At 9 years old, I knew who Edward James Olmos was. My mom, though Peruvian, came of age in Los Angeles surrounded by Chicano culture, and fell in love with a Mexican man (my dad). She constantly told me about the film “Zoot Suit” and the history of Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles. The history was a part of us, she would say, and would always be. So that Spring of 1988, when “Stand and Deliver” was released, I learned all about Edward James Olmos and how inspiring he was. He fought for Latinos, and worked to bring our stories, our culture and history, to mainstream audiences. And 30 years later, he is still doing so…with his voice as “Chicharon” in Pixar’s “Coco.”
To say that getting a chance to sit down with Edward James Olmos is an honor, is an understatement. He is kind, humble, and above all, a true artist and advocate of Latinos. Here is what the American Icon had to say about working with Pixar, Latino reprentation in film, and more.
I did the early press day up at Pixar, and I got to talk to the filmmakers and animators on the film. The thing that struck me is how careful they were being with the story. They did this with so much love, with respect, and said that it was a love letter to Mexico and it’s people. When you read the script, was there anything that you added, like to your character, or just said something like, you know, “Someone from Mexico would say it like this,” or maybe, “Add this.”
Edward James Olmos: I didn’t even have to. By the time I got involved, they had done the research, and they had really gotten into understanding the story really well. I never saw the whole script. You know, they keep it pretty tight. And they told me about the story, but they didn’t tell me the whole story.
It doesn't feel like enough to say that sitting down with Edward James Olmos was an honor. His work has been part of my life as long as I can remember, from #ZootSuit to "Stand and Deliver" to "American Me" to #Selena and more, this man is an American icon who couldn't be more humble, kind and generous. Gracias Señor Olmos! Interview will be up soon! #PixarCoco #pixar #edwardjamesolmos
You’re a legend, and I personally consider you an icon. Everybody knows who you are and you’ve done it all- movies, TV, sci-fi, dramas, etc. But in this role, it’s only a one scene, important, but only a few minutes. Why was it so important for you to be part of “Coco”?
They (the producers) asked me. They called me up and asked me if I’d come to Pixar, because they wanted to talk to me about a role, and I said, “Sure.” So I went up there and they told me the story. I mean, I kind of knew the story a little bit. They didn’t tell me the whole story, thank God, ’cause it made much more of an impact when I got to see the whole story. Then, they told me about my character, and what I represented, and I said, “It’d be my honor.” So, I got involved immediately.
In 2017, there seems to have been a shift with the Latino representation in Hollywood. You’ve had a very long, successful career. How do you hope that this movie will help change what seems to be like, Latinos disappearing from the scene?
We’re in worse shape than we were 50 years ago. Why? Because there’s much more of us. There’s so many more of us in the United States, and yet we’re very minuscule in the amount of representation that we have. We’re less than 4% of the images.
Yeah. 3%, I read, but yet we’re 18% of the population.
We’re actually more than 20%, actually. No one wants to say it because it just freaks them out. One out of every five people in this country is Latino. That being said, we have a big responsibility, and it’s only getting bigger, especially with politics the way it is now. So this film comes … Boy. They’ve been making it for six years. So, you know, it comes at a great time. And who knew at the time when they started to make this that it would be so needed and so relevant? This is the best movie that, story wise, I think that Pixar’s done, and I think that they don’t know it yet. To them it’s just another great film that they’ve made.
They loved Nemo, and they loved Toy Story, and Cars, and Up, and all of these movies that they’ve made, and I do too. But this is different. This, they have entered into the dynamic of an entire culture: Mexican. This is not Central American. This is not South American. This is a Mexican tradition. Everyone has their own way of doing it, the Day of the Dead, that is. The movie respects that. This is unique, and I’m very grateful that they decided to do it, because it allows people to take something that we can give: the ability to understand this day the way we understand it.
You know, I think a lot of people are going to do this. From now on, Halloween is going to start to have a different tone, and the Day of the Dead will not become something other than just candy and dressing up.
Like I said earlier, your resume is incredible. I mean, my mom told me about you when I was little, about Zoot Suit. I watched you for the first time in Stand And Deliver, and now my daughter is learning about you in Coco. What do you hope that your legacy will be?
Ooph. That’s a tough one. You know, that’s for other people to really say what my legacy is. The one thing I really hope that my legacy is, is that I was happy. Content. And then, you know, you always … I have a choice when I wake up in the morning. I can either worry, or I can think about all the stuff I have to do, or I can wake up and just be thankful. Bing. And therefore you change the whole perspective of what everything else that comes at you for the day. And I choose to do that. And then when I go to sleep, I’m grateful. When I wake up, I’m thankful, and when I go to sleep, I’m grateful. And that’s the key.
Being that you’re so influential to the Latino society, and just society in general, what main message do you want to send to Latinos today? You know, with everything going on, especially in this country, how, you know, it’s looking pretty bleak.
Right now, with every upswing there’s a backswing, and with every backswing, there’s an upswing. So it’s a pendulum, and it’s never standing still, and so will never stop, unless there is a nuclear holocaust and humanity and the planet cease to exist the way we know it. But other than a sheer, just horrific holocaust of some kind, this too will change. And when it changes, it’s gonna be nirvana. Much, much nicer than it was before this, and never could we have gotten to the place we’re gonna get to if it hadn’t of been for going through this.
This is deadly. This is ugly. This has become dissipation, totally, of who we are as human beings. That’s why this picture is so important. This one, this picture, I’m telling you, when I talked to the producers and the directors yesterday, and after we’d seen it, they wanted to know, what I thought … and I said, “You don’t even know what you’ve done, and you won’t be able to know it until 20 years, because we don’t know what happens with a piece of art.” It has an impact on people, and pretty soon, enough people see it, and something changes. It changes the whole conception of the person who sees it, because it attacks the subconscious mind.
The more people that see this, the more people that will think about where they come from, and who their parents are, and what happened. What they learned from their grandparents, and their great grandparents, and what they don’t know about them, and what they should know about them, and what it would be made for them, how strong they could be, and how they made their children and their grandchildren stronger by way of knowing that connection to life, and giving them roots. That’s what this does.
Not that the other films that they’ve done don’t give you a sense of life, and give you values and allow you to experience thought that you would not have had unless you saw that movie. But this one, this one is going to be around for the duration of film, and the duration of DVD, or whatever medium that we will be watching. It’ll be monumental. I’m very grateful. I really am.
COCO opens November 22nd.