Eric: Hi, I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy and in this episode, we bring you the Oscar-nominated Edward James Olmos
— We’re a long way from home. We’ve jumped way beyond the red line into uncharted space.
There are some people in this world who will assume that you know less than you do because of your name and your complexion.
So say we all – So say we all! – So say we all – So say we all! – So say we all – So say we all!
You’re acting like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. What’s wrong with you guys!?
You bet she won’t live, but then again who does? —
Eric: A true renaissance man. He has starred in Stand and Deliver, Battlestar Galactica, and Blade Runner. He’s directed American Me. He’s produced and he even plays music. But before all that Mr. Olmos paid his dues for years as a struggling actor you know the main thing is time.
Edward Olmos: You need time. So right now when you’re in the process of understanding your growth is where you’d take the time to develop discipline. Discipline, determination, perseverance and the key ingredient to all of this is patience. You must be willing to give yourself the time to learn it and the time to do it. And a lot of people get really frustrated after ten years and I did 14 years of theater before I got my first paycheck. I worked seven days a week from 1960 when I was 14. I work today seven days a week. Even when I go on vacation. I’m either thinking about it doing it. Or reading about it or watching it. Something to do with my craft. And never let it go. And you know I learned that from playing baseball when I was playing baseball.
I ended up being very good at a very young age. I was very good. I mean I didn’t I couldn’t catch a ball at the age of six. They throw it to me and it hit me. I couldn’t catch it. And then I started to play it every day. Seven days a week not six not five not four seven big difference and people say to me “how is that possible that you could sit there and say to us that you did something seven days a week?” I said it’s pretty easy.
You do it every day because you have to. Don’t question someone when they say to you I love doing this. I have the discipline to do the things I love to do when I don’t feel like doing them.
Learn that hell you could do this every day because you love doing that even on the day that you don’t feel like doing it. You do it. And on that day you get the most out of it the day. I don’t feel like doing something and I do it. I learned much more than on the day that I feel like doing it. Matter of fact today at the age of 65 it’s harder for me to find days that I don’t feel like doing it. And I look for those days on those days when I don’t feel like doing it. And I go off and I do it I go all right. God, I wouldn’t have realized this. This is a great day. That.
Makes you a consummate artist, a master. And anybody can do it. All of us can become masters and we each touch it differently. If I had 18 people do the same exact part everybody would touch it differently. And that’s the beauty of living.
We all have our own thumbprint.
Eric: Mr. Olmos learned from some of the masters of the craft. And after all this time he still enjoys the process of discovery that comes with each role.
Edward Olmos: You know I’ve been very fortunate. I passionately have loved everything that I’ve done with passion and that really is the key.
I’ve been offered work and I could have been a lot richer and a lot more famous really could have had I done the things that they wanted me to do. But it didn’t have the passion for it. And so I let fame and fortune go. And even though they want to pay me lots of money I just said I can’t do this. I really wish I could. I wish it was that great of an artist that I could just do anything I wanted to do. And anything that’s offered to me I could do it but that’s not how it works. You really have to understand it as well and you understand the food you eat if you eat fast food all the time and that’s all you do you don’t even think about what you’re eating. It’s over. You’ll be dead. Real quick a lot quicker than a person who really tries to understand the value of the food that they’re eating and really make it that you know the eating is the key.
Like drinking this you got to drink this a lot every day. If you don’t it’s OK. There might be a year two years three years you can get through with the way you’re doing it. But soon your kidneys shut down you don’t understand why you’re feeling the way you feel and your body’s giving up. You also need that for the soul in which you work with in the art form. If you do not have that passion for it. You know. Why are you going to do it. What are you getting out of it.
The experience. It’s better to experience something that. You have passion for it than something you don’t. So I turned around I said to myself I’m not going to do it this way. Granted I’m not known throughout the world. Granted I turned down some major major pieces of work but it gave me the opportunity to create things that I could have never done had I done it the other way.
I’ve been very specific.
Eric: The always reliable internet claims that Mr Olmos turned down the role of Picard in Star Trek Next Generation. Fortunately, Mr almost did not turn down his greatest role.
Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver.
— This is basic math but basic math is too easy for you burros. We will go step by step, inch by inch. Calculus was not made to be easy it already is.
Maybe they all made the same mistakes because they all had the same teacher teaching them the same program. I taught them step by step, all the same way.
Those scores would’ve never been questions if my kids did nt have Spanish surnames and come from barrio schools, you know that!–
It’s the inspirational true story of a math teacher in a poor East L.A. school who proved his students could pass the AP Calculus exam. Thirty years after the movie came out its message and impact has only grown.
Edward Olmos: Now this film has got a really interesting reputation.
