Actor and director Edward James Olmos has been fighting for DECADES to make Hollywood diverse. Before many of you were in diapers, tbh. He hasn’t just talked the talk either. Nope, he’s been a pioneer by selecting a wide range of roles that have showed off his acting chops. So, sure, some audiences may know him as the iconic Pachuco from “Zoot Suit,” or the gang leader from “American Me,” but he is impossible to typecast — because he’s pretty much played EVERY type. Check it out.
Gaff in “Blade Runner”
Credit: Bladerunner/Warner Bros.
In the 1982 science fiction classic directed by Ridley Scott, Olmos plays a longtime Blade Runner working with the LAPD to hunt down and destroy replicants hiding in Los Angeles. “Cityspeak,” the language that Gaff communicates in — a mixture of Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Hungarian and Japanese — was largely developed by Olmos.
Martin Castillo in “Miami Vice”
Credit: Miami Vice/NBC
The stars of the show may have been Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas, who played the characters of Sonny Crocket and Ricardo Tubbs, but they answered to no-nonsense Detective Lieutenant Martin Castillo — the baddest badass on the show. Castillo was reserved, revered and didn’t need to raise his voice because he could make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention with his steely glare. Olmos scored an Emmy and a Golden Globe for this role.
Jaime Escalante in “Stand and Deliver”
Credit: Stand and Deliver/Warner Bros
Olmos earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Jaime Escalante, a high school math teacher who taught calculus to working-class students that everyone thought were just a bunch of soon-to-be dropout malcriados. And, of course, he taught us finger math.
Pitmaster in “The Simpsons”
Credit: The Simpsons/Fox
Olmos made his debut on the longest-running U.S. animated series during season 27. On an episode entitled “Cue Detective,” Olmos voices the role of a wise and mysterious BBQ pit master who sells Homer a magical smoker. (No, it’s not the kind you put your weed in.) “Never been cooled down, never been cleaned — mixing meat, fat and smoke into pure magic,” says the man to Homer.
Admiral William Adama in “Battlestar Galactica”
Credit: Battlestar Galactica/NBC Universal
Get this, the role of Admiral William Adama, the commanding officer of “Battlestar Galactica,” was actually written with Olmos in mind. Olmos absolutely killed it, becoming one of the series’ most beloved characters. For his portrayal of Adama, Olmos was also nominated for an ALMA Award, which recognizes the positive portrayal of Latinos in TV, film and music .
Virgil Sweet in “Talent for the Game”
Credit: Talent for the Game/Paramount Pictures
The character of a veteran baseball scout for the California Angels was perfect for Olmos given that one of his first aspirations in life was to become a professional baseball player. He was so good he even became Golden State batting champion.
Justice Roberto Mendoza in “The West Wing”
Credit: The West Wing/NBC
On the first season of the political serial drama, Olmos played a jurist and an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. On the show, he was appointed in 2000 — that’s a whole nine years before Sonia Sotomayor was appointed in real life.
Jess Gonzalez in “American Family”
Credit: American Family/PBS
Finally, thanks to PBS, Latinos could see a dramatic series about an American family that resembles theirs on broadcast English-language TV. Olmos played the conservative patriarch who identified as “Spanish” rather than Mexican (insert eye-roll here). The thing is, we all know a man like him. Some of us are related to that man, and even though we don’t always agree with him, we love him because behind all that gruffness is a loving person.
Julian Nava in “Walkout”
Olmos directed and portrayed Julian Nava, the first Mexican-American to serve on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, in this HBO film about the 1968 East L.A. walkouts. The walkouts were a series of protests organized by Chicano students who were tired of being treated like crap.
Michael Axford in “The Green Hornet”
Credit: The Green Hornet/Columbia Pictures
Wait, what?! A Latino actor in a comedic action-crime film gets to play a former-cop-turned-reporter at The Daily Sentinel instead of some kind of criminal or petty thug? Phew, how refreshing.
Robert Gonzales in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”
Credit: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D/ABC Studios
On this comic book-inspired ABC show, Olmos played a high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) agent. Let’s face it, it’s still rare to see a Latino actor play the role of a leader in an organization that is meant to protect people.
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