Edward James Olmos wasn’t handed the script of his latest directorial project, “The Devil Has a Name,” by his agent, or some Hollywood producer.
The veteran actor, known for “Battlestar Galactica” and “Stand and Deliver,” was fortuitously given the document by a man he’d never met before in his life.
Olmos, 73, was at an overseas business conference, listening to pitches and offering his advice, when a trio approached him with an offer of their own.
“We have a project, and we’d like to know if maybe you’d like to take a read of it?,” the actor and director remembered the man saying. Always polite, Olmos had no choice but to consider the script by a first-time screenwriter named Robert McEveety. “I was kind of in a position where I couldn’t say, ‘No, man, talk to my agent. Send it there.’ Because everybody was sitting there,” he said.
And then the encounter got even weirder.
“They told me when they handed me that script that they had the money to do this,” Olmos said, adding that such a circumstance is rare in Hollywood. “And then I found out the money came from the people that it happened to.”
Those people were an unlikely bunch: California farmers, including Fred Starrh who sued Aera Energy in 2001 because the company let millions of barrels of oil seep into his land’s groundwater. Starrh was awarded $7 million, which helped make Olmos’ latest effort as a director. Starrh’s son is an executive producer on the movie.
“They don’t need to make back their money,” Olmos, who also stars in the film, said. “This isn’t about making money.”
The dramedy, which alongside Olmos features David Strathairn (as Fred), Alfred Molina, Martin Sheen and Kate Bosworth, takes the true events of that environmental crime and adds humor and a hint of absurdity — such as Strathairn chasing down an oil exec nearly naked and clutching a golf club. Olmos wasn’t looking to make a straight-up social justice flick.
“I didn’t want to do an ‘Erin Brockovich,’ ” Olmos said of the liberties he took. “If we did one of those movies right now, nobody would want to see it, man. There’s enough reality as it is.”
For Olmos, both a Californian and activist, it was a special story that he felt needed to be told.
“This movie is gonna capture the consciousness of people,” he said. “And there’s no rush. It’s like ‘Battlestar [Galactica].’ It was understood then, but now, wow, it’s grown to another level.
“I think this movie’s gonna be around for a little while.”