Edward James Olmos Stands And Delivers – Day 8 FFF 2011

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Edward James Olmos Knows How To Grab The Attention Of His Audience

The elderly gentleman walks with an air of confidence as he enters the lobby of the Enzian Theatre. He spots me from across the room and, glancing down at the PRESS badge around my neck, walks directly to me, holds out his hand with a warm smile and says, “Hi, I’m Edward James Olmos.” “I’m LanceAround from LanceAroundOrlando,” I reply, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

He continues down the line, greeting press and patrons alike, until he is ushered into the theatre for the presentation of his hit 1988 film Stand and Deliver. My first impression of him was positive and, as the evening wears on it’s only going to get better.

One would think a theatre lover like myself would know Edward from his groundbreaking TV work in such shows as Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, or the recent Battlestar Galactica. But I’ve never seen him on any of those shows. Then surely I would know him from movies such as Blade Runner, Stand and Deliver, Selena or Zoot Suit. Nope, don’t know him from those either.

The only way I know Edward is from the two episodes where he played Supreme Court Justice nominee Mendoza on the fabulous TV series, The West Wing. That performance, alone, is enough for me to respect this man’s extraordinary acting ability.

His performance in Stand and Deliver, which I see for the first time tonight, is downright magnificent.

Olmos Enjoys An Enzian Meal While Watching "Stand and Deliver" with the Audience

Stand and Deliver tells the true story of charismatic high school math teacher Jaime Escalante, who brough calculus AP to a run down, inter-city LA school. His students performed so well on their AP placement tests, they were accused of cheating!

Edward’s performance is a joy to watch. From the moment he first enters the classroom, he perfectly captures the zany, theatrical Escalante–becoming a teacher so lovable, yet so authoritarian, it’s easy to see how he could effectively motivate a classroom of unruly teenagers.

At the end of the film, Edward comes onstage for an extended Q&A. He speaks about how his performance in this film is routinely ranked as one of the top three performances to have been nominated for, but not won, the Oscar. The award that year went to Dustin Hoffman for Rainman.

Yet I didn’t get the impression that Edward was bragging. He carries himself with a lot of confidence and gives the impression that he’s the kind of person who tells it like it is. He speaks about his confrontations with union leaders–admonishing them that they have to forego greedy politics and better represent the needs of the rank and file. He speaks passionately about the need for quality education in a society.

“I don’t know one pope, I don’t know one president of the United States, I don’t know one king or queen who didn’t get there without the help of a teacher. If it were up to me, I’d start every teacher at one million dollars salary. I’d pay high school teachers more than college professors, I’d pay middle school teachers more than high school teachers. But I’d pay the most to those who teach our youngest. If you don’t get them by the time they’re six, then the battle is almost over,” he proclaims with an air of dignity as the audience erupts into thunderous applause.

Olmos Signing Autographs

Like all great actors, Edward knows how to deliver a line and put on a show. But it’s obvious he has the convictions behind the rhetoric. And he has some great stories to tell.

He speaks about his insistence that he be given full creative control over his characters and that he signs a non-exclusive contract. He’s willing to turn down huge sums of money unless these two conditions are met.

The first day on the set of Miami Vice, he got into a huge tiff with Don Johnson when he insisted that his character’s office door be closed prior to Don’s character’s entrance. Don walked off the set, but Edward demanded he be allowed to exercise his character’s creative control. In the end, Don came back and Edward said he established the precedent of almost never looking directly at Don during a scene. Something must have worked because Miami Vice became one of the most popular TV shows of all time.

When he accepted the role on Battlestar Galactica, he warned the producers that the first time anyone wrote a four eyed, two lipped monster into the script he would immediately pass out in front of the camera and leave the show. Instead of creatures from the black lagoon, he said, the show focuses on planetary (Not American he was careful to point out) but planetary issues. It does not shy away from weighty issues such as reproductive rights, suicide bombing, religion and politics. He believes it is the finest show ever to come on TV.

Olmos Has A Lot Of Fans

When the handsome, elderly gentleman walked into the Enzian, held out his hand to me and said, “Hi, I’m Edward…” I had no idea that I was meeting such a remarkable man.

I hope you have been to the FFF and had a similar experience. If not, what more do I need to say to convince you to come?

There’s only two days left in the Florida Film Festival. I hope to see you there!

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One Response to “Edward James Olmos Stands And Delivers – Day 8 FFF 2011”

  1. Dave Says:

    I was there too – what a terrific man! I was entertained by his storytelling and inspired by his passion and outspokenness on social issues. He was also incredibly generous with his time and a pleasure to meet.

    I was a fan of Olmos before but now have a whole new level of appreciation for him as both an artist and a person.

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