Edward James Olmos has the air of an elder statesman, one accustomed to having to explain matters to people, especially important basics of Latinos’ contributions, culture and history. Long an activist, from doing simple acts of volunteerism — such as picking up a broom to clean up Los Angeles after the Rodney King riots — to consistently working with youth over the decades, Olmos, 71, founded the Youth Cinema Project, which has taught thousands of kids how to create films.
That elder statesman vibe is partially because Olmos has been at this for so long, trying to bridge gaps in a world where far too often Hispanics are portrayed as gang members. “The stereotype is predominant,” he says. “It is an aspect of our culture, the only one that gets any play.”
On FX’s Mayans M.C., Olmos plays butcher Felipe Reyes, who owns his own business. Wearing a bloodstained apron, he’s shrouded in a burden of sadness.
“He’s a father — a simple yet very complex dad who tried desperately hard to build a balanced and constructive life,” Olmos says of his character. “But his past comes back and his children have taken their own negativity and violence and drugs.
Though he has brought so many characters to life on shows including Miami Vice and Battlestar Galactica, and in the movie Stand and Deliver, Olmos has a dream role. “More than anything, I would like to make a film about a Latino Medal of Honor winner,” he says.
His voice is gravelly and intimate, somewhere between a whisper and a growl, as he answers our “7 Questions.”
- What were a few of the jobs you had before you got into acting? I had a deal as a rock ’n’ roll singer many years ago and supported myself and put myself through college. I still do it.
- What’s a movie you can watch repeatedly? Stand and Deliver [for which Olmos was nominated for an Oscar]. It is such a powerful usage of the medium. That man was such an inspiration. He was such a good human being.
- What are three foods you have to have in your fridge or pantry? Fruit, vegetables, beans.
- What is your most prized possession? My life.
- What was your biggest splurge? I gave my children and as many of my siblings’ children as possible the opportunity to go to school.
- Tell us about a time you were starstruck. With [actor] Mario Moreno. He was “Cantinflas,” and I admired him.
- If you could invite a handful of people (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be? Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Jesus, Mother Teresa.
Season 2 of Mayans M.C. premieres on FX September 3 at 10pm/9c