In the independent film “Filly Brown,” actress Gina Rodriguez plays Majo Tonorio, a budding L.A. hip-hop artist who is trying to break into the music industry to raise money to hire a lawyer to get her mother (Jenni Rivera) out of prison. Oscar-nominated actor Edward James Olmos (“Stand and Deliver”) plays the criminal lawyer who is working with Majo, much to the chagrin of her emotionally exhausted father (Lou Diamond Phillips). “Filly Brown” was co-directed and co-written by Michael Olmos, one of Edward’s four sons.
What was it like reuniting with Lou Diamond Phillips for the first time since “Stand in Deliver” 25 years ago?
(Laughs) It was a dream come true. It was a great way to move forward and see him and rejoice in our lives. He gives a tremendous performance in this film. It might be his best performance since “Stand and Deliver” or “La Bamba,” I’m not sure.
Does it feel like 25 years has gone by?
Nah, it went by pretty quick. (Laughs) It doesn’t feel like it. Time just goes by so fast.
This is your son Michael’s third film as a director and the second time you’ve worked with him on one of those films. Over the years, how have you seen him evolve as a filmmaker?
He’s grown an awful lot. His writing has grown. He helped write “Filly Brown.” He’s grown a lot as an artist.
As a father, was there a specific time in his life where you sensed that the film industry might be something he wanted to be a part of?
I think all my kids looked at this lifestyle and kind of liked it. [Michael] came to me right out of high school and said, “Listen, I want to go to college.” I said, “OK.” He did all his prerequisite work for two years and then came back to me and said, “I’d like to graduate from Columbia and be a director.” I said, “OK. Learn how to write. Take the writing program.” He said, “But I want to direct.” I said, “That’s great, but learn how to write first. Directing is easy. Writing is hard.” So, he did and he came out of Columbia a wonderful writer. Now, his directing is catching up to his writing, so I think he is going to be right on schedule.
Would he ever go with you on movie sets when he was younger?
Oh, yeah. He went on almost all the sets. All my sons did. Bodie’s in the business. He’s an actor and producer. He worked with me on “Battlestar Galactica.” Then Mico, he wrote and performed the music and produced “Filly Brown.” My other son [Brandon] is a documentary filmmaker and musician. So, they’re all inside of it.
Were you at all worried that all four of your sons wanted to get into what I’m sure you know is a cutthroat industry?
No, because I brought them up knowing that there is no security in this business. It’s consistently fluctuating. Sometimes you’re working and sometimes you’re not. They grew up knowing what that world was like and what those sacrifices were. They could go their whole life and never make a penny. They know that, but it’s the life they chose.
Is the music in “Filly Brown” something you could get used to listening to while driving? Is that a genre we’d find you playing on your radio?
Oh, yeah. (Laughs) I really like it. A lot of the actors that are in the movie are really strong rappers. Chingo Bling is fantastic in the movie. He’s a great rapper, songwriter and entrepreneur.
Part of the film deals with how women in the entertainment industry have to sometimes use their sexuality to get people to take notice. We saw the same thing in “Selena.” Do you think much has changed in 16 years when it comes to that issue?
No, it’s gotten worse. Not just for the [Hispanic] culture, but for women in general. The sexuality in our communities is just growing and growing and growing. Of course, we have the moral majority telling us that it’s not right. What happens is that we don’t have any balance. We don’t have what Europe has. Europe has a very strong and wonderful way of looking at its sexuality. It’s much more understanding of itself. It’s more normal. Here, it’s like, “Whoa!” It’s the same way with men, too. They have to be sexier or they’re not going to make it. You have to be good-looking, suave, cool, all of that.
My favorite line in the film is said by actor Daniel Mora. He says, “You’re a real asshole, but we’re family.” Do you think family tolerance like that is exclusive to the Latino culture?
Not exclusive, but it does prevail in our culture sometimes more than in the Caucasian or African American cultures. But I think our culture definitely does have that more consistently. It’s unconditional love.
I know you don’t have any scenes with Jenni Rivera in “Filly Brown,” but can you talk to me about what she brought to this film and what you felt when you found out about her passing last year?
It’s still one of the hardest situations that has ever hit me because of the sheer shock of it. I mean, Selena was bad enough, but I didn’t make a movie with her. Here we are at our first press junket for “Filly Brown” and the movie is coming out and everyone is happy and Jenni isn’t here. There’s a huge hole. We’ve finished this little movie and it has become a very strong film and now it’s about to go out into the world and she’s not with us to rejoice. When you’re working on a real intimate film like this, you really do become family. The very last scene of the movie, when [Jenni] stands up to leave, has become a very iconic moment. She puts her hand on the window and walks away and her handprint stays there and you know it’s going to dry up and fade away. It riveted everyone in the audience so much when we saw it. No one could’ve imagined that when she turns around and walks away, it would be the last time you see her. It’s still very emotional. It brings a tear to my eye right now just talking about it.
Well, let me lighten things up a bit before I let you go. I’m wondering, has anyone has shown you the episode of “Portlandia” yet where Fred Armisen plays Jaime Escalante in “Reverse Stand and Deliver?”
(Laughs) Yes, I saw it. (Laughs) “Portlandia” did “Battlestar,” too. Of course they’re going to jump on “Stand and Deliver.” A bunch of people have done skits on “Stand and Deliver,” even Jim Carrey. It’s one of the classic teacher-student films that has ever been made.
What can we expect from your character Papi Greco in your new film “2 Guns” with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg?
Oh, boy. Well, Denzel and Wahlberg and those guys called me up and asked me if I would help them out. If it wasn’t a direct call, I wouldn’t have been a part of that movie. It’s a very strong movie. It’s an action-packed movie, but it also has a lot of truth in it. The CIA is at the helm of narcotic drug trafficking. (Laughs) It’s very true! It’s fun and you’ll laugh and there are a lot of car chases and things blowing up, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty it’s about the inner workings of the highest covert military people we have in this country. This isn’t a fantasy. This is right on the money.
What about your new film with director John Salles, “Go For Sisters?”
Man, what a movie. Wow. Now, there’s a film that has no car chases. It has a lot of drama and great character work. John is a genius when it comes to character work. It’s about as good as “Lone Star.” The nuances are superb. Thinkers are going to love the movie.