Edward James Olmos Interview: ‘Mayans M.C.’ and Social Activism

Mayans M.C. stars Edward James Olmos and JD Pardo
Edward James Olmos as Felipe Reyes and JD Pardo as EZ Reyes in ‘Mayans M.C.’ (Photo by Prashant Gupta / FX)

Return to the world of Sons of Anarchy in Kurt Sutter’s new FX drama Mayans M.C.. There’s another gang of outlaw bikers, the all Latin motorcycle club the Mayans. Edward James Olmos plays Felipe Reyes, father of EZ Reyes (JD Pardo).

Olmos spoke with reporters after the TCA panel for Mayans MC. Always outspoken about real world issues, Olmos related the biker show to representation for Latinos and spoke about some of his own social initiatives too. Mayans M.C. premieres September 4, 2018 at 10pm ET/PT on FX.

Do you get to ride on Mayans M.C.?

Edward James Olmos: “No, no, I would not ride. I quit riding when I was around 24, 25 when I had my first kid. Not that I’m not a good rider. I rode very well on a 650 Norton and some nice bikes. I never had a Harley or anything that big. It just is too dangerous. It’s not even me, the driver of the motorcycle, as much as people didn’t see them. So constantly, every day, on the radio I hear, ‘Bike down.’ Every day. There’s always a bike down. ‘Bike down on the 405. Bike down on the 5. Bike down on the 10.’ People hit them.

We weren’t even allowed to go through the cars. Now they allow that. I don’t know why that happened and when it happened. These guys could go twice the speed of whatever the traffic is going down the middle of the cars. That, to me, is really suicidal. So, it’s really ugly. It’s not safe. I would not ride.”

You’ve done a lot of television in your career, but Kurt Sutter is not your average showrunner. What is that experience like with him?

Edward James Olmos: “It’s intense. He’s a completely different kind of showrunner and creator. It’s hard. It’s not easy. He’s very, very disciplined in his own work and that’s good. At the same time, he just goes and goes. We can’t move unless he’s moving. That’s hard. It’s really hard because he has moments where he’s contemplating and we’re all sitting there going, ‘Hey, man. We’re about three weeks behind schedule. Stop with the thinking and start doing.’ And you can’t. You can’t speed that process up. It’s really hard. It’s been very difficult. I’d say this is probably one of the most difficult shoots I’ve been on.”

Do you see a lot of comparison between Mayans M.C. and American Me?

Edward James Olmos: “No, not that there’s connections so much. It’s just the fact that it’s really a negative, very dark representation of the cultures. Therefore, people get very, very upset because we haven’t had enough Stand and Delivers to offset the amount of times we’re going to the dark side, but the dark side is what makes people the financial rewards that they want. This is a business. This is the entertainment business, not the entertainment socially relevant artform.”

How do you think roles for Latinos have evolved since you did The Family on PBS?

Edward James Olmos: “Well, they haven’t. We’re still so unbelievably underrepresented. It’s 2018. It’s going to be like this I think until I guess maybe… maybe this. I think this will be very successful and that success will breed others. The same thing happened in the African-American experience in the ‘70s. It just like took off and they started to make more and more, and they all worked, especially in comedy.

I think comedy will come back in our community. We had George Lopez for a long time, which I was very grateful for. We had Freddie Prinze and had moments in time when we had individual situations that arise, but as far as cumulative amount of work that’s being done, it’s worse now because we have so many more people. So many more, millions and millions and millions of us more and we’re still not even close.”

Are you filming in Boyle Heights?

Edward James Olmos: “Yes, my house is in Boyle Heights.”

What do you think about the gentrification there?

Edward James Olmos: “Whenever you displace people who can’t really afford to get displaced, it’s really not good. It’s like Chavez Ravine is not good. I don’t care how beautiful Dodger Stadium is and all that. Too many people are just displaced and never got what they needed to ever get back.

You’re taking people out of their homes. This is the same thing. I was by Echo Park the other day just a couple days ago, walking through Echo Park and the diversity in Echo Park was much higher than it was maybe 10 years ago. Now it’s like, ‘Whoa. Where’d all these people come from? Are they visiting?’ But they live there. It’s become a real issue.”

They say it brings more jobs.

Edward James Olmos: “I hope that’s a positive. I hope the people who can’t afford to live in a place where they’ve lived for 50 years find a way of existing and going forward and feeling good about themselves and not feel so displaced that they end up feeling less than who they are. That’s really the sadness of this whole experience that we’re having.”

Mayans M.C. star Edward James Olmos
Edward James Olmos as Felipe Reyes in ‘Mayans M.C.’ (Photo by James Minchin / FX)

Have you been doing activism to fight the immigration policies of this administration?

Edward James Olmos: “Yeah, of course. Basically, any time that we can use our name to help bring awareness to any of the issues. It’s really difficult. The only positive thing about all of this is that it will change. It’s going to change. The change is going to be brutal. There will be a very difficult moment in time when this changes because this kind of change brings revolution. There will be people that will be physically angry and become militant.

So, we’re going to go through some very difficult changes but in essence, it will change. Those that get to that point of being angry and militant will have to suffer the consequences as will the people who are accountable.”

What else are you working on?

Edward James Olmos: “I just finished directing and producing a film called The Devil Has a Name. It’ll probably premiere sometime in January. It’s about water contamination in the central valley. It’s a dramatic film.”

Are there any specific charities you work with?

Edward James Olmos: “Right now, I’ve been working so hard on the Youth Cinema Project. It’s been very, very productive. That’s where change is going to come. If you haven’t been able to understand what that is, the Youth Cinema Project, go online and check it out. There’s over 1,200 students from fourth grade up who are in it all the way through high school in 16 different school districts in the state of California.

It’s very, very, very incredibly powerful understanding of how to use the medium of motion picture. We’re teaching children how to make films from the very basic core of pre-production and writing all the way through the post-production, all the way through distribution, marketing and even building their LLCs. When you see a fourth grader who understands the LLC, you realize, ‘Wow, this is amazing. Limited Liability Corporations being taught to fourth graders is a really good thing.’

Last year we made 128 films. We’re the biggest production house of filmmakers in the country. One group. Youth Cinema Project, you can’t beat it. They want it in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida and New York. We will get there inevitably but we just are not going to lessen the quality of what we do. We send in two teachers, mentors to go into the classroom, 90 minutes during the class day. Not during an afterschool special. It’s from the first day all the way through the final day of school. It changes their whole perspective on schools.

Every kid that has been able to be inside of that classroom, when that classroom becomes a production house, when they start making movies for those 90 minutes twice a week, that classroom becomes someplace else for them. They are dying to get back to that classroom. Their math, their history, their language, all the different classes benefit. It’s like a magic pill. That’s why it grew so fast. 1,200 kids last year, this year we’re almost doubling it.”

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