Edward James Olmos
Very few people have achieved celebrity sta¬ tus as both an actor and a community activist, but that is exactly what Edward James Olmos has accomplished.
Growing up poor in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Olmos’s first love was baseball. He worked so hard at the sport that he became the state batting champi¬ on for his age group.When Olmos was fifteen, his love for base¬ ball faded, and he found a new passion in music.
Throughout his teenage years, he sang, danced, and played piano for his own rock group, Pacific Ocean, performing at nightclubs on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.Music didn’t pay the bills, however, and Olmos was forced to deliver antique furniture during the day for extra income. Meanwhile, he attended college at night.
One semester, he took a drama course to help build his self- confidence lor singing. Soon, he discovered that he had found yet another interest.Although Olmos never expected to have a career in acting, he took small acting roles and continued to sing in the evenings while he worked during the day.
Then, he got his first big break. In the mid-1970s, he performed the lead role of El Pachuco in Luis Valdez’s famous play, Zoot Suit (see no. 67). Olmos received the Los Angeles Critics Circle Award in 1978, and in 1979, when the play opened on Broadway, he was nominated for the presti¬ gious Tony Award.
Olmos’s outstanding stage performance earned him an entrance into movies. Memorable roles in popular films such as Wolfen and Blade Runner soon followed. Olmos also performed the lead role in the PBS television production The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez.
In the 1980s, Olmos portrayed his most well-known television character, Lieutenant Martin Castillo, in the hit show Miami Vice. The role earned him an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1985. More importantly, it propelled him to higher star status and gave him the clout to choose more of his roles according to his principles.
Olmos is most proud of his role in the movie Stand and Deliver. In this 1988 film, he portrayed Jaime Escalante (see no. 53), a Bolivian-born math teacher who motivates his high school students to excel at calculus. Olmos received an Academy Award nomina¬ tion for his performance.
Throughout the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, Olmos continued to per¬ form in movies that portrayed meaningful Hispanic American characters. Olmos’s conscientious approach to the roles he chooses spills over into his personal activism. He has made time for participation in many char¬ itable causes, and he has spoken to countless high schools and charity organizations over the years.