A Tribute to Lou Diamond Phillips

 

What are the odds of a small-town unknown actor showing up for a national talent search, and landing the lead role of a real life icon in film that would rocket him to worldwide stardom? But for Lou Diamond Phillips, a self-professed gambler and professional poker player, odds never fazed him – and he’s played the cards his been dealt like a champ.  Born in the Philippines, where his American father was stationed as Naval Officer, and named after WW2 hero Leland ‘Lou’ Diamond. And like his namesake, Lou would rise to legendary heights, and for many is considered a hero.

With a BFA from the University of Texas at Arlington, he acted at the local Stage West Theatre, while writing and directing films. But the thunderbolt of “La Bamba” would broaden the small-town Texan’s horizons to global awareness. And before “La Bamba” was even released, the still unknown actor had finished “Stand and Deliver”, which won him an Independent Spirit Award and Golden Globe Nomination in 1988, and secured his place among a crew of Hollywood heartthrobs alongside Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, and Emilio Estevez, the same year with “Young Guns”.

With over 100 screen credits to his name to date, he returned to his roots in 1996, debuting on Broadway in “The King and I”, which earned him a Tony Award Nomination, as well as a Theatre World Award and an Outer Critics Award for Outstanding Debut of an Actor. The following year, “Courage Under Fire” would earn him Lone Star and Blockbuster Awards.

Although mostly Pilipino, his heritage includes Hawaiian, Scottish, Irish, Cherokee, and Spanish. And his diverse background has helped him avoid being typecast. In his breakout role in the smash hit “La Bamba” he played Mexican-American Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer, Ritchie Valens. The irony is – Lou is many things. But he’s not Latino.  Having represented so many ethnicities, he’s earned deep respect from the many cultures he has honored. With intimate ties to the Native American community, although of Cherokee blood, he was ceremonially adopted by the Sioux/Lacota tribe, and given the name “Star Keeper” – the spirit that looks up to the skies. To timelessness, and to two worlds: the past & the present. And traveling from the stage to screen and back again, it was no surprise when he crossed into television, receiving a 2016 Emmy nomination for “Crossroads of History” and an ongoing starring role in the acclaimed series “Longmire”.

A longtime champion of independent voices, for his role in 2013s “Filthy Brown” he received Best Actor Awards, and Imagen nominations for his most recent offerings 2016s “The 33”, with Antonio Banderas, and 2017s “Created Equal”. And like many of his characters, Lou is a fighter who doesn’t give up. 30 years ago, in “Stand and Deliver” he played a gang member whose life is turned around by a tenacious math teacher. And with his latest film “Quest” - the true story of a teen whose life was saved by the teacher would wouldn’t give up on him, Lou comes full circle   - championing the voice of a new filmmaker, who in real life was the kid who didn’t give up. 

His father passed away early, long before his diamond would shine. And for this Star Keeper and gambling man who aces his craft and beats the odds of adversity, like the gem itself – through pressure and time Lou has only become more spectacular.