Lou Diamond Phillips is so busy, he admits “sometimes I have to look around, because I don’t know where I am.” The actor can be caught on the big screen in “The 33,” which tells the true story of the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days. Phillips plays Luis “Don Lucho” Urzúa, the shift foreman who knew the mine was in poor condition. The film also stars Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche.
He can currently be seen on small screens in the series “Longmire,” which moved from A&E to Netflix for its fourth season, and has recently been reupped for a fifth.
Did you follow the story of the Chilean miners when it first happened?
Most definitely. It took place over several days, so I remember watching it on CNN and following the story and the rescue. When my agent called me and said, “There’s interest in you from this director for a story on the Chilean miners,” I said, “I’m in. No matter what.”
Were you always going to play the role you ended up with?
Well, the funny thing is, when I went to meet the director, Patricia Riggen, there wasn’t a script yet. She was in Los Angeles for two hours before returning to Colombia and so I raced over to meet her. They had some temporary sides and I read with her. It was one of those rare, wonderful instances where before she left she said, “I want to work with you, I just don’t know what part yet.”
When did you learn it would be Don Lucho?
I got a script about two weeks later, and she had decided I would play Don Lucho. Not only was I thrilled, I was immediately at a loss, because he’s such a complex character. He has integrity and dignity and such a complicated journey in the film. He’s management, yes, but he’s middle-management. And he isn’t able to be as forthcoming with his men and he would like, so he’s very torn.
Were you able to meet the real Don Lucho?
A few times. And much to my embarrassment, I’m not bilingual. So there was a bit of a barrier between me and him. But I was able to glean so much from his presence. He’s a man of few words, he’s not demonstrative. He doesn’t yearn for the spotlight.
You just finished filming “The Night Stalker” for filmmaker Megan Griffiths, in which you play serial killer Richard Ramirez. Was that difficult?
It truly is one of the most challenging, interesting, complex roles I’ve ever played. It’s maybe the biggest transformation I’ve ever undertaken. And it’s not a biopic, it’s a fictional look at the story. Bellamy Young plays a lawyer whose client is on Death Row and she believes a young Richard Ramirez may have committed the crime. So it becomes a very “Silence of the Lambs” chess game type of situation with page after page of these verbal gymnastics. The script was absolutely brilliant.
I have been incredibly fortunate. And I sincerely hope it is a bellwether to a change in Hollywood. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a number of female directors. What I love about it is not only do they have the technical expertise and the leadership skills to marshal a film crew, they bring a sensitivity and an understanding to material that I don’t believe every male has. It’s somewhat ironic that in this testosterone-driven film about 33 men in a mine, Patricia Riggen was able to find the heart of it. And in this psychological, horrific thriller, Megan Griffiths, this beautiful lady of light and warmth, is investigating the dark side of humanity.
Season Four of “Longmire” moved to Netflix, which seems like a good home for it.
Absolutely. We were previously constrained to 42 minutes and as a result, a lot of my work hit the floor. With an additional 20 minutes, we can let those moments breathe and round out those characters and it’s a much more cinematic experience episode to episode.
But you ended on a cliffhanger, when we don’t know if there’s a Season 5.
I think that speaks to all of our optimism!