Interview with Edward
5/4/13 at 4:35 PM ET - LatinRapper.com 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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