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Olmos talks ‘Filly Brown,’ Jenni Rivera

Clockwise from left, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jenni Rivera and Gina Rodriguez star in "Filly Brown." The film marks Rivera's acting debut and her final film. (Courtesy of Pantelion Films 2013/ John Castillo)

Clockwise from left, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jenni Rivera and Gina Rodriguez star in “Filly Brown.” The film marks Rivera’s acting debut and her final film. (Courtesy of Pantelion Films 2013/ John Castillo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The more Edward James Olmos sees the film, “Filly Brown,” the more he loves it.

The legendary actor’s latest movie has become a sleeper hit – and the Duke City is one of the cities screening the film.

The film is playing at both Century Rio 24 and Century 14 Downtown and are two of the now expanded 260 screens across the country showing the film.

“We opened really well and it’s starting to get word of mouth attention,” Olmos says during a recent phone interview. “I think that people are surprised by the film because it resonates with so many people.”

Edward James Olmos in "Filly Brown."

Edward James Olmos in “Filly Brown.”

“Filly Brown” is a gritty portrait of a young artist striving to find her voice and seize her dreams without compromise.

Majo Tonorois, aka, Filly Brown, is a young, raw hip-hop artist from Los Angeles who spits rhymes from the heart. Filly Brown, played by newcomer Gina Rodriguez, has a mother in prison, played by the late Jenni Rivera and a father, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, who is struggling to provide for his daughters.

Filly Brown knows that a record contract could be her family’s ticket out of the barrio.

But when a record producer offers her a shot at stardom, she is suddenly faced with the prospect of losing who she is as an artist, as well as the friends who helped her reach the cusp of success.

Olmos says the project was a labor of love.

“There was no money and it is a very low-budget movie,” he says. “The ensemble came together as a family over the course of the 19-day shoot around Los Angeles.”

Olmos plays Leandro in the film. Leandro is the lawyer for Filly Brown’s mother.

“He’s a hard-working attorney and spends his time helping the community,” he says. “Most of the time, he’s listening to the plight of the community members. If they have money, that’s great and if they don’t he’ll barter with them to help them out.”

Olmos has appeared in dozens of movies over the course of his career.

The veteran actor says it was the story that drew him to “Filly Brown.”

“The key to the whole thing is that I had never read a story about a young Latina poet who raps and who does readings for her poetry,” he says. “Then there’s the story line where we follow the plight of a family trying to stay united despite the circumstances. It is a simple story with strong characters and it’s contemporary.”

Olmos also had the chance to work with Rivera. The film marked her acting debut as well as her final film. Rivera died in a plane crash in Mexico in December.

“At all levels I had never worked with her,” he explains. “But she was fantastic and we had a wonderful time. We recorded a song together and it became the last song that she recorded.”

Olmos says he was beyond impressed with Rivera’s work in the film.

“As we watched her in the film, it was a feeling that one gets from watching a young artist transforming into a new discipline,” he says. “I had never seen it quite done. I wasn’t around when Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand made their moves from music to movies. That’s the realm of the quality of Jenni’s work in this film. She went to a much deeper level with her character than anybody could really imagine. When we were watching (the takes) back on the cameras, we were stunned and we were all crying.”

“Filly Brown” has been on a journey since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012.

Olmos says when the film premiered at Sundance, the cast didn’t know what to expect.

“We screened at 8 a.m. on a weekday and didn’t think anyone would show up,” he explains. “When we walked in, all 500 seats were filled. It was a perfect example of what the artform can do.”

Olmos says the audience was 95 percent non ethnic and their age range was 45 and up.

“It was a bunch of middle- to upper-class people,” he says. “I was interested in seeing how the film would come down with this audience.”

As the movie finished, Olmos says he could hear sobbing in the audience.

“At that moment, I knew that we had crossed over,” he says. “This film is going to be bigger than anyone thought.”

Olmos says as the film begins to open in more markets nationwide, he hopes that audiences enjoy themselves with the story.

“Right now people don’t know much about the film because it’s not being marketed,” he says. “Once they hear about it, I think it will grow into something great.”

The film is directed by Youssef Delara and Michael Olmos.

If you go
“Filly Brown” is currently playing at Century Rio 24 and Century 14 Downtown. Find tickets and showtimes at www.fandango.com

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