Family & Companions
His talent and exotic looks grabbed attention in the late 1980s, but Lou Diamond Phillips was unable to capitalize on his early career momentum. Soaring to success as the star of the popular Ritchie Valens biopic "La Bamba" (1987), Phillips won an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe nomination for his role as a teen gang member in the powerful "Stand and Deliver"(1988). While he enjoyed mainstream success with the Brat Pack smash "Young Guns" (1988), Phillips faded as a box office star - although the notoriety of his wife Julie Cypher leaving him for Melissa Etheridge earned him unwanted headlines. Phillips continued to work, earning a Tony nomination for the lead role in Broadway's "The King and I" and serious critical attention with a role in "Courage Under Fire" (1996) alongside Meg Ryan and Denzel Washington. His bread-and-butter, however, remained guest-starring roles and indie film work. Although he charmed viewers enough to win the game show "I'm a Celebrity.Get Me out of Here!" (NBC, 2009), the actor once again garnered critical acclaim for his role as bar owner Henry Standing Bear on the well-received crime-drama "Longmire" (A&E, 2012- ). While Phillips' circuitous career trajectory exemplified Hollywood's inadequacy in fully utilizing actors of ethnicity, his persistence and undeniable screen presence kept him very much in the game.
Born Feb. 17, 1962 at the former U.S. military base, Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines, the Filipino/Hawaiian/Cherokee/Scottish/Irish Lou Diamond Upchurch was the son of a naval aircraft mechanic (the actor would later adopted his stepfather's surname, Phillips.) In high school, Phillips won several awards in Texas's University Interscholastic League drama competitions. Surprising his parents, Phillips turned down scholarships to Yale and the U.S. Naval Academy to attend the University of Texas at Arlington with his buddies. He appeared in drama club productions while there and also joined a comedy troupe called "The Zero Hour." After graduation, Phillips performed with the Stage West Theatre in Fort Worth, TX, and from 1983 to 1986, he became involved in the Film Actors Lab as a student, then as an instructor. It was there that he became friends with founder Adam Roarke, and the two were recruited by a local independent producer to help complete the dark thriller "Trespasses" (1986). Roarke appeared in the film as a drifter/rapist and also directed. Phillips also took on a small role and co-wrote the script.
The actor appeared as a "sidewalk thug" in an episode of "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991) and had other bit parts in TV movies and features before he was plucked from obscurity for the starring role that changed his career, as 1950s rock star Ritchie Valens, in the biopic "La Bamba" (1987). Chronicling the brief career of the first Mexican-American rock star who died in the 1959 plane crash along with Buddy Holly and J.P "The Big Bopper" Richardson - aka "The day the music died" - the film received warm reviews, and many singled out the dedication of Phillips's performance. He returned to Texas to star in and associate produce the low-budget film, "Dakota" (1988). Phillips wed second second assistant director Julie Cypher on the set; they had met several years before while making "Trespasses." Phillips also filmed the critically acclaimed feature "Stand and Deliver" (1988), based on the true story of East LA teacher Jaime Escalante. The Oscar-nominated film, which starred Edward James Olmos as the calculus teacher who inspires a class of troubled inner-city students, earned Phillips an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of budding gang banger, Angel Guzman. Riding high on the acclaim he received from his first two feature performances, Phillips joined Brat Packers Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland in the Western "Young Guns" (1988). Although not a critical smash, the film was high-profile enough to be beloved by its Generation-X fan base.
As with so many stars who burst out of the Hollywood gate, guns blazing, Phillips had trouble maintaining his career momentum. He starred in the flops "Disorganized Crime" (1989) and "The First Power" (1990) and appeared, more embarrassingly, as an uncredited demon in "Demon Wind" (1990) as a favor to a friend. Equally hellish was the reception afforded the dismal "Young Guns II" (1990). In his personal life, he received another nasty surprise when his wife Julie Cypher infamously left him for singer Melissa Etheridge. Phillips's exotic looks were both a blessing and a curse in terms of his Hollywood employability. While he was a natural fit for both "The Dark Wind" (1991), a drama in which Phillips played a Navajo, and "Shadow of the Wolf" (1992), about the Inuit, indigenous people of the Arctic, the films themselves were difficult to market to the general public. In fact, Phillips found himself the subject of protests by Native Americans against "The Dark Wind" because Phillips was only part Cherokee. The thriller "Ambition" (1991) proved to be a much more disappointing project, however, since Phillips had also written its screenplay. In his personal life, Phillips was briefly engaged to actress Jennifer Tilly, whom he met on the set of "The Dark Wind," but his second marriage was to Kelly Preston (the model, not the famous actress) in 1994.
