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Interview with Edward James Olmos
5/4/13 at 4:35 PM ET - LatinRapper.com interview by Dante

 

Edward James Olmos interview

Passionate. No other word can better describe Edward James Olmos when he speaks about his latest film and the topic of Latinos in cinema.

 

To hear him talk about Filly Brown, you momentarily forget that this is the actor who earned an Academy Award nod for his performance in Stand and Deliver.  He's no longer the narrating pachuco in Zoot Suit, the stern father in Selena, nor the American Me gang leader. He is simply a man with a burning desire to see Latinos succeed on the silver screen.

 

In Filly Brown, Olmos plays an attorney which the title character solicits for help in freeing her imprisoned mother, portrayed by Jenni Rivera.  Olmos is featured alongside rising actress Gina Rodriguez, cast as the film's aspiring rapper who balances artistic integrity with keeping her family intact.  The famed Mexican-American took a moment to speak with us about the new movie, and his thoughts on Latinos in film.

 

LatinRapper.com: You've been passionate in your promotion of Filly Brown. What initially drew you to this project?

 

The story. It's such an original piece of work. I've never seen a story about a young Latina poet, and the struggles of trying to carry the responsibility of being the matriarch when the mother's not accessible, trying to be an artist.

 

What do you hope that people will take away from their experience of seeing this movie?

 

Hopefully they'll be happy, if they saw the film. That they're moved to a place of thought provoking, humorous feelings. And emotional drama that makes them feel like, wow, what a story.  I think that the story of trying to find unity in a family is pretty hopeful, and one that can be relating to anybody. It could have been an African American, or Asian, or Indigenous or Caucasian family. It's about hope. As soon as you have hope in there, that's what it's all about. Did you see the movie yet?

 

I saw it before it was in theaters.

 

Great. Well I hope you get to see it at a theater, because the experience is so much different, it's ridiculous. Once you see the ending, you realize how incredible the journey was. Because it leads you to a point where... Now that Jenni has passed away, the ending has become almost unbelievable. It hits you so hard, it's ridiculous.  Oh my God, is it powerful. There's not a dry eye in the house now, especially her family, they can't even stand up after the movie's over. Heaving sobs.

 

It's a very strong piece of work that has an incredible climax to it. Most films don't reach their potential because they can't end it. You think that they're going to get to an ending that's pretty much fabricated. This ending is honest to the intent of the film, that the psychological truth blasts you right through the heart.

 

Therefore at the end, you're just sitting there going 'oh my God.' When Gina is singing to her mother and father, and she can't quite finish the song. And everybody seeing this is emotionally moved. And it was only done twice, we shot that scene twice, only two takes. The only reason we did it twice, the first take she stopped the song after singing it to the mother. The directors came in and said, sing the whole thing (laughs). The second time she sang it to her father and stopped, and said what she said at the end.

 

I've told people that if you can sit through the final scene and not be moved, or even to the point of tears, you have no soul.

 

Between the father and the two daughters, and between the mother and the family. Those two scenes back to back completely solidify the journey that one takes. The only movie that I've ever seen that had close to an ending where you realized the whole story was about was The King's Speech.  Which was a brilliant piece of work. At first you think it's the King's speech meaning that the guy can't talk. And then you get the point where you realize, no, the whole movie is driving towards the moment when this king had to speak to the entire country to save its life and bring hope to that country at a  time of the darkest hour of its existence. And he did it. That was a perfect movie because of that.

 

And in this case, it becomes a perfect film. The ending, you're driving towards the unification of this family. You don't know if it's going to make it or not.  It's not a hokey ending. It's so honest to itself, that you say, well this brings hope. You can see that all three of them are there. She's understanding who she is now, the mother. She knows that everybody knows, and that she's got to start anew. And she's starting anew. She walks out, and they're there. 'C'mon guys.' The father kind of smiles. Chrissie Fit's character says 'that was awkward.' It's just a perfect... I was so proud of the filmmakers, Youssef and my son Michael. Gosh darn it, those kids are really good. Very, very good.

 

It reminds me of a film you were you in, My Family. When Jimmy Smits and his son share a moment of understanding. It's the last time I remember seeing something that moving in a Latino film.

 

Yeah. I agree with you, totally agree with you. But this film [Filly Brown] cost $400,000 (laughs). That one cost a lot more. But the idea that these kids could make a film that has that much strength, power and humanity, and it wasn't about money. It's not about money. It's about the story. They have proven in theory that story is everything.

 

You brought up Jenni Rivera. Anyone used to seeing her in Diva de la Banda mode on stage may be surprised by her performance. What do you recall most about your experiences with her on set?

 

(long pause) I think that... Watching an artist of a caliber of a Jenni Rivera, meaning... If you were watching Barbara Streisand, or Frank Sinatra, or Judy Garland, the moment the first time they went in front of a camera.  And they were capable of handling the psychological truths they were handed, the emotions that they were handed, to try to encompass and understand. And had to dive into them, like Jenni did. They hit the highest level of understanding human behavior. And that's what Jenni did. She did it with such incredible, incredible concentration and focus of truth.

