Lou Diamond Phillips
Actor, Activist- Dakota, Young Guns, Stand and Deliver
PHOTO COURTESY OF AMY BROWNSTEIN at PRstudioUSA
We are pleased to be able to add Mr. Lou Diamond Phillips to our 1988 Project archive. There is no question in our mind that there can be one individual out there who has not been personally affected by Mr. Phillips’ body of work, or by the support he gives to a number of charities and organizations. For us, here at the 1988 project, he hit our radar screens with his dynamic performance as Ritchie Valens in 1987’s La Bamba and then steamrolled through 1988 with a 1-2-3 punch: Young Guns, Stand and Deliver, and Dakota. His ability to play a variety of characters and avoid the pigeon holing roles that many young actors struggled with in the late 80’s has made him one of the most notable talents of his generation. His nominated and award winning performance as Angel in Stand, and his fresh take on Native and Hispanic cultural characters in Young Guns have made him an actor to take seriously. His generosity to his fans and tireless work with numerous veterans groups make him a person worthy of admiration. 27 years later, he has made quite a name for himself in movies, television, and stage. As a personal note, our teacher, once met him after a performance in his role as the King of Siam in The King and I, and recalls that Mr. Phillips could not have been nicer, taking time to meet with everyone that time allowed. Today you will recognize LDP from his work on the TV show Longmire, as Henry Standing Bear ( a role close to our teacher’s heart, as a Wyoming native), a role that has also allowed him to become an adopted member of the Cheyenne nation. He also serves as the spokesperson for the VFW, one of many among his numerous organizational work. He has come a long way from those days in ’88, shooting up Jack Palance with other Brat Packers and cracking wise with Edward James Olmos. Join us as he voices his concerns and hopes for young activism, measures his legacy, and dishes on the 1980’s mullet. We are honored that he has agreed to speak with us! Welcome Mr. Phillips back to 1988!
1988 Project: I know that you don't film Longmire in Wyoming, but did you do initial research about the people of Wyoming, and what did you find out about the people there?
Lou Diamond Phillips: Though we shoot Longmire in Santa Fe New Mexico, the setting of the books is the fictional town of Durant, Wyoming. Once I was cast in the role of Henry Standing Bear, I felt it necessary to do research for a number of reasons. Firstly, I read all of the books in the Longmire Mystery series that had been written thus far by author Craig Johnson so that I might have a complete grasp of Standing Bear and his relationship with his best friend, Walt Longmire, the protagonist of the books and the series.
I have played numerous Native American roles, from Navajo and Lakota to the Inuit in the far north. Just like I would never play a Mexican or Puerto Rican the same as I would play a Chilean, like I have recently in the feature film, The 33 about the Chilean miner catastrophe, I would never approach the role of Standing Bear who is Cheyenne with the assumption that he has the same background as Chavez y Chavez in Young Guns who is part Navajo, or Hank Stormin Renegades who is Lakota.
It was therefore incumbent on me not only to contact Marcus Red Thunder, who is our technical adviser on Longmire and an inspiration for the character in the novels, it was important to study firsthand the specifics of the Cheyenne culture. To do so, I traveled to the Lame Deer Reservation in Montana and spent a few days soaking up the environment- getting to know the people, visiting high schools, retirement homes and the families that live on the Res. I met with the tribal chairman, Leroy Stang, and was blessed by a Cheyenne elder, Charles Little Old Man. Since then, I have been adopted into the Cheyenne Nation and given a Cheyenne name and recently spoke at the Lame Deer High School graduation.
88: What are the memories that you have of 1988?
LDP: 1988 was a huge year for me, both personally and professionally. It was the year that Stand and Deliver came out, which resulted in a Golden Globes nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and a win in the same category for The Independent Spirit Award. I filmed Young Guns, which was the first indication to me that I had truly arrived in Hollywood, working alongside such established industry luminaries as Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland. In the same year, I also filmed Disorganized Crime and Renegades, working again with Kiefer.
Perhaps even more gratifying, was the work that I was able to perform by virtue of having worked with such socially conscious artists as Luis Valdez, the writer/director of La Bamba, whose Teatro Campesino was born out of the United Farmworkers Union. I also worked with Edward James Olmos, Jon Voight, Jackson Browne, Jane Fonda and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, among others, who were actively addressing numerous political and social causes. I marched with and fasted for Cesar Chavez, joining picket lines and providing VO for the UFW's documentary The Wrath of Grapes. I became heavily involved with Amnesty International, OxFam for global famine relief, Housing Now to address homelessness, and El Rescate to provide sanctuary and legal aid to South American refugees.
