OLMOS, Edward James
Nationality: American. Born: East Los Angeles, California, 24 February 1947. Family: Married 1) Kaija Keel, 1971 (divorced, 1992), sons: Mico and Bodie; 2) the actress Lorraine Bracco, 1994. Education: Attended East Los Angeles City College and California State University, Los Angeles; studied drama at the Lee Strasberg Institute. Career: Formed a rock band, Eddie James and the Pacific Ocean, to help pay his college tuition, 1960s; began acting in small stage productions in Los Angeles and appearing in bit roles on such TV series as Kojak, Cannon, CHiPs, Medical Center , and Hawaii Five-O , 1970s; starred as El Pachuco in Zoot Suit on the Los Angeles stage, 1978; appeared in the TV mini-series Evening in Byzantium , 1978; played El Pachuco in New York, 1979; had his first important screen role in The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez , 1982; played Lt. Martin
Films as Actor:
aloha, bobby and rose (Mutrux) (small role)
Alambrista! (Robert M. Young) (as drunk)
Fukkatsu no hi ( Virus ) (Fukasaku) (as Captain López)
Three Hundred Miles for Stephanie (Ware—for TV) (as Art Vela); Zoot Suit (Valdez) (as El Pachuco); Wolfen (Wadleigh) (as Eddie Holt)
The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (Robert M. Young) (title role, + co-pr, co-mus); Blade Runner (Ridley Scott) (as Gaff); Sequin (Jesús Salvador Treviño—for TV)
Saving Grace (Robert M. Young) (as Ciolino)
Stand and Deliver (Menendez) (as Jaime Escalante)
Triumph of the Spirit (Robert M. Young) (as Gypsy)
Maria's Story (Wali and Cohen—doc) (as narrator)
Talent for the Game (Robert M. Young) (as Virgil Sweet)
Roosters (Robert M. Young) (as Gallo); A Million to Juan ( A Million to One ) (Paul Rodríguez) (as the Angel); Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills (Elikann—for TV) (as José Menendez)
The Burning Season (Frankenheimer—for TV) (as Wilson Pinheiro)
Mirage (Williams) (as Matteo Juárez); My Family ( Mi Familia ) (Nava) (as Paco, the narrator); Slave of Dreams (Robert M. Young—for TV) (as Potiphar)
Caught (Robert M. Young) (as Joe); Dead Man's Walk (Simoneau—mini for TV) (as Captain Salazar); The Limbic Region (Pattinson—for TV) (as Lucca)
Hollywood Confidential (Villalobos—for TV) (as Stan Navarro); Selena (Nava) (as Abraham Quintanilla); Death in Granada ( The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca ) (Zurinaga) (as Roberto Lozano); 12 Angry Men (Friedkin—for TV) (as Juror #11)
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (Gordon) (as Vamenos); The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Félix Enríquez Alcalá) (as Det. Anthony Piscotti); The Wall (Sargent)
The Story of Fathers & Sons (Leonard, Ryan—for TV) (as himself); Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (Poulette—for TV) (as Salvatore Maranzano); The Unfinished Journey (Spielberg—doc) (short) (as Narrator)
The Road to El Dorado (Bergeron, Finn, Paul, Silverman) (as voice of Chief Tannabok); Gossip (Guggenheim) (as Detective Curtis)
American Me (d, co-pr, ro as Santana Montoya)
Americanos: Latino Life in the United States (pr)
By OLMOS: articles—
"Burning with Passion," interview with Guy D. Garcia and Elaine Dutka, in Time (New York), 11 July 1988.
Interview with M. Seligson, in Playboy (Chicago), June 1989.
"Ball Park Figures," interview with Lorraine Bracco, in Interview (New York), April 1991.
Interview with David Mills, in Washington Post , 21 March 1992.
"One Year Later—A Talk with Edward James Olmos," interview with Laura Meyers in Los Angeles Magazine , April 1993.
Interview with S. Muzaferija, in Ekran (Ljubljana), vol. 18, no. 1–2, 1993.
"A Latino in America," in Film International (Tehran), vol. 3, no. 3, 1995.
On OLMOS: articles—
Aufderheide, Pat, "Reel Life," in Mother Jones (San Francisco), April 1988.
Current Biography 1992 , New York, 1992.
Leo, John, "The Melting Pot Is Cooking," in U.S. News and World Report (Washington, D.C.), 5 July 1993.
Everschor, Franz, "Ein Regisseur in Angst," in Film-dienst (Cologne), 14 September 1993.
Canfield, R. and Joaquin Orale, "Arresting the Dissemination of Violence in ' American Me ,"' in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 22, no. 2, 1994.