 

She was inside the moment. I don't know if you've ever tried, in your life, to see what is it like to try to perform a truth when someone has just said 'Okay go out on the set, okay roll cameras, okay quiet down, and... Action!' I gotta tell you, you want to talk about the most unorganic feeling in the world, it's a set. You have more reality on the stage, once the place starts, and you get a feel for it. On an action, you have to start the intensity of a truth. You watch that [final] scene, and knowing that they only did it twice, you start to realize 'holy s--t, everybody was just so deep in this thing.'

 

And when we were watching it, back behind the camera, all the directors and myself, we sat there. And I said, this is genius. On everybody's part, not just Jenni's. They're going to study this film. And they're going to study it for the last scene, and especially the last two scenes, but the last scene when all four actors are together. And you watch what happens to the people in that scene as it starts to evolve. And how it has its beginning, an incredible buildup, and an incredible climactic ending. And you're just torn apart.

 

And it's just... oh, MAN! Unbelieveable! It is unbelievable. And people won't get it. I've been doing this for over 44 years, and I've got to tell you, it was unbelievable working with Jenni Rivera, and working with these kids. Including Lou Diamond. And I think it's the best role that Lou Diamond's done since going back to Stand and Deliver and La Bamba. He didn't even get this close in La Bamba. He's a much better actor today than he was then. I think it's his best performance.

 

And for Jenni Rivera, it was her best performance of her life. As far as I'm concerned, if the Academy.... If enough excitement is given to this film by the Latino community so that it crosses over.... 'Cause right now - listen to me carefully - we have no visibility in the general market. Nothing. Not one penny has been given towards the general market for marketing of this film. This is only the fourth time in weeks of promotion that I've spoken in English. I have not done local TV, I haven't done any kind of national general market, none of it. I gotta tell you, if this thing works, it's because Latinos have pushed it through to becoming what it's supposed to become. And if they do it, it's the Academy Members saying, 'I've heard about this film.' And the screener goes out and they go 'let me take a look at this, see what everybody's talking about, this ending scene.' They're going to get hooked. 

 

We did Sundance Film Festival. I created Sundance, I was a founding member of the Sundance Institute back in 1978, '79 all the way up to '85. In '83 the Sundance Institute acquired the Park City Film Festival and turned it into the Sundance Film Festival. And for many years it was like the ultimate place for young people to go to watch indie kind of films. But now, here we are twenty something years later. And I gotta tell you, not too many kids can afford to go up there and do that. It's very expensive. The people that live up there get those tickets, so very few non-Utonians get to buy those tickets.

 

So when we opened that, 95% of the audience was over the age of 40, and they were Caucasian. There were very few young people, teenagers, 18 to 20 to 35 year olds, very few, at the opening of that film. It was 550 seats, it was eight o'clock in the morning. And I said, holy mackerel, this is going to be a real experience. My God.

 

I sat in the back in the very last row, because I wanted to watch the audience. I watched it sixty times with audiences all over the country. And each one of them rides it in their own way. Sure enough, this one was no different. We started to take the ride and the journey, nobody got up, nobody left. That was a good feeling. There was some laughter, especially around Chingo Bling. Once they got to know him, they found him to be humorous. They were taken aback by the moments when Gina, Filly Brown got angry at the boy that was with her sister.

 

At the end of the movie, there was a lot of people that were crying. My son and Youssef walked down and stood in front of the audience, and they stood up and gave them a standing ovation. And I said, wow. (laughs). I cannot believe this. I cannot believe I'm watching this. Because I know very well what this means. That it's a film that touches humanity. It will play in China as well as it will play in Mexico, as well as it will play in London. People will feel the strength of the humanity that's being represented. That's all you could ever ask for.

 

Will people really turn up to see it? I don't think so, because there's no awareness of it. You ask somebody that's not Latino if they've ever heard of Filly Brown, they're going to say, 'excuse me?' They're not going to know what you're talking about. Very few, unless they got it off the internet. Because the social media is really on it, that's a big strength on the piece.

 

There's been a lot of chatter on Twitter on Facebook. People all over the world have been saying, 'when is it going to come over here?'  To Germany, and France, and Mexico, Central America, South America, they're all wondering 'when is it going to get to us?' And for each one Tweet that asks that question, you have at least ten thousand people who are in the same boat saying 'I'd like to see it.'  As of right now, I think that the film itself has a great journey to take. It's just a small little independent film.

 

Pete Herrera, who our readers know as Chingo Bling, is an established rapper who made his first big-screen film appearance in Filly Brown. Did you have an opportunity to offer him any tips?

I just watched Chingo Bling come alive when he started to work.  He ate it up. Complete and total pro! He is one of the high points of the film. A great reality maker. I was so honored to work with him.