Many of the relationships I forged during that period have remained with me and it certainly set me on the path to use my new found celebrity to shine a light on important issues facing our country and our world. Sadly, thirty years later, I don't think there is such a uniform call or galvanizing commitment for young Hollywood to get involved in charitable commitments or the desire to exact social change.
88: Is there anything you would change about 1988 if you could go back and revisit?
LDP: The only thing I would probably change is the mullet hair style I sported along with a number of other fashion victims! I'm actually one of those people who believe that everything you experience, good, bad, painful, revelatory, contributes to where you are now and who you've become. I would not change anything because I learned and was, hopefully, allowed to gain some wisdom in the process.
88: What does Young Guns mean to you personally? Do you think it had an impact on the western genre?
LDP: Young Guns was a massive milestone for me. As I said, working with young Hollywood's elite, I felt as if I had finally gained a certain plateau in my career. Not only that, it was an experience that gave me lifelong friends and has become a touchstone for an entire generation. Though I never got a membership card, I guess I could consider myself the only ethnic member of The Brat Pack! (That's a joke) Seriously, at the time, the Western genre was considered fairly dead. Young Guns was the first western in over a decade that became a box office hit. Not long after, a slew of highly successful westerns followed including Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven and, of course, Young Guns II. I'd like to think that Young Guns opened the door for those other Oscar winners. Looking back now, I don't think we were aware that our film would have the kind of classic staying power that it has enjoyed. I'm still approached by Young Guns fans. It is still probably the best time I have ever had on a film set.
88: What does this Stand and Deliver mean to you? What lessons did you take from the shooting of the film?
LDP: Stand and Deliver remains a very special moment in my career not only for what it did for me professionally but also because it had a huge impact culturally that is still felt. The film is still shown as a teaching tool in High Schools and has been named one of the top 100 Inspirational Films by The American Film Institute and has been entered in The National Film Registry as a national artistic treasure.
As I mentioned, every step you take on your path leads you to where you are, and my journey to Stand and Deliver is easily traceable, Edward James Olmos had performed in both the Broadway and film versions of Zoot Suit, written and directed by Luis Valdez. Eddie was aware of the film La Bamba before it came out and I was fortunate to be cast in a guest spot on Miami Vice (an episode which also boasted Viggo Mortensen and Annette Bening) After working briefly with Eddie, he invited me to become a part of The Stand and Deliver cast.
At the time, once again, I was unaware of the impact the film would have, I was just happy to get another job! Since it was a true story, I quickly understood how inspirational and important the film could be, not only for educators but for the Mexican/American community. It was a continuation of the pride and celebration of that community's contributions to American culture that had been ignited with La Bamba. Also, it was impossible not to be affected by the real Jaime Escalante's passion for education and self-improvement.
I am still incredibly proud that Stand and Deliver stands as an inspiration not only for teachers but for those at risk students who don't feel that they can flourish within the system. My support of educational causes has continued to this day, including stints as a spokesperson for The California Teachers Association and The “Read Across America” program.
Additionally, the legacy of Stand and Deliver continued when my old friend Edward James Olmos asked me to be a part of the recent film Filly Brown, playing the father of the now hugely successful Gina Rodriguez who stars as Jane the Virgin and who recently won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a comedy. My role of Jose Tonorio literally felt like my character Angel from Stand and Deliver all grown up and with teenagers of his own. The role garnered me awards from The Imagen Foundation, The Alma awards and the Best Supporting Actor award from The Milan International Film Festival. Once again, I feel like the legacy of Stand and Deliver is an inspiration to young actors of color to fight and find their place in the industry just as I did and just as Gina Rodriguez is doing.
88: Would you consider your roles as Angel Guzman and Jose Chavez Y Chavez as groundbreaking?
LDP: Hindsight is sometimes profound. In 1988, I didn't consider myself a pioneer or consider that my work was groundbreaking. I was simply an actor trying to build a career. Moreover, my theatre background made me consider myself a character actor and not a star. I'm proud to point out that each of my characters is unique and very different from one another because I try to create a complete and living character every time I take on a role, a philosophy that I still apply today.
