Best known for his current television role on “Battlestar Galactica” and movies including “Zoot Suit,” “American Me,” “Selena,” and his Academy Award-nominated role in “Stand and Deliver,” actor Edward James Olmos is one of Latino Hollywood’s elite.
In his most recent feature film “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” which was just released on DVD, Olmos voices the character Diablo, a vicious Rottweiler on the trail of a high-maintenance Chihuahua who is lost from her owner. The film also stars Latino actors Andy Garcia, George López, Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez, Luis Guzmán, and Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo.
During an interview on his 62nd birthday (Feb. 24), Olmos talked about how dogs and other animals have always been a part of his life and what his 84-year-old mother thought of his new role.
Are you a dog lover yourself?
Yes, I am. I have a white Labrador retriever. I’ve had him since he was eight weeks old. He’s a great dog. His name is Moe. What can I say about labs? They’re just phenomenal dogs.
Have you had dogs all your life?
I’ve had a lot of dogs. I’ve also had cats, horses, monkeys, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish (laughs). I’ve lived a long time, dude.
Having a pet monkey is pretty unique.
Yeah, he was a little spider-monkey. My mother brought it home. It was sick in the hospital. They were going to euthanize it and she said, “No you’re not.” So she brought him back home with her. We took care of him until he passed away.
Your character in “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” looks vicious. Did you get to meet the dog?
(Laughs) No, I never got out of the recording studio. I didn’t get to see any of the principle photography. I never saw anyone. Well, I saw Paul Rodriguez for one second. I was walking out and he was walking in. I said, “Hey Paul!” He said, “Hey, Eddie!” and that was about it.
You’ve done voice work for animated films in the past. How was lending your voice to a live-action character different than a cartoon?
Live-action is a little different. They really try to get the behaviors and the attitudes a certain way. When you’re doing animation it’s a lot more free-flowing.
Do you think they captured your attitude inside Diablo?
(Laughs) I think we did a great job. I think they were very courageous to except the improvisational standards that we did. We had a great time. The director (Raja Gosnell) just loved it.
Who was most impressed with your role in this film? Do you have any kids or grandkids…
All the kids, but my mother was actually most impressed. She’s 84 years old. That’s what’s great. My nine year old daughter and my 84-year-old mom both just adored the picture. I think that’s why this picture is so powerful. It really does entertain everyone and makes you laugh.
There have been quite a few dog movies that have come out in the past year. What do you think it is about these films that people like so much?
I think it because dogs are special. They really are man’s best friend. They are love machines. All they do is love you. They are totally dedicated and committed to the human being. If you treat them with a lot of love, that’s all they need to love you back.
Along with your work in TV and film, you’ve continued to use your celebrity as a platform to get out into the community and talk about Latino issues. Tell me about that and why you’ve continued this for so long.
More than anything, I think we have seen cultures growing in the U.S. It used to be a dominant Caucasian culture in the early 20th century. Today, they say we are 30 percent minorities and 70 percent European-based cultures, but I don’t think that is correct. I would say its more like 42 percent to [58 percent]. I would say we are growing at a much faster rate than people of non-ethnic cultures. I think in the next 25-30 years we are going to surpass them. It will be completely diverse country. My entire adult life – from 20 or 21 when I started speaking up on these issues – is when I started to realize the importance of teaching more culture at schools. [Students] were only getting two to three days of Native American studies maybe in the 4th or 5th grade when we would do stuff for Thanksgiving. We would study the contributions of indigenous people. But in social studies there was very little about indigenous people and no talk about Latinos at all. Nada. Nothing. There was a little bit of talk about Aztecs in world geography back when I was in 10th grade, but that was very, very minimal. We were totally unprepared in these subjects. When we finally get a understanding of how to teach all cultures equally, that’s when we can look at each other and say that everybody respects each other. I’ll tell you right now, very few Latinos and indigenous people understand their Asian roots. They just don’t get it. They don’t understand that they come from Mongolians from 40,000 years ago. Every Mayan, every Aztec, every Arapaho, every Cheyenne, every Mohawk, every Apache, every Eskimo has to say thank you to the Asian culture because they were Asian before they became indigenous to this hemisphere. The same thing has to be said to the Asians. They have to be thankful for the Africa-ness inside of them. They have no idea they’re African. When they hear about it, they deny it. They go back to the Bible. They even forget that Adam and Eve were from the Garden of Eden and that the Garden of Eden was in northern Africa. So, everyone is African if they want to go that route. Culture is beautiful. It’s what makes us who we are. Everyone has the right to love and cherish who they are. Unless you know who you are, you’re in a lot of trouble.
You’re comments about students not getting enough Latino-based education reminded me of what actor Morgan Freeman said back in 2005. He said Black History Month was “ridiculous.” He said he didn’t want his history “regulated” to a single month. I’m guessing you feel the same about Latino Heritage Month?
No, why can’t everyday be African-American Day or Latino Day. Why do we celebrate it just one month a year? Why not celebrate it every day. If that’s the case then we should study Latinos once a month, then Caucasians once a month, then once a month we study the indigenous. Then everything would be equal.