Based on a wild, infuriating true story, The Devil Has a Name comes from director/star Edward James Olmos (Selena), and the auteur blends all kinds of tones, vibes, and incredible actors to tell the muckraking tale of a farmer (David Strathairn, Good Night and Good Luck) who makes a bad deal with a manipulative oil executive (Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns) and finds his almond farm’s water supply getting poisoned. With the help of enterprising environmental lawyer Martin Sheen, (The West Wing), can a sense of justice be found? Or does the devil have his hands too entwined in our capitalistic world?
I was lucky enough to speak with Olmos in a one-on-one Zoom interview as part of the film’s press junket. The director, who also plays Santiago, Strathairn’s right-hand-man, got into the logistics of directing his own performance, his visual strategies as a director, the challenges and opportunities that come with blending tones, the need to tell such an environmentally prescient true story, the desire to keep this film from being too depressing, the silly catharsis of wrestling his co-star Strathairn, and much more.
Check out our full interview with Olmos on The Devil Has a Name below. The film comes to theaters, on demand and digital on October 16th. For more on Olmos, here’s our Coco interview with him.
What’s happening to our World, what we’re letting happen, is nothing short of a tragedy. I know it’s easy to feel powerless to stop it, and it’s even easier to deny it’s happening at all. But at the end of the day, we need to face the fact that no one else is going to stop climate change; no one else is going to heal this Earth. It’s only ever been up to us.
The Devil Has a Name tells one of the many human sides to this titanic global crisis. A farmer’s water is polluted. The polluters cover it up, are found out, and, despite the farmer’s efforts, largely escape justice. The farmer may profit a little in the end, but only because it serves the polluter’s interests.
Stories like this need to be told because people who are somehow not yet convinced of the existential threat of climate change need to be shown the personal threat corporate pollution poses. These polluters are not our friends. They’re not more efficient. They wouldn’t be more suited to running things and they certainly don’t have our best interests at heart.
They are, in fact, the worst of us. Followers of a cult of greed, slaves to self-interest, subscribers to a culture of callousness and cronyism, they stand only for personal gain and celebrate the most cutthroat and conniving of their kind. These are the grown-up versions of schoolyard bullies stealing your lunch money and hawking loogies in your hair, and yet they have tricked much of the public into believing they represent all that is good and grand and virtuous in our society.
If you couldn’t care less about the health of the planet or don’t believe in the vast and cataclysmic changes that future generations are going to have to endure for our follies today, then perhaps, at least, you can see their disregard for our environment, not as an understandable sacrifice to revenue and jobs, but as an unacceptable crime against your land, your water, your air, your life.
If The Devil Has a Name makes you think twice about these corporations and where their interests truly lie, if it makes you empathize with the victim rather than the accused, if it gets you thinking that all this could be run in a fairer, cleaner, kinder manner, then my work and the work of our incredible cast and crew has been worth it. We set out to tell the human side of corporate predation and pollution. Our story was small but our intention is enormous. If we can get everyone to agree that no one should have their water poisoned, their life’s work destroyed, or their reputation threatened in order for a company to save a buck, then surely we can get them to agree that polluting our entire planet for the sake of convenience is an act unworthy of humanity.
I want to extend my greatest thanks to those dear friends and colleagues who joined me on this adventure into the almond orchards and oil fields of the Central Valley. I will never forget their hard work, sacrifice, and dedication.