Edward James Olmos: Hispanic Heritage Month Actor Highlights

On the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month 2021, we celebrate veteran actor, filmmaker, and activist Edward James Olmos.

Chuck Walton

By Chuck Walton

Edward James Olmos American Me

© Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

He's been a presence in the entertainment industry for more than 45 years. He's an Academy Award nominee, Golden Globe Award winner, Emmy Award winner, and ALMA Award winner. And he's an actor, filmmaker, and activist extraordinaire. On the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month, we're privileged to honor Edward James Olmos.

How You Know Him

Action aficionados and '80s tv fans know Edward James Olmos as the often silent, always authoritative, and ultracool Lieutenant Castillo on "Miami Vice." Millennials and modern sci-fi fans know him as Commanding Officer William Adama on the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica" (2004-2009).

(c)Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

(c)Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

Film buffs know him as the real-life teacher Jaime Escalante in the excellent "Stand and Deliver." And others will always recall him as the enigmatic Detective Gaff in "Blade Runner" and "Blade Runner 2049." He's also the patriarchal figures in two landmark Hispanic history films – "Selena" and "My Family/Mi Familia." Plus, he cuts an impressive and dangerous figure in the gangster classic "American Me."

His Life So Far

Olmos has been a proud representative of Hispanic heritage his entire life. He was born and grew up in East Los Angeles. His dad was a Mexican immigrant, and his mom was Mexican American. While Olmos originally saw himself becoming a pro baseball player, he switched to the arts in his teens. Music became his passion, and Olmos was the lead singer of a band called "Pacific Ocean."

In the 70s, Olmos extended into acting. His major break came as narrator "El Pachuco" in a stage production called "Zoot Suit." The story revolves around the conflicts between Mexican Americans and police in California during the World War II era. The play moved on to Broadway, and Olmos was nominated for a Tony Award.

By the early '80s, the actor appeared in several key indie and cult films. They included "Wolfen," "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez," and Ridley Scott's epic sci-fi vision, "Blade Runner." Then, from 1984 to 1989, Olmos became an icon of cool on Michael Mann's "Miami Vice." Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were the headliners as MTV-era cops. But Olmos, as their mild-mannered, less-is-stronger supervisor, left a mighty impression on an entire generation.

He followed that up with an Oscar-nominated turn as East L.A. teacher Jaime Escalante in "Stand and Deliver." The role was the exact opposite of Lt. Castillo. Wearing a bald headcap, and ill-fitting clothes, Olmos transformed into the eccentric, energized math teacher who inspires his students. The actor in turn won the Indie Spirit Award for Best Male Lead.

©New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

©New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

Over the next few decades, the actor kept up a high profile. He starred opposite Jennifer Lopez in director Gregory Nava's brilliant films "Selena" and "My Family/Mi Familia." He took over as Commander Adama in the 21stcentury version of "Battlestar Galactica." And he continued to appear in impressive, rich, cultural entertainments such as Pixar's "Coco."

At the same time, Olmos remained steadfast in his activism. He's been particularly active for causes related to the Hispanic community. After the 1992 riots, Olmos was seen cleaning up areas devastated by the looting. In 1998, he also founded Latino Public Broadcasting, dedicated to issues of significance for Latinos. He is currently the chairman.

The Movie to See

(c)Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

(c)Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

While we previously recommended Olmos films "My Family/Mi Familia" and "Coco," we can't say enough about "Stand and Deliver." It is a genuine representation of life for high schoolers in East LA during the 1980s. Edward James Olmos lights up the screen as unorthodox instructor Jaime Escalante. And he's aided by an outstanding supporting cast, including a young Lou Diamond Phillips. "Stand and Deliver" is a rousing, inspiring, feel-good movie that has it all – great characters, wonderful script and an unforgettable lead performance. It's a film and message worth championing.

Stand and Deliver Poster

Stand and Deliver



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What's Up Next

While Olmos' next projects have yet to be announced, we highly recommend checking out his 2021 feature "Walking with Herb." It's a gentle comedy-drama about an amateur golfer who receives a timely computer screen message from God. Olmos, who also executive produces, co-stars with veteran performers George Lopez and Kathleen Quinlan.

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Chuck Walton

Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.

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