 

On a related music note, American Me is a cult classic amongst many rappers. You even appeared in the Snoop Dogg and B-Real video for "Vato." How often are you approached by artists who praise you for your work in American Me or other movies?

A lot of people identify with American Me. I get requests to participate in different events because of it. Very special and powerful piece that has a life of its own. Also say the same for Stand and Deliver and Zoot Suit, Walkout, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, Mi Familia to mention some others, and now Filly Brown.

 

Earlier you brought up Latinos and movies. Latinos are the largest minority in America, around 16% of the population. But according to the MPAA, Latinos watch more movies than any group in America. With those numbers, why do you think Black-interest dramas still do better at the box office than Latino movies?

 

Because I think that the Latino really enjoys the big box office hits. I think that it's very well established that the entertainment business, especially film business, doesn't have to cater to the Latino. It just has to make the Latino aware that the movie is there. The Latino will go see an African American or a Caucasian or an Asian or anybody that's in a high-powered movie. I think that there will come a time when we will have high-powered movies that are driven by Latinos, then all hell's going to break loose. That's when you're going to see the numbers going through the roof. That's when they're going to turn around and say, you know what, this is really good.

 

We have a couple of very difficult films that are coming up that I hope are good. I haven't seen them yet, so I don't know what's happening. But one of them is the life story of Cesar Chavez. I don't know what the quality of that film is going to be like. Michael Peña leads that picture. Michael, I used him ten years back in a thing called Walkout. He did a brilliant job, he pushed his career consistently forward. He's been a supporting player for a long time now in major pieces of work. A piece of work, say playing an iconic figure like Cesar Chavez, he's never done it.

 

He did a great job as Sal Castro. Who, may God rest his soul, passed away a couple of weeks ago. That was the story of Walkout. I directed him in that, that story was an incredible story. If you have never seen that movie, you have to see it, it was made for HBO. But Michael is probably, maybe the biggest hope we have. Outdoing anybody in recent memory. Even Andy Garcia, myself, or anybody. Because he's right on time. If he can capture the right roles, the right stories, he can bring an incredible change in the construct of the ability for Latinos to lead pictures.

 

Once one of us breaks through in that manner... I broke through pretty strongly in American Me, Zoot Suit, and also Stand and Deliver. But there were still films that were basically not the major blockbuster. American Me I think was a 19 million dollar movie. At that moment in time, back in 1991, that was a lot of money to be spending on a Latino themed film. It made its money back and then some.

 

It's interesting, La Bamba, Selena, those films were almost dismissed as one of a kind. One was about Richie Valens, the other was about Selena. American Me was the Mexican Mafia, done by Edward Olmos, so it's a little different. But it's not been easy for me to continue to make films about Latinos, let me tell you. But the blockbusters like The Fast and Furious Part 6, that opening weekend I'll bet you over 57 to 58 percent of everybody that goes to see that movie will be Latino. Michelle Rodriguez... And Vin Diesel, whose a mixture. He's not pure bred anything. I think that the Caucasian community kind of claims him, but I think he's more ethnic than he is pure blood Caucasian, either Irish or German or Swedish. I don't think he even knows what he is.

 

The biggest mistake that has been made recently was Argo. Ben Affleck playing the role of Argo, Tony Mendez. Big mistake. He should have gotten Peña, or myself, or Andy to play that role, and he would have hit a bigger grand slam home run. He won all kinds of accolades anyway, but what he didn't win was the Actor's award of any kind. Because basically, what did he do? He didn't play the character. He had no sense of the cultural dynamic of the character he was playing. It's kind of like, what? It's like playing Irish and not having any feel for the Irish at all. You sit there and go, 'well, this is not a very good performance.' 

 

And so that's what this was. It was lacking in the cultural dynamic of the character. Which is basic. I mean, who is this character? That's the first question you ask yourself when you're developing this character. Who is this person. Oh, he happens to be a Mexican-American. Oh. Well, what makes him that way? (laughs) He likes to eat certain foods. I'm sure that f--king Tony Mendez loves Mexican food. I'm sure of it. Because they could have at least had him eating a taco. ANYTHING to show that he was Latino in any respect. He's nothing. Not a thing.

 

He actually went the other way from it. He made him nondescript, which is even worse. You didn't even know that the guy was Latin. Most people saw the movie NEVER knew that the guy was Latin. Even after hearing him say that, yeah his name was Tony Mendez, they still didn't take him as being Latin. And that was one of the all time great, the highest ranking CIA agent we ever had, Latino. Who saved the lives of all those people. And what a courageous man he is, the guy is incredible. We have a long way to go, but it's coming closer and closer to becoming a reality.
 

Edward Omos official website: http://www.edwardjamesolmos.com

Edward Omos on Twitter: https://twitter.com/edwardjolmos

Edward Omos on Facebook: www.facebook.com/EdwardJOlmos

Filly Brown movie website: http://www.fillybrown.com

 

 




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