Edward James Olmos sings praises of discipline in IU Cinema lecture

By Abby Tonsing | The Herald-Times

Saturday, April 5, 2014

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Edward James Olmos to visit IU as part of annual Latino Film Festival and Conference
Award-winning actor and filmmaker Edward James Olmos will deliver a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture and will also introduce his 2001 film "In the Time of Butterflies," at the IU Cinema on Apr. 4.

Starting with a nightclub gig in 1964, Edward James Olmos did not take a day off for eight years. No holidays, no birthdays, not a single sick day.

Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. It takes discipline to excel in anything, the actor, producer, humanitarian and environmental activist said Friday afternoon during a Jorgensen Guest Lecture at the Indiana University Cinema as part of the Latino Film Festival and Conference.

He grew up wanting to be a baseball player, and said it took discipline to build his strength and talent at the plate.

Captivated by rock and roll, Olmos hung up his cleats and approached his commitment to being a performer just as he did in playing ball. Discipline and hard work.

He recalled his first performance of improvisational theater in his first acting class during his first semester at East Los Angeles College. Alone on the stage, he portrayed a prisoner during an interrogation. He cried, fell from his chair to the ground.

“I found that it was easier for me to say words with an incredible amount of understanding and passion than it was to sing,” he said.

Olmos’ portrayal of El Pachuco in “Zoot Suit,” which started in small theaters and advanced to Broadway and a Tony Award nomination, was a career changer.

“I was very fortunate from that moment on to be able to create all of my characters. I had artistic control of my life,” Olmos said. “When you hire me, you hire me with the artistic control.”

It’s the artistic control that Olmos brings to his work that leads to bold expressions of his social visions, said lecture moderator Chon Noriega, director of the University of California-Los Angeles’ Chicano Studies Research Center.

“We don’t have enough Eddies,” Noriega said. “He expands our way of looking at what humanity is.”

For “Wolfen,” Olmos said he did not take his role of Eddie Holt without sanction from the American Indian movement.

For Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” Olmos turned five or six scenes with little dialogue into the multicultural character of Gaff, who speaks in a street lingo that mixes several languages, from Spanish to Hungarian.

Olmos said director Scott was strong enough to allow him to grow as an actor, as were those he collaborated with on “Miami Vice” and the Syfy channel’s “Battlestar Galactica.”

The list goes on and on.

Olmos’ portrayal of real-life math teacher Jaime Escalante in “Stand and Deliver.” “American Me,” which Olmos said took 18 years to make.  “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez,” a film the United States Historical Society considers as documented fact.

Asked by an audience member to share his thoughts on Latino youth, Olmos said that today’s youth, in general, are stronger and have more access to learning because of technological advances.

He expressed a larger concern for people of all ages.

“We still haven’t crossed over to understanding the power of diversity,” he said. “The fact that we are one race, the human race, and inside that race are other cultures.”