Lou Diamond Phillips Interview

The actor discusses making the mini-series, Young Guns and the upcoming Aquaman TV show

Lou Diamond Phillips is known for many things. There was the starmaking turn as Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, the role of Jose Chavez y Chavez in Young Guns and who can forget his role as Angel Guzman in the inspiring inner city film Stand and Deliver. And this is just the first part of his career.

Over the years Philips has proven his skills both in front of and behind the camera. He's been seen on TV shows like 24 and The George Lopez Show, he's directed as well as acted in episodes of Resurrection Blvd. and The Twilight Zone and he's continued to carve out various roles for himself in feature films.

He recently sat down with us to discuss his work on The Triangle. This show which is the brainchild of Dean Devlin (Independence Day) and Bryan Singer (X-Men), explores the myth, mystery and lore behind the Bermuda Triangle.

Lou Diamond Phillips: It's funny because it seem like such a short amount of time since The Triangle was on the air, so it's great that it's already out in the video stores.

For the uninitiated, could you tell the readers about the character of Meeno Paloma that you played in The Triangle?

Lou Diamond Phillips: Meeno's your basic blue collar guy. He works in a boat shop but he also is a Greenpeace Warrior. At the beginning of the mini-series we find him trying to protect whales out in the Sargasso Sea in the Bermuda Triangle, if you will. Unfortunately, he encounters a Triangle incident as does the whaling ship that they're pursuing and it effects his life in a very profound and very disturbing way. He gets home and his family is not as it seems. As a matter of fact, his entire world is not as he remembers it. Meeno, unfortunately, like the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters, thinks he's losing his mind.

What attracted you to this project?

Lou Diamond Phillips: First of all, I've been a huge Triangle fan. I've been intrigued by it ever since I was a kid. My Dad was in the Navy and Flight 19 has always been sort of intriguing to me. I've always sort of wondered what's gone on there? Dean Devlin has been a buddy of mine for many, many years, and I've been a huge fan of Bryan Singer. So when it came to me from these two guys, I knew it was going to be smart, intriguing and exciting science fiction. I also knew that they would do it in a real classy way. I was inclined to like it from the get-go, but of course that whole first sequence, chasing down the whale, protecting the whale from the whalers, I knew it was going to be a page turner from then on.

When you do a show like The Triangle, or any show dealing with the supernatural, do you think it's a good idea to have an opinion about the events that happened within the story?

Lou Diamond Phillips: Yes and no. It's not necessarily my job, or the character's job to explain anything. What I think really good science fiction has is a really strong human element. Something that as outlandish as the occurrences may be, whether it's something like The Triangle or whether it's Star Trek, that they're characters that you can relate to and the people going through these experiences are grounded in their own reality. That it's very real and very valid for them. So that the audience can be pulled into it first of all, but I also try and make sense of it as the characters do.

Did you always set out to have as varied a career as you've had?

Lou Diamond Phillips: Seriously enough, I didn't set out to do this. It's advantageous to an actor (laughs) to be able to go where the work is, you know? To hopefully have the ability to jump genres and to do many different things. I have to say, from the earliest of my training and my theater career, I was doing everything from farce and improv comedy to Shakespeare... to heavy drama. Mamet and things like that. So from my earliest embracing of this craft, I've wanted to do everything. I've wanted to do it all and have felt very comfortable doing it all.

Including writing and directing for that matter. Even during my college days I did a lot of theater writing and theater directing; to be able to cross the line. And the beautiful thing is in today's environment almost every actor is doing every thing. You see people doing guest spots on TV. You see people showing up on special films on cable, feature films, series. Fortunately for us, there is no stigma to any of the mediums anymore.

How did you get started? What made you want to act and do all this stuff?

Lou Diamond Phillips: I did my first play in the sixth grade and it was just one of those things; the bug bit. I helped write the little play, too. I think our teacher just had us do that because we were a bunch of energetic overachievers. We ripped off Peanuts, the Charlie Brown thing, and from then on I just enjoyed it so much. I thought, "Okay, well I'm gonna continue to do this." Through Junior High and High School in Texas, I was competing in drama. We had a thing called University Interscholastic League. Where you would go to drama "meets" just like you would go to a track meet. And you would do monologue interpretations, or you would do duet scenes and the tentpole every year was this one act play that we would put on. I was winning a lot of awards or I was nominated for awards throughout my high school career, so not only was I really loving what I was doing, I was being reinforced in other people judging me and saying, "You're good at it."