Moving from movies to the theater, Phillips was cast as the royal lead in "The King and I" on Broadway in 1996, earning a Tony nomination and renewing Hollywood's interest in him. Phillips was offered his first major film role in years in the award-winning Gulf War action-drama, "Courage Under Fire" (1996), starring Meg Ryan as an Army Captain being considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor for valor in combat. For his role, he won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award. Despite the prominence of the project, over the next several years, Phillips appeared in lower-profile features like the campy horror flick "Bats" (1999) and on TV programs like friend Kiefer Sutherland's "24"(FOX 2001-2010). He was seriously considered for the role of Special Agent John Doggett (which went to Robert Patrick) on the cult hit "The X-Files" (FOX, 1993-2002), but instead starred in his own short-lived show, "Wolf Lake" (CBS, 2001-02). Off-screen, Phillips and his wife separated in 2004, and in 2006 he was arrested on a charge of domestic violence against his live-in girlfriend, Yvonne Boismier. He plead no contest in 2006, and the two married in 2007.
Phillips remained visible after his arrest, appearing in the low-budget independent horror movie, "Fingerprints" (2006), and the dramas "Death Toll" (2007) and "Che" (2008), but his best roles came with supporting work on TV shows like "Psych" (USA Network, 2006-14), "Numb3rs" (CBS, 2005-10), and "Stargate Universe" (Syfy, 2009-11). Most notably, Phillips won the second season of the U.S. version of the reality game show, "I'm a Celebrity.Get Me out of Here!" (NBC, 2009), impressing viewers with his likability and levelheadedness amongst such flamboyant characters as Heidi Montag, Spencer Pratt and Janice Dickinson. The charity Phillips played to support was the Art Has Heart Foundation, an organization that awarded scholarships to lower-income high school students.
Following the end of "SGU," Phillips keep busy guest-starring in episodes of shows like "Chuck" (NBC, 2007-2012) and "Cougar Town" (ABC, 2009-12; TBS, 2013-15), in addition to occasional direct-to-DVD efforts like the disaster movie "Metal Tornado" (2011). Following a couple of appearances as LAPD officer Danny Ferguson on the acclaimed cop drama "Southland" (NBC, 2009, TNT, 2010-13), Phillips reappeared as a main cast member on the crime drama series "Longmire" (A&E, 2012- ). The show, based on a popular series of mystery novels by Craig Johnson, starred Robert Taylor as the eponymous Wyoming sheriff, who returns to duty shortly after the death of his wife, only to be confronted by a series of bizarre crimes and a young deputy gunning for his job. Phillips played Henry Standing Bear, the owner of a local bar and café, as well as Longmire's best friend. As the cable network's highest rated debut drama ever, as well as the most-watched new scripted show of the year, the exceptionally well reviewed "Longmire" was quickly renewed for a second season, with Phillips' character now firmly established.
By Virginia Pelley
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Wrote first screenplay "Trespasses"; also acted
Worked as assistant director/instructor with Film Actors Lab
Landed breakthrough role, portraying rocker Ritchie Valens in "La Bamba"
Co-starred with Edward James Olmos in the inner-city high school drama "Stand and Deliver"
Co-starred with Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland in the Western "Young Guns"
Reprised role for "Young Guns II"
Directed first feature "Dangerous Touch"; also scripted and starred
Co-starred with Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan in "Courage Under Fire"
Made Broadway debut as the King of Siam in a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I"
Starred in the short-lived drama series "Wolf Lake" (CBS), episodes later aired on UPN in 2002
Landed recurring role on the Fox crime drama "24"
Cast in a recurring role on the CBS series "Numb3rs" as Agent Ian Edgerton
Portrayed Bolivian Communist leader Mario Monje in Steven Soderbergh's "Che: Part Two"
Competed on the NBC reality series "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!"
Helmed the Hallmark Channel movie "Love Takes Wing"
Joined the final season of the SyFy series "Stargate: Universe"
Played bar owner and the title character's best friend Henry Standing Bear on A&E's "Longmire"