In ABC’s MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD, which comes back for the second half of its second season Tuesday, March 3, at 9 PM, our heroes have their hands full. Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) may or may not have exorcised the alien obsession in his head, but he and the team have learned that tech whiz Skye (Chloe Bennet) is inhuman. Moreover, her alien father, Calvin Zabo (Kyle MacLachlan), is extremely angry at Coulson for killing the murderer of Skye’s mother before Calvin got a chance to do it himself.
Adding to the complications is the arrival of Robert Gonzalez. Not much is known about this character as yet, save for the fact that he’s played by Edward James Olmos, which suggests a lot right there. Olmos, a native of Los Angeles, has been famed for both his flair and his gravitas since he originated the role of El Pachuco in the 1979 Mark Taper Forum production of Luis Valdez’s play ZOOT SUIT. Olmos went with the show, a fact-based drama about tensions between whites and Latinos in Forties L.A., to Broadway and recreated the role for the screen version. The actor has since been nominated for an Oscar for his lead performance in STAND AND DELIVER as real-life teacher Jaime Escalante. Olmos had his first TV pop culture success as Captain Castillo on MIAMI VICE. He also had a key supporting role in BLADE RUNNER and indelibly played William Adama over the four seasons of the BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA revival.
The actors on SHIELD, a lot like the agents, are sworn to secrecy about exactly what they’re doing, but Olmos says what he can at a party thrown by ABC for the Television Critics Association at Pasadena’s Langham-Huntington Hotel.
AX: How aware were you, if at all, of AGENTS OF SHIELD before they approached you about being on it?
EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: I was unaware of it before they approached me in respect to the show itself. I love the Marvel world. I’m very well-invested in the Marvel world and THOR and THE HULK. I think they’ve done extraordinary work with it. And so when they offered me the opportunity, since BATTLESTAR. I’ve done features, but I hadn’t done anything on television except for DEXTER.
AX: In which you were playing a hallucination …
OLMOS: Yeah. A figment of somebody’s imagination. I hadn’t actually seen [AGENTS OF SHIELD], but they sent me over every single episode they had done. Very smart. I sat down, saw the pilot, and then never stopped. I saw it all in two days. So I saw like thirty-five episodes in a couple of days. [The producers and creators, including Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, Jeff Bell and Jeph Loeb have] a very strong commitment to their world and I liked it.
AX: Did they approach you with, “We’d like you to play this particular character” or did they say, “If you come in, we will design something for you”?
OLMOS: They had an idea already. I didn’t even ask them for anything. I loved the world, I talked to my manager, he loves the world also, and we’re very exclusive, so we both made the decision and here we are.
AX: Can you say anything at all about your character?
OLMOS: I can only say one thing. When my character laughs, the whole world laughs with him.
AX: How is it being back to work on a series schedule?
OLMOS: Good. I enjoy television. I enjoy film. I enjoy theatre. I enjoy storytelling. Marvel does great storytelling.
AX: Do you ever reflect back on ZOOT SUIT?
OLMOS: I just performed ZOOT SUIT at the Dorothy Chandler [in Los Angeles in December, 2014].
AX: You first played El Pachuco back in 1979. He’s the narrator who interacts with the hero of the piece and he’s also the soul and spirit of the barrio. Is El Pachuco a character that can be played at any age?
OLMOS: Yes. It actually works better the older the person is, because there’s more wisdom in the words.
AX: Do you play him any differently now than when you originated him?
OLMOS: Not really. It was incredibly important then, and it’s more important now, because those are the stories that have to be pushed forward, and thank God that the Taper and [producer] Gordon Davidson and Luis [Valdez] got together and created that world. That was really needed. It’s never been duplicated. It’s very, very interesting.
AX: El Pachuco is a unique character, but do you look for roles that allow you that kind of theatrical flair, or is that something you like to reserve certain projects?
OLMOS: I really just go for story. I can play the doorstop to the lead to anywhere in between. It doesn’t really matter to me. What matters to me is the story that’s being told. And the stories that are being told right now by the Marvel world are fun. They’re sometimes enlightening. So I think it’s not about creating action to stimulate the viewer, it’s about creating a story that then allows the viewer to get stimulated by that. I loved IRON MAN, the way that they’ve re-imagined it. And I love what they did with the Hulk. They’ve touched it three specific times in the last ten years. And I like what they’ve done with Thor – last year, I saw CAPTAIN AMERICA, and I thought the second film was better than the first one. If they continue that route, it’s going to be really, really a lot of fun. It’s very original and unique, as it was in the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA world, [where] we had twelve different planets.
AX: Did you watch the BATTLESTAR prequel series CAPRICA at all?
OLMOS: Yeah, a lot. I thought it was very, very unusual and very good. I also liked [the 2012 BATTLESTAR prequel] BLOOD & CHROME. I thought that one was very strong – that was closest to BATTLESTAR, it really got close. [Adama] was a young man at the time. They took my character and they showed him forty years before the start of our GALACTICA world. I loved BLOOD AND CHROME. I thought it could have been a very strong [series].
AX: Do you have any other projects going on that we should know about?
OLMOS: I’ve got a movie that I’m working on right now called MONDAY NIGHTS AT SEVEN. It’s a love story, written by the director/lead actor/producer, Marty Sader. He and his wife [Laura Keys] wrote it and he’s editing it. He’s a tremendous young artist. And it’s really an unusual little film. It’s one of the kinds of films that, when you see it, you’re very grateful that you saw it.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about AGENTS OF SHIELD right now?
OLMOS: That it’s a wonderful story that I think they will enjoy. [For those who haven’t seen it yet], I advise them to go to the pilot, watch the pilot and then watch the series before it kicks in again. Don’t jump in in the middle. It’s like any good episodic television. You’re not going to be able to really relish the truth of the characters if you don’t know them. So take it from the beginning. Especially in today’s world – you can go online and get all of the episodes, watch them all, and then jump into the new season.
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Article: Edward James Olmos on his guest stint on MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD – exclusive interview