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Edward James Olmos on What It Means to ‘Be’ Battlestar Galactica’s Bill Adama

Edward James Olmos attends
Edward James Olmos. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Last summer, severely jetlagged from a trip to China, I watched all of Battlestar Galactica in two weeks of sleepless nights that led to squandered days. Remember that Portlandia sketch where Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen sit down to watch one episode of Battlestar and get so caught up in an obsessive marathon that their power gets cut off and they lose their jobs? That was pretty much me, though I did manage to get into work every day — groggy and unable to think of anything but my next fix. I did fall asleep hardcore once, right as a beau was coming over, and woke up to five missed calls and ten missed texts that he was on my doorstep (and left), shrugged my shoulders, and dove into the next episode. That did not end well. And when I hit the series finale, I didn’t track down Ronald D. Moore to write one more episode, like on Portlandia, but I did take a personality quiz to determine which Battlestar Galactic character I am. To my surprise, I’m Commander Bill Adama: dutiful, prideful protector of the last survivors of the human race. (I’d been hoping for hotheaded fighter pilot Starbuck, but was pretty pleased nonetheless.)

So it felt like fate to spot Edward James Olmos, the man who played Commander Adama, at the premiere party for his new movie, 2 Guns, last night at the Standard. In a change of pace, Olmos plays a drug kingpin and improvises lines about cutting off Denzel Washington’s balls and sticking them in Mark Wahlberg’s mouth and vice versa. All I cared was that finally (finally!) I could ask him what it all meant. What does it mean to be Bill Adama?

“Wow,” said Olmos. “So say we all.” And after he stopped laughing, which took a while, he dropped this wisdom: “All I know is that ‘dama” — he calls him ‘dama, yes — “tried his hardest to save humanity, and failed. I mean, we made it, but he ended up self-destructing. You saw it, right?”

Yes, of course. “He self-destructed, he became an alcoholic, he became a drug user. You know, he was lying out there, crying on the ground, and then he picked himself up and pushed through. He came back. I will say it’s been a very, very intense journey to save humanity.”

Does that mean that if this personality quiz says I’m Bill Adama that something’s wrong, that I’ve got a hard road ahead of me? “Look, the attributes of Adama are overwhelming. You know that. His character was incredible in respect to who he was as a human being. He was completely destroyed, and had to come back from total destruction, so his character was pretty strong.” It was strangely reassuring to hear.

Had Olmos ever taken a personality quiz to see if he was more like another character than Admiral Adama? “As a human being outside of the art form, you know, these are characters that we create bibles for. It’s not like we don’t use some of our own character. We do. Whenever possible, you do. But in this case, I never experienced anything even close to that. That was a world that was unique in itself. That responsibility was Adama, not mine, Edward James Olmos. That wasn’t me.” He asked if I’d seen “the Portlandia.” “I did this thing where I look at Fred and I said, ‘I’ve never been in outer space.’ And his brain was like … ” He pretended to explode his head. “It’s hysterical.”

I told him how I’d binged on Battlestar for two weeks straight. “That’s the way to do it,” he said, adding that he knew one woman who’d seen the whole thing in just four days. “All of it,” he said. “The whole thing.” Did she even get up to pee? I wanted to know. “Of course. But then also you’ve got to realize that she did nothing but focus on Battlestar. It’s like twenty hours a day!” Was he admiring of that? “You know, I understand it. Admiring of it? The tenaciousness of it, yes, the discipline of it, also yes, but would I suggest that everybody see it that way? No. You don’t enjoy it. It becomes like a test of can you do it? That’s not it.”

And finally, since we were deep into this now, I decided to be bold and ask if he might write just one last episode. Sadly, Olmos didn’t bite. “I thought Ron did a great job. A lot of people were dissatisfied. But you’ll always be dissatisfied. The series should have gone on for twenty years.” Any chance of it becoming a movie? “Yes,” he said. What? There is? “Yeah, but not with us. It’d be completely different.” This was where my head exploded. But how is that even possible?! “They’ll do fine,” he said and nodded his head and graciously sent me on my way.

Edward James Olmos Explains Commander Bill Adama