But it’s been seen by it’s the most viewed film of any film in the history of film in the United States. It beat Gone With The Wind and Avatar will never catch up to it. It’s just impossible. It’s the reason being is that more than half of all the children in high school have seen it because it’s shown in. High schools across the country. So it’s been millions and millions of kids that see it. I find it to be interesting because it’s something that once you see this film and they usually show in the classroom and then the teacher gets up in front of the class to teach right after seeing this film I think it’s quite brave of the teacher. Because it’s a really difficult journey after that. I mean this guy really really made a difference in the final year that he taught. He’s teaching in Sacramento. And the final final year he taught he taught 250 kids. Prepared them for the AP calculus test. That’s one teacher. And you know that’s a lot of kids in one year to get ready to take your advanced placement test.
Eric: When capturing the character Mr. Olmos got indispensable advice from the man himself.
Edward Olmos: Something that happened in 1983. I was. Given a major award by the NAACP and they had given it to me for humanitarian of the year and they gave the best teacher of the year to Jaime. And in May is when this happened by June they had gotten the results and so they went on to you know celebrate and he became a celebrity. I mean it was a shot heard round the world that you know 18 kids from East L.A. inner city school going out and doing this and having some of the highest scores of all time in the history of the test. And so it really everybody was in Nirvana and then about.
I’d say about six weeks later we became friends and we talked and you know he’s a wonderful man. I’m so grateful that I had some time to to practice my art before I had that responsibility because that responsibility was amazing. It was a really important. He was there every day. Yeah he helped me write the script. We rewrote the script in six days. It’s quite amazing. This man was a total genius and his genius came out.
I would ask him a question I said what happened to you when you had the heart attack. He says Wow man I and he acted it out. I hit my arm and I was kind of like going down and I hit the and I did exactly what he told me to do I did the same thing and fell on my face and my my head went into the ground. He said I slid down the steps and my all the way to my face hit hit the ground. I said OK.
There we go. One take guys let’s do it. We did it one take.
I couldn’t couldn’t do it again. I mean it was dangerous. I mean you see it you see me and I go right to the ground and stay there. When he got out of the hospital you know he was supposed to stay there a while he only stayed there 48 hours two days and he came right out. And then when he came out he says I said well what did you do. He goes went straight to the school. I said oh my god. And what did you do. Well I walked to the door and I go. Hey me conguros, how are you doing. I got conguros he says yeah Kangaroos. That’s what I call them. And so I said OK here we go. And then he said. And then what did you do. He says well I told them to line up against the wall like a snake. OK. I mean who could write that shit. Think about it.
That’s why it holds up as soon as you use a solid understanding of truth inside of this medium which is really the documentation of human behavior dramatized so it’s fiction but it’s dramatized and as soon as you use it in this manner and you’re really honest to them to the situation it’s timeless.
Once I met him and once we started into this. And then when it happened and they were accused of cheating. It was devastating. And they got more publicity on the fact that they were cheaters than they had gotten by passing the examination. So that really became the issue. So as soon as that happened I called him up and we got together and we got the right to do the movie for a dollar. So we paid him a dollar. We had no money. Give me a buck. Let’s go for it. He made a lot of money of the picture in the end because we worked out a deal here. It takes time. And the key ingredient is just the quality of that story that you want to tell. What is the story that you’re telling. How much passion do you have for it and then from that moment on you have to sell it.
— The students will live to the level of expectations senor Molina. Ganas, that’s all we need is ganas.
Do you have the desire, do you have the ganas? – Yes, I have the ganas? – Do want me to do it for you? Yes! -You’re supposed to say no!
Don’t five them any opportunity to call you cheaters. You are the true dreamers. And dreams accomplish wonderful things. —
Eric: The students in Stand and Deliver showed the ganas needed to succeed which is also a good lesson for navigating Hollywood.
Edward Olmos: The story was fantastic. I mean here’s a teacher in the middle of an inner city school. This guy taught these kids how to do this and this is not easy and hardly anyone believed in them. Very few people even their own parents believed that they could do this. And the school teaches the other school teachers the head of the mathematics department all the whole story it’s about a story And then the guy.
Helps them he gets them there and they accuse him of cheating because they didn’t miss enough. Yeah they didn’t miss enough. They should be given you know awards. It should be you know for not missing and they go no no no no in this case not only did they not cheat but he had one day 24 hours to prepare the kids to take a test in August after they finished taking the test in May.
And he started from page 1 of the book. And so my. Whole understanding was it was a great story and that’s what drove me. Did you guys see walk walkout.
What a movie what a story. Took us 10 years to make that movie. Anybody see American me. 18 years to make that story.
