Of the entire cast of Stargate Universe, perhaps no cast member has more long-term name and face recognition then actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Phillips, who portrays “Colonel David Telford” on the series, has maintained a major presence in the Hollywood industry for over 25 years after shooting to stardom with a string of theatrical blockbusters in the late 1980’s. It’s a presence he continues to finesse and tinker with now, even as he is finishing up work on production of the last of the episodes for Season Two of SGU.
GateWorld caught up with Phillips over the phone earlier this month while the actor was enjoying some downtime with his family, and he was gracious enough to chat extendedly about his career — both past and present. In our discussion, he discusses his big break, his most well-known movies, both seasons of SGU, what makes Telford tick, the love of a card game, and much more!
GateWorld’s interview with Lou Diamond Phillips runs almost 40 minutes and is available in audio for your easy listening. It is also transcribed below.
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I am Chad Colvin and I’m on the phone this evening with a man who needs no introduction, but I’m going to give him one anyway. He is a director, an Independent Spirit Award winner, a Golden Globe nominee, a Tony Award nominee, one of Hollywood’s more versatile actors and he’s a hell of a poker player. I personally feel honored to be talking to the one and only Lou Diamond Phillips. How are you?
Lou Diamond Phillips: I’m good, Chad. How are you doing?
GW: Not too bad. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us a little bit.
LDP: No, not a problem. Not a problem at all.
GW: How have you been? What have you been up to?
Phillips with his wife and children at the premiere of Kung Fu Panda in 2008
LDP: I’ve been good. Been busy. It’s been a very, very busy year and a lot of it has been taken up with Stargate Universe.
GW: Now, you’re just a couple of weeks away from the end of production on Season Two, correct?
LDP: Yeah, we’re wrapping up the second season, all 20 episodes and whatnot. It’s so funny because we’re so far ahead, as far as filming goes, as to what actually airs that you always have to take a beat and go, “All right, what have people seen? What can I not spoil? Where are we at as far as the dissemination of information in the real world?”
GW: Absolutely. Are you ready for some time off and more time with your family?
LDP: Oh, absolutely. Fortunately for me, Yvonne and our daughter Indigo get to come with me when we’re filming here in Vancouver. I haven’t seen the big girls in a little while, so that’s always a little disconcerting, but they’ve got very busy lives. They’re teenagers now and with their after-school sports and their very, very busy social lives, I don’t think they miss Dad too much.
GW: You were acting for years prior to it, but your first big break-out role was as rocker Ritchie Valens in the ’87 film La Bamba. That thrust you into the limelight and international stardom. What was that like for you? How did you transition from the smaller roles that you had had prior to something that was that big, culturally?
LDP: What was odd is that when we were filming it, it wasn’t as if anyone knew it was going to be this huge hit. I was cast out of Dallas, Texas. I’d been working in the film industry there for about four years after having graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington. So when I went on that audition, first of all I was amazed they were even casting it in Texas. I had no idea it was this Hollywood film.
Having said that, what’s interesting is that my agent’s assistant in Dallas got it wrong. She thought I was auditioning for a theater musical on the life of Frankie Valli of The Four Seasons. Which is funny now, because Jersey Boys is actually a huge hit, but at the time I thought, “Really? They’re doing a musical about Frankie Valli?”
Phillips' first taste of international stardom came with the 1987 film 'La Bamba' and his tragic portrayal of early rock icon Richie Valens.
So for me, this was lightning in a bottle. They cast me for the film out of Dallas. The only real names that were in the movie at that time were Esai Morales, [who] had done Bad Boys with Sean Penn, Joe Pantoliano was just coming off of Risky Business as Guido, the killer pimp and Elizabeth Peña was coming off of Down and Out in Beverly Hills. So there weren’t any big names. It was this little, heartfelt film that was a negative pick-up for Columbia Studios and it’s not as if we knew we were making this monster hit.
I got to make this film and then had to wait a year before it actually came out so I got a little more acclimated to Hollywood, and also after being unemployed because I didn’t get any gigs for, like six, eight months after we were finished filming. Here I was, this unknown, playing an obscure Mexican-American rock ‘n roll star in a tiny little film. We made that movie for six million dollars. It was not destined to be this huge hit, so when it did, it literally boggled all of our minds. It just blew us away because it was such a well-made, heartfelt movie that speaks to people even today. In many ways, it was my Cinderella story and I’m very proud of it.
GW: I’ll completely admit, I DJ on the side also and at least once a year, I’ll go back and watch it again.
LDP: And it holds up, man! One of the reasons I’m still around today, I think, is the fact that my first three films out of the gate in Hollywood were La Bamba followed by Stand and Deliver followed by Young Guns. Three very, very different but very, very good films — award winning. And, like you mentioned, I got nominated for the Golden Globe and won the Independent Spirit Award. Eddie [Edward James Olmos], obviously, was nominated for the Oscar. Young Guns was my first inkling that, “Okay, I’ve arrived. I’m working with this group of guys and we’re the hot young bucks on the block right now.” So those were the first three films and I think it bought me some tenure for a little while.
GW: Definitely, having the chance to show that range was only a good thing. I do have to ask though, are you able to hear the Los Lobos version of the theme without flipping the radio to a different station?
LDP: [Laughter] You know, it catches me off-guard sometimes. I have to be very careful which Mexican restaurants I go to because chances are there’s going to be a mariachi band there. I don’t even make it past my first margarita, I got to hit the door. It’s one that will forever be linked to me. Yes, I am proud of it but yeah, I’ve been screamed at for 25 years now, “La, la, la, la, la bamba…” on the street. That’s lost its appeal, believe me.
NEXT: Young Guns, Broadway, and the casting process for “Telford”