En español | With 50 years of Emmy, Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe acting honors under his belt, Edward James Olmos (who turned 74 last month) is hotter than ever. With indelible roles ranging from Stand and Deliver and Miami Vice to the father of motorcycle-gang sons on Mayans M.C. (third season premieres March 16 at 10 p.m. ET, FX, streaming March 17 on FX on Hulu), Olmos reveals to AARP his big plans for longevity and the secrets to his remarkable success.
You play a father on Mayans M.C. Does that role bleed into your real life on the set?
I'm the oldest one on the call sheet. I'm not only a father figure but an elder figure. The younger actors give me a lot of respect and constantly ask questions. We get into it. I spend time just telling them stories, things that have happened — most of them are funny. Everybody laughs like crazy.
What about at home?
People often ask me, “What's your pastime? What do you do when you have time on your hands?” Well, I'm usually with my grandkids or with my children and my grandkids. I have five grandkids, all girls. You really have to listen to them. It takes a lot of patience. So I just ask them, ‘How's your day today'? And then it's kind of hard to stop them. They're 17, 15, 13, 8 and 6. I love to listen to them.
You turned 74 last month, amassing a remarkable career over five decades. What's next for you?
The most important [goal] I have is to live to be 120 years old. And if I don't get there I'm going to die trying.
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That's amazing! How do you plan to get there?
I think aging is a disease; it's not a given. I work with the SENS Research Foundation and others like CRISPR that are getting into genomes, metabolism, learning about all those things that can help you continue to regrow. It's really quite interesting.
Personally, I'm very grateful to have completed 74 years of living. The key now is not to eat for taste but for the health of your body. For 55 years, I ate everything. But for the last 15 to 20 years I've been [focusing on] the truth of exercise and eating food that can be digested quickly, with nutrients that take function to the highest level.
I've been a vegan now going on six years. It makes your body perform. Your digestive system functions so well and when that's functioning well, your whole body says “thank you” to you. The best thing I ever did for myself is to become a vegan.
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Current gig: Mayans M.C., a spinoff of the FX original series Sons of Anarchy. Olmos plays Felipe Reyes, the father of a former golden boy turned ex-con (J.D. Pardo) who joins a biker gang.
Greatest hits: TV: Battlestar Galactica, Miami Vice, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Dexter; movies: Blade Runner, Stand and Deliver, American Me
Family matters: Four sons, two daughters, five granddaughters
What he’s working on: TV, film and virtual reality projects about Tito Puente, the King of Mambo
What's your exercise plan look like?
I've done CrossFit for many years. [During] the pandemic I couldn't go to a studio, so I've been doing it on my own here at the house. I swim a lot, too: anywhere from 1 to 3 miles a day, depending on how strong I'm feeling. I usually save the long swims for Thursday and Friday; so I start off the week gearing up for the long swim.
If anyone can make it to 120, it sounds like it might be Edward James Olmos
If I die of old age and not all these age-related diseases, I will feel really good that at least I tried. I have friends who lived to be 107. I have one friend who's 96. I see how the body becomes fragile but if you can keep it from becoming fragile, you can hit 100 really strong, 105 really strong. A friend of mine who died at 107 was really strong, he wasn't fragile, so when he passed, he just went to sleep and didn't wake up. That to me is a perfect life.
Speaking of a long life, you've been involved in cultural advocacy for most of yours, from roles you've taken to political activism. When did that begin for you?
In 1978, I did a seminal form of work that I'd been able to create: I played El Pachuco in Zoot Suit [the theater production and later a film version of Luis Valdez's groundbreaking Chicano play]. That really changed the future not only of my life but of my culture's life because that piece of work was just so well received. It was like giving a glass of water to people in the middle of the desert; they will never forget you for it for their whole life. That's what happened when we went down this road.
You've stayed the course since then. What motivates you philosophically?
On my tombstone it's going to say above my name: “There's only one race, the human race, period.” I've said it in some of the most extraordinary places, including the United Nations. There are Caucasian, African and Asian cultures, Latino cultures and Indigenous cultures. They didn't start using the word “race” in that way until about 1470, so that it would be easier to kill each other. That was the whole intention. It's that simple and that's really difficult for most people to understand. It separates us; it makes “the other” materialize.