Caught anybody caught. Maria Conchita Alonzo. 27 years. I’ve been working on one story for 30 years and I pray to God that I’ll be able to complete it. The story on Roy Benavides a Medal of Honor winner. I developed that here once and they don’t get it. They just don’t get it. They don’t realize that what really is needed to self-esteem self-respect and self-worth. You put that into infuse that into a student you infuse that into people and they don’t hurt themselves. They don’t get themselves into trouble because they like themselves they don’t want to hurt anybody. They don’t want anybody to hurt them. They don’t want to hurt anybody. But if you lack in self-esteem self-respect and self worth then you look for trouble. And then you don’t mind inflicting harm on others. That’s a given it that knowledge and we need heroes. We need women heroes.
We need ethnic heroes who made this country. White people I’m white I’m half white half brown. I mean I’m a mestizo. I’m a mixture a Mexican is half indigenous and half European. There was no Mexicans before the Europeans impregnated the culture. OK. None. And people say whoa your’e getting really really harsh here.
It’s like shocking. Is this guy guys you know is this guy. Prejudice or discriminatory this guy. No I’m not. What I am is is frustrated.
I’m trying to do a story on it. On a Latin hero and I was lucky I got to do this one. This is a Latino hero and a national hero. Like Roy Benavides. I mean he’s got ships named after him he’s one of the great Medal of Honor winners of all time.
I may not be able to make it because 30 years is a long time trying to make a movie.
Eric: When asked about being typecast Mr. Olmos stressed his Latino pride while pointing out the double standard in how some actors are labeled.
Edward Olmos: I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t feel that it’s a.
Difficult position to be in to be Latino or to be anything really and play those roles. There’s so much to be said inside of this art form that to play those roles which have never been played before. No one’s ever made a zoot suit. No one’s ever made a ballad a Grigorio Cortez or a stand and deliver. These are the first films that have ever been made about Latinos. You know the culture doing any of this work and it gets a little frustrating you know so I don’t mind spending my entire life and I never have inside of my culture just telling stories from my cultural point of view it’s I am Latino. So what they going to call me a Latino actor a lot of people don’t like the hyphen. Because they feel that it limits them.
Can you imagine somebody going up to Robert De Niro and saying ladies and gentlemen that great Italian American actor Robert De Niro. Oh the great Jewish American actor Dustin Hoffman. But they do say that you know son of a bitch. Actor Latino actor Edward James Olmos they do that. They do do that. They they put Latino in front of my name all the time. And that’s OK for me. I’m very proud of my heritage and my culture. The people who are afraid of being categorized as a Latino. They’ve got to take a look at themselves and really look at the possibilities of creating characters because every time I create a character that becomes me and everybody goes oh I saw you man you’re your Adama or gosh I say Dexter you are so I loved you on Dexter I say how could you love me.
On Dexter you’re sick. I mean if you came to me and said I hated you and Dexter made you were like it’s crazy man but it.
Had to have a sense of understanding of itself totally it could not just be a gratuitous or romanticized glamorized piece of work. I can’t do that. My aesthetic doesn’t allow me to do that.
Eric: When comparing two of his most iconic roles Admiral Adama in Battlestar Galactica and Lieutenant Castillo in Miami Vice Mr. Olmos found unlikely inspiration in one of his other passions music.
Edward Olmos: I think Adama and Battlestar Galactica was really really complex character and my character in that character in Miami Vice.
Completely different kinds of characters. But you know the way I developed those characters was through music. I have to find the music or I have to create the music I sang Rock and Roll for since 1960 I was a rock n roll singer is great I was really really bad.
Rock n Roll allows you to do anything you want to do it’s rock and roll. So I started singing rock n roll in 1960. I’ll never forget my father he freaked out. My father did not talk to me for two years because I stopped doing baseball seven days a week. I just stopped cold turkey put my cleats down one day never picked them up again. I went to right next door to my neighbor’s house who he played guitar the year was 1960. That was before the Beatles before the stones and we were playing and just like this is fun this is fun and we did it every day seven days a week instead of playing ball.
It was in the garage playing singing you know songs. And I couldn’t sing and I still can’t sing I really can’t sing but I can scream and I can dance. So I would like scream sing a little bit and then I’d scream and then I’d dance for like 10 minutes.
And with that music became an integral part of my understanding of my life. And when I graduate from high school in 1964 I went into my first year of college which was at East Los Angeles Community College not Harvard Yale East LA Community College.
Yes East LA college.
I went there because I was dyslexic but I didn’t know I was dyslexic I didn’t find out I was dyslexic two my children were diagnosed with dyslexia. Then I found out that I had it they didn’t know what it was they thought I was just lazy lazy or dumb. I chose lazy said I’m lazy bust my ass I get a C. It was really hard but it didn’t matter. Because again the discipline got me through it. When I went into college in 1964.
It went from music to theater and from theater into television and motion picture. But in that process every time I got a character I started to look for the characters music. And as soon as I found the music for the character I knew the character. There is some very basic roots that you have to keep you know. Know where you’re coming from.
Know where you are know where are you going don’t bump into the furniture.
Simple things that you must do. The basics that always come about. Music is one of them for me. So I do all my basic that are always the same going getting into any character and then whatever the character needs then I go for that.
