At 70 years old, celebrated actor Edward James Olmos has spent most of his career honoring his Mexican culture. Not only in film, but in his personal life too. So when offered a short – but pivotal – role in Coco, he didn’t think twice about accepting.
He plays Chicharron, a crusty, but lovable soul who one can’t help but feel for. In a round table interview with bloggers at the Beverly Hilton recently, Olmos told us doing the film was a no brainer. The topic of Dia de Los Muertos is close to his heart and he loves that Disney Pixar is giving the chance for mainstream audiences to learn about the tradition that celebrates the cycle of life.
“The film itself is very direct in making you feel that the Day of the Dead is a very needed moment in everybody’s life,” he says. “Everybody has their own way of dealing with their past and where they come from and each culture has their own way of doing it and it’s wonderful when you learn about it, but this is the first time that I’ve ever seen this explained so simply.”
Words for the skeptics
But at the same time, he knows there will be skeptics. As in the Latino community who may not want our beloved custom put out there for the world to see in an animated film.
“I think we have right to be defensive of our culture because the art forms have a tendency to exploit,” he says. “They romanticize, glamorize, exploit the material. They try to make money with it and in a way, you know, that’s what it is. This is a business.”
We bloggers all take a solemn breath, and there is almost a sense of worry. But this is a man who has lived through so much and seeks positivity and unity. He strives to see a bigger perspective.
“In a case like this, this is probably the most effective and the most important film that’s come out of the Hollywood system. For us to be at this level right now and be able to sit here and be happy about something that touches every single person no matter where you come from, what your roots are.”
He’s right. Coco is about honoring past generations of family, and even deeper, recognizing them as who they were, what they loved, their personalities. And in turn, it helps us fill in who we are. Those of us who have seen the film know this, thus the tears. But what does he have to say about those who refuse all things Coco?
“To talk about these people that don’t want to give it a chance, fine,” he says. “Don’t. I can’t help them. Sadness is that this, if exposed to a two or three or four, five year old child, will burn itself into their system and their whole way of being and will end up making them whole. They’ll never forget the people who took them to see it. Let alone, they’ll never forget who they are, where they come from.”
Reflecting on familia
He goes on to share personal stories about his father, grandfather, and even great grandfather. Olmos fondly remembers being a child and asking a thousand questions of his great grandfather. This is one of the reasons the actor connected with the film on such a personal level. It made him realize the wisdom that can only come from an elder. He admits to not only busting a tear during the advance screening, but even afterwards while talking about the film.
“Thinking about my grandparents, my great-grandparents…”he ponders. “It just conjures up the reason why, you know, we are who we are. You start to get into your memory of where you come from and who made you that way and especially with your parents. You start with them, but this was very emotional for me. Even right now thinking about it I get emotional.”
After thinking so much about past generations, Olmos reflects on what he would like to be remembered for long after he’s gone.
“Amongst my family, hopefully, you know, they’ve shared enough time with me and that I shared enough time with them and remember the times that we spent together,” he says. “I mean, so many different stories, but just to remembered in a way that empowers them would be nice.”
Coco is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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A BIG thank you to all of you for reading all my Coco stories!