Sales, N.J., "Keitel, Olmos, and Bracco's Bitter Custody Battle," in New York Magazine , 25 July 1994.
Lombardi, J., "Scenes from a Bad Movie Marriage," in New York Magazine , 12 January 1998.
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Edward James Olmos is a savvy, street-smart performer who is one of the rare Hispanic Americans to have found major stardom on stage, screen, and television. After years of knocking around Los Angeles playing theater and television roles, his breakthrough came when he was cast in the Los Angeles stage production of Zoot Suit , a stylized musical drama blending fact with fiction. Zoot Suit details the plight of the leader of a gang of Mexican Americans who are about to do time in San Quentin for their part in the zoot suit riots in 1942 Los Angeles. Olmos's role was the pivotal one in the scenario: El Pachuco, a mythical character who is the embodiment of the dashing, self-respecting, virile Latino who so disrupted the complacency of Caucasian Californians back in the 1940s. Olmos offered a dynamic, star-making performance as El Pachuco, playing the role for a year-and-a-half on the Los Angeles and New York stages, and again in the less-than-successful screen adaptation.
Olmos soon was to gain his foothold as a screen actor in a film with which he remains extremely proud: The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez , a turn-of-the-twentieth-century drama about a now-legendary Mexican American, unjustly accused of murder, who manages to elude a 600-man Texas posse. The film was directed by veteran independent filmmaker Robert M. Young, who has become the actor's close friend and colleague. Over the years, they have worked on several projects (from 1977's Alambrista! , in which Olmos had a small role, to 1996's Caught ).
To date, Olmos's best screen role has been in Stand and Deliver , a based-on-fact story featuring a most unusual movie hero: Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian-born computer scientist who relinquished a high-paying job to teach math in an East Los Angeles barrio high school. The bespeckled Escalante's slight paunch and nondescript appearance in no way obscure his intense dedication to his job, as he inspires his young Hispanic charges to pass an Advanced Placement calculus test. Olmos transformed his physical appearance to become Escalante; he gained 40 pounds, and each day endured an excruciating makeup process in order to camouflage his own abundant head of hair. For his efforts, he earned a well-deserved Best Actor Academy Award nomination.
Olmos claims that he often has been offered—and regularly turns down—roles as stereotypical Hispanics, or throwaway parts in mindlessly entertaining Hollywood fare. "If I'd accepted them, I feel I would be compromising myself," he has declared. "I'm only interested in making films that I can be proud to take into my community." Not all of Olmos's films have been of the social-issue variety; he offered sharp performances in Selena , playing the devoted, watchful father of the murdered Tejano singer, and Caught , an atmospheric Postman Always Rings Twice re-working in which he is a long-married fish store proprietor whose life is disrupted when sexual sparks fly between his wife and a drifter. Notwithstanding, many of the actor's roles have been infused with a political consciousness. This certainly is the case with El Pachuco, Gregorio Cortez, and Jaime Escalante. It is true in the TV movie The Burning Season , in which he plays the Brazilian political activist/union leader Wilson Pinheiro, as well as in My Family , a warmhearted multigenerational chronicle of a Mexican-American clan from the 1920s through 1980s. Given Olmos's status as an elder statesman of Latino stars, it is appropriate that his role is that of the narrator, the chronicler of the Sánchez family saga.
Most significantly, this also is the case with the film in which Olmos made his directorial debut: the gritty, realistically rendered American Me. Olmos stars as a character who is the polar opposite of Jaime Escalante: Santana, a career felon and "child of the Pachuco riots of the 1940s." The film opens with a recreation of the zoot suit melee; in this regard, American Me is linked to the time and place depicted in Zoot Suit. Santana becomes immersed in the gang lifestyle while a teenager, and eventually does a lengthy prison stretch. If he starts out as an amateur punk, he earns his professional credentials while incarcerated as he builds his criminal empire from within the California penal system.
American Me does not finger-point at racism as an explanation for the existence of a man such as Santana. Instead, the film offers the character as a by-product of the erosion of society in general. In no way does Olmos idealize his character; the Variety reviewer was on target when he called Santana "one of the least romanticized film gangsters since Paul Muni's Scarface. " Yet despite its good intentions, American Me has been viewed on two levels: as a cautionary tale about contemporary America, that serves to indict the violence and chaos of society; and as a textbook on how to build a criminal empire from scratch. For this reason, it was and remains highly controversial.
Finally, and most impressively, Edward James Olmos is unlike the many actors and sports stars from modest backgrounds who upon attaining celebrityhood have slammed the door on their roots. Not only is he deeply concerned about the way in which Hispanics are depicted on movie screens, but he remains active in a hands-on manner in the East Los Angeles community in which he came of age.