too Late to Celebrate (2023), and she got to act opposite her husband in Love in the Limelight (2022). When she’s not starring in Hallmark films, PenaVega is running the YouTube channel La Vida PenaVega with her family.
PenaVega, who now has three children, looks back on her Spy Kids role with fondness. “It blows our minds, but we were saying how kids nowadays will never have the experience that we did because we didn’t have social media on set,” she told Pop Culture Planet. “We were just kids playing dress-up and it was very special.”
It’s nice to know the franchise means as much to the people who made it as it does to the people who grew up watching it.