Only now, after years have gone by, can I look back and, with all due humility and gratitude, recognize the impact that many of my roles have had on the next generation. The great Gregory Peck once said to me that I reminded him of his friend, Anthony Quinn. That was high praise indeed, and an epiphany for me since Mr. Quinn was truly one of the first ethnic actors to become a leading man. I have had the privilege of representing many communities and, in some instances, have been a 'crossover' actor simply playing characters whose ethnicity doesn't define them. I have heard first hand from many aspiring young actors who have been inspired by my portrayals and I now recognize that my success has given hope and inspiration to artists who also happen to be Latino or Native American or Asian/American or any ethnicity represented in the cultural melting pot of America. I now carry this torch proudly and continue to make inroads for diversity and equal opportunity for actors whose talent should be the only criteria when being cast in film and television.
88: Is there anything in 1988 that shaped your work with Veteran's projects?
LDP: In 1988, Veteran's issues were not in the forefront of the American consciousness as they are today. At the time, we were not engaged in overt conflicts globally. Obviously, much has changed post 9/11 and our men and women in uniform have been engaged in numerous conflicts for over a decade. As a military kid growing up on Navy bases, I was always surrounded by the military family and, obviously, had great respect and admiration for those who answered the call of duty. My real involvement as a spokesperson came about as a result of my hosting The Military Channel's program An Officer and a Movie. This increased exposure in the military community led to my work with The USO, Operation Second Chances, The Wounded Warriors Project and my current post as the national spokesperson for The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) for the second year in a row. Currently, I truly believe that we need to recognize, respect and support our men and women who have voluntarily put themselves in harm's way to protect our nation and our way of life and we, as civilians and citizens, need to provide them and their families the kind of support commensurate with their commitment to duty.
88: It is 1988, you are listening music while riding around promoting Young Guns. The song you don’t mind hearing over and over is
a. George Michael’s Faith
b. Whitney Houston I Get so Emotional
c. Beach Boys Kokomo
d. Debbie Gibson Foolish Beat
e. Bobby McFerrin Don’t Worry Be Happy
f. Guns N Roses Sweet Child of Mine
g. None of the above, I preferred to listen to _____
LDP: Faith, Kokomo, and Don’t Worry Be Happy. I was ridiculously upbeat and happy in those times and my music reflected it.
88: It is 1988, you want to catch a movie that is not one of your own... What are you most likely to watch out of the top 10 movies that year?
a. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
b. Rain Man
f. Crocodile Dundee II
g. Naked Gun
i.Coming to America
j. None of the above, I preferred to watch___________
LDP: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Rain Man, Big & Beetlejuice. My taste in movies is widely diverse. As long as the film accomplishes what it set out to do artistically, perfection can come in many faces.
88: It is 1988, you have downtime between dailies while producing Dakota. You were most likely to read
a. Tom Clancy’s Cardinal of the Kremlin
b. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time
c. Stephen King’s The Tommy Knockers
d. Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities
e. None of the above, I was reading ________________
LDP: Bonfire of the Vanities. Loved it. Incidentally, I recently recorded the audio book for Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood, a hilarious and brilliant read. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, I just didn't happen to read Tommyknockers.
88: It is 1988, you manage to catch some TV when you aren't hanging out in "young Hollywood" with Charlie, Emilio, and Kiefer. Would it most likely be?
b. The Cosby Show
d. The Wonder Years
e. None of the above I was watching ______________
LDP: Cheers. Wasn't much of a TV watcher in those days. Now, I'm a rabid fan of a number of shows.
88: Any charities and projects we could promote for you?
LDP: There are a number of charities that I continue to support, most notably the VFW this year but also an ongoing relationship with No Kid Hungry.
88: One last point I am supposed to make. I was a teacher in New Jersey to a large group of Filipino students and I been told that I will be removed from their facebooks if I don't ask you about your favorite food from the Philippines, and also if I don't ask for a hello for Debbie Duma.
LDP: A big hello to Debbie! Also, tell your Pinoy students that I make a pretty brilliant pork/chicken adobo and a very good pansit. I leave the lumpia rolling to my mother!
88: Thank you so much Mr. Phillips for talking with us! This was a treat! Thank you also to your wonderful publicist Amy Brownstein for all of her help in this process. And, if you are ever in the Logansport, Indiana area, we have a Thai/Philippine Cuisine Restaurant named Dhing's that serves some delicious Lumpia on Thursdays.
LDP: Congratulations on coming up with a very clever way to give your students some perspective, history, context and hopefully inspiration to help them define their own generation. Blessings, LDP