I have to do research because sometimes you know you don’t have enough time. You have to have time and sometimes you get to job and in television especially you go for audition on Thursday and Monday you start work and you have to come up with a character and you have to be able to understand that character and put it on film. Basically it’s music. Music is the key for my whole existence in filmmaking.
Eric: Mr. Olmos warned our students that the wrong attitude and an oversized ego can cause countless problems for a working actor.
Edward Olmos: Ego big one.
Can’t do it without one. That’s the issue. The issue is how do you maintain it. How do you control it. How do you you know make sure that you’re working off a centered. Understanding not an egotistical understanding that in turn will. Pretty much drive you crazy. You get so full of yourself. Pretty soon you’ll believe everything they say about you and then you get to the point where you can’t even go outside because you just I can’t go outside. People often ask me How do you walk through an airport. I go put one foot in from the other. No no way. Don’t you have to. Don’t people bother you. I said no they don’t. People come up. And they’ll talk to you but you know they don’t bother you.
And if I hadn’t done this work you guys wouldn’t know who I am I could walk in the room and you would give a shit who cares. So I’ve asked for the attention. It’s not like I didn’t ask for it. I made myself hey look at me. I can act I can walk. I can run I can dance and I cause the attention and a lot of people get a lot of attention. You know Tom Cruise and everybody they get tons of attention. You know when Jennifer Lopez got all of her attention. I was with her when she could walk down the street.
And now she can’t. And I feel bad for her.
I said why can’t you walk down the street. Oh Eddie man I’m you man. When I walk down the street people are going nuts I said Yeah well maybe you should try to understand why they’re doing that. And how do you get past that. I remember when Don Johnson got his bodyguards and then I heard somebody say boy there will be a day when he won’t need the bodyguards and nobody’s going to tell him. Wow that’s really.
That’s really interesting. Better not to get body guard than to get bodyguards and all of a sudden find out you don’t really need them you’re still walking around with them. here he comes.
But you know I understand that some of us get to a level where it really I mean you walk into a room and people just fall over themselves they just can’t even talk to you. People come up to me and they cannot talk to me. They start to cry and they want to thank me but they can’t say it. They just stand there and they’re crying and they’re trying to talk but they’re so overwhelmed because I’ve done something to them in their lives and they created this so I could either turn around and say Please get yourself together. Really interesting ego or the same ego going. Thank you so much different.
Both ego both saying in themselves OK I know who I am and you know not acting like you know what what’s wrong what happened. You know you really understand what you’re doing. I have an ego a big one.
You know and it’s with me all the time. But I tend to understand it enough to be able to say to people first I’m grateful you must be grateful for just getting up in the morning really but you must be grateful. Sitting in this room I don’t know how you got here. Think about how you chose your line of work.
How you chose to be here and do this. What got you here.
What gave you the feeling that you could do this whatever that was. It’s pumping your ego.
Because you’re being successful at it and if you keep on doing this you’re going to say well I mean I remember I came from new jersey or I came from you know from Kansas or whatever and I couldn’t you know I didn’t know what a camera was or I didn’t know how to act. Now I’m they like me and I’m doing good. Well yeah. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Yes I am.
So you know basically how do you deal with an ego you deal with it you deal with it and you try to be a nice person. And don’t forget where you come from. Be grateful everyday man thankful when you go to sleep.
Grateful when you wake up.
Eric: When discussing how to succeed in the entertainment industry. He stressed that actors shouldn’t just wait for the perfect role.
Edward Olmos: You should all produce your own movies.
Serious as a heart attack anybody who wants to be in this industry I’m telling you right now become a producer produce your own films so that you can act on them so you can write them so you can develop them so you can create them so you can direct them. I produce direct act and write my own stories and out of necessity.
It wasn’t like I wanted to do it. It’s just a necessity to do my acting. There was no way that me a Latino in 1963 64 when all there was I think there was three Latinos that were recognized at that moment in time. And even today today the minorities.
Have the hardest time. And we always know that it’s a given. But that’s changing. That’s why it’s so important what you’re doing – especially the women. I see a lot of women in here that’s really important for you to realize that you’re hitting it right at the right time. Educate yourself to the fullest have the understanding and the confidence to move forward in your craft. And the only people I know that haven’t made it are the ones who quit. Everybody that stays in it makes choices is yours.
Eric: In other words, don’t wait for your shot make your own. Thank you to Edward James Olmos for talking with our students and thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was written by me Eric Conner based on the guest speaker series produced and moderated by Tova Laiter. The episode was edited and mixed by Christian hated Kristian Hayden produced by David Andrew Nelson Christian Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Jean Sherlock. Dan Mackler and Tova Laiter a special thanks to Aerial Segard Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple podcasts see you next time and Mr. Olmos. What do you need.