One thing lead to another and I majored in theater at the University of Texas in Arlington; got a degree. At about the same time, in the Dallas, Fort Worth area there was a lot of theater and there was a lot of film and TV production. So I started out in that trend and basically worked my way up.

Even back that, working on that sixth grade script, you had your hands in the production.

Lou Diamond Phillips: Exactly! So in a strange way I was not only taught success at an early age but I was taught completion, you know? You set out to do something, you see it through and there's a very tangible reward at the end of it. Even though the acting is my bread and butter and my first love and always will be, I do love writing and I do love directing. As a matter of fact, I'd like to get back to it a little bit in the coming year. Once again, I think it's just a different avenue to express yourself. It all comes basically from the same well.

What was it like working Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Keifer Sutherland when you did the Young Guns movies?

Lou Diamond Phillips: It's funny because, two things, at the time we were all just really excited. We hadn't made our bones yet. We'd all had these successes and suddenly we were grouped together... whether labeled The Brat Pack or whether we were just the next new wave in Hollywood as young actors. People insist now, "Oh, you guys are just like us looking back at The Magnificent Seven!" But at the time you don't feel that iconic, you know? You look back at it now you go, "Wow, that was an amazing period of time."

So we were a bit unaware of that but at the same time I think there was a feeling, especially on the Young Guns set, that, "Okay, we're the next big thing." Especially that film, this was like our being knighted if you will, because suddenly we were drawn together and you could look around and go, "Wow, this is cool." I'm working with all these young guys. Keifer from Stand By Me, Emilio from The Breakfast Club and all those incredible films he'd done and Charlie was coming off Platoon and Wall Street. You just sort of felt the heat on the set. Not to mention that we were surrounded by fans every single day.

Did you have any idea then that you would all be where you are today? Charlie doing Two and A Half Men, Emilio Estevez directing Bobby and Keifer's doing 24.

Lou Diamond Phillips: The one thing I can say about that time and to where we are today, is that there was never any doubt that all of us had an intense love and respect for the craft and for the art of acting. We weren't in it just to be known. We truly loved what we were doing then and I think, hopefully, have grown into seasoned veterans now. The fact that were all still standing and that we're all still out there doing it, hopefully speaks not only to talent but perseverance and a little bit of business savvy.

You had mentioned getting back to directing later in the year, what are you looking to do in the future?

Lou Diamond Phillips: I would like to do a little more episodic mainly because it's ridiculously convenient. It teaches you a lot, I mean, it really, really hones your game. It's like speed chess or whatever. It's something that you can get a piece of material quickly, figure out, "How am I going to interpret this?" You don't necessarily have your choice of actors. You are handed a group of actors and go, "Okay, this is what I have to work with." And in television you have all the toys. The budgets for episodic television have gone way up. Just on the The Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits that I did, "Hmmm, can I get a steadycam? Hmmm, can I have a crane today?" And it's available to you!

So you get to play the A Game at a very high level and yet it's very intense because you must adhere to a budget and a schedule. So it's a great training ground and not only that, in success it's something that really keeps those muscles sharp and works the other side of the creative thing that actors have. It works your organizational skills. It works your leadership skills. Eventually, I would like... I've written a few things that I would like to see get off the ground, but like Emilio with Bobby, what you've got is a passion project. I know Emilio had that script for years and it's taken a long time to get to this point, but I think he's really put together an amazing cast, at least of the people I know that are in it, and I think he's a wonderful director.

So, getting a project like that off the ground takes amazing tenacity, amazing discipline and amazing drive. So it's not as easy as stepping in and doing a commercial, or a television show, but the rewards could be much greater for him.

What do you have coming up next and can you talk at all about the Aquaman pilot that you did?

Lou Diamond Phillips: Well, you know it's amazing because a number of people have said it to me... the funny thing about the Aquaman project is that there's so much buzz about it already. Which is amazing, I mean you don't usually get that with a pilot, because they're sort of sight unseen. With the announcement that Al Gough and Miles Millar were doing this, basically spinning off of Smallville, but not really, it is it's own creature if you will, there was a lot of speculation and a lot of buzz. I can say just having been on the set, having been with Ving and Justin Hartley, who is amazing and I think is gonna blow up, we nailed it, man. It was a wonderful script and it was so much enthusiasm and so much heart, and I have to say an incredible amount of support. From the network, from the studio and I think everybody had high hopes for it.

You never know in TV. I mean, you know, we could shoot ourselves in the foot or something awful could go wrong, who knows? But by all indications, I think we set the bar high with it and I think there is a definite awareness and a definite eagerness out in the viewing audience to see this show.

The Triangle is available on DVD through Lionsgate Home Entertainment.