Add Edward James Olmos‘ name to the list of celebrities living in fear. Yet unlike David Letterman or Michael J. Fox, the former Miami Vice actor isn’t being stalked by an obsessed fan but supposedly by the Mexican Mafia, which is said to be angered by Olmos’ depiction of the group in his 1992 film, American Me.
A harrowing portrait of Chicano prison-gang life, American Me opened to mixed reviews and lukewarm box office. But shortly after it premiered, two of the film’s consultants were slain, incidents that some interpreted as retribution and a warning to Olmos, 46, who coproduced and directed the film. In November 1992, a convicted assassin- turned-government witness (allegedly ex-Mexican Mafia) intimated that if the group, known as La EME (Spanish for the letter M), had targeted the actor, it could be quite serious.
What did Olmos do to incur the wrath of La EME? The flap may be a result of the movie’s blurring of fact and fiction — in particular, the insinuation that one of La EME’s founding members, Rudolfo Cadena, was murdered by his own gang.
Last year, Olmos, a tireless community activist and peacekeeper in the days following the L.A. riots, took an unusual step and applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The Police Commission turned down the actor’s request, insisting that Olmos failed to prove he was in ”serious and immediate danger.” The people around Olmos believe differently. His agent, Jimmy Cota, says the actor ”goes about his routine with a little more caution,” and that further publicity will make things worse. ”There could be people’s lives at stake,” Cota says. ”We want it to go away.”
Robert M. Young, a close friend of Olmos’ and coproducer of American Me, says the actor is philosophical about the situation. ”He’s gonna live life the way he wants to live it.” But, Young adds, ”Inside he has to be afraid. Eddie has no interest in being a hero or a martyr.” Olmos himself would not comment on the events.
At least one alleged Mexican Mafia leader, Joe Morgan, wants to settle his differences with Olmos in court. In April, Morgan, currently serving a life sentence for murder at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California, filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Olmos, the other producers of American Me, and Universal Studios, claiming the filmmakers based a central character on his life without his permission.
American Me isn’t the only project giving Olmos nightmares. The actor received death threats on the set of his upcoming film, Roosters, after several employees were dismissed. It was rumored that Olmos was responsible for the firings, which he has denied. Regardless of who made the threats — Olmos told a reporter he thought they came from the film’s disgruntled ex-employees, not the Mexican Mafia — armed guards were hired to patrol the Arizona set.
While Olmos may indeed be in peril, the brouhaha has not hurt his image. With Roosters completed, Olmos is developing a project with Young and journalist Pete Hamill about Pancho Villa. ”The threats make Eddie a sympathetic character,” says one associate. Adds a Hollywood producer: ”It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but then, I’m not Eddie Olmos. If I thought somebody dangerous was pissed at me, I might have anxieties.”