Edward James Olmos is an actor whose shirts have spoken volumes. As Lieutenant Castillo in Miami Vice, it was the short-sleeve white business shirt that his character always wore with a thin black tie, a never-changing costume that spoke to the steadiness of his character, his refusal to be distracted from the necessities of his job. As the real-life math teacher Jaime Escalante, who heroically set out to prove his Latino students could do better than the school system expected them to, in Stand and Deliver, Olmos wore a mind-boggling collection of ugly print shirts. They were the mark of the teacher as performer, prodding, seducing, cajoling, wheedling his class to achieve what even they thought they could not but that he knew they could. It says something about how long it has taken Latino actors to become visible in movies and television that Olmos was around for a long time before becoming recognizable. He starred in the stage production Zoot Suit and later in Luis Valdez’s legendary film of the play. He also played the lead in The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, and was one of Harrison Ford’s associates, fashioning little origami birds, in Blade Runner. This interview takes place shortly after the release of Olmos’s film American Me, an epic of a dysfunctional Latino family and the creation of crime gangs within the California penal system. Throughout, Olmos talks about his desire to bring new Latino images to the forefront of American movies, his sense of how that quest has progressed, and how far it has to go.
Edward James Olmos
Apr 5, 1992
Discussions with creative figures in film, television, and digital media—formerly the Pinewood Dialogues—made possible with a generous grant from the Pannonia Foundation.