My worst moment: People assume Lou Diamon Phillips is fluent in Spanish thanks to ‘La Bamba.' He’s not and it led to a chaotic few hours on the set of ‘Che.’

Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

The Fox drama “Prodigal Son,” back for a second season, puts a different spin on the police procedural, with a young criminal psychologist teaming up with his father, a convicted serial killer, to unravel the latest case. Lou Diamond Phillips costars as Gil Arroyo, the police lieutenant who was wounded at the end of last season, which complicates things as he “tries to maintain his position as head of the team, and not only that but take care of everyone; his paternal instincts really kick in this season,” Phillips said.

The show is “more twisted and dark than ever,” he added, “and funnier. I don’t know how these guys do it. It’s equal parts shock and awe and hilarity.”

The starring role that launched Phillips’ career was the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic “La Bamba” and his list of credits since is long and filled with numerous roles in film (memorably in both “Young Guns” films as well as “Stand and Deliver”) and television (“Numb3rs” and “Longmire” among many others).

When asked about a worst moment in his career, he replied: “I have a great story, but it brings back anxiety. This actually happened late in my career, sadly enough. But other than ‘La Bamba,’ it’s the only time I ever thought I would get fired.”

My worst moment …

“I remember on ‘La Bamba,’ literally on the third day (producer) Taylor Hackford said, ‘If you don’t knock this out of the park, kid, we’re gonna send you back to Texas.’ And that was like, ‘OK, no pressure.’ And it was early enough in the process where they really could have just fired me and it would have been no skin off anybody’s nose, so I remember the fear. But after that I had a few hits and you get comfortable.


“So few years back, when I was getting ready to do the national tour of ‘Camelot’ playing King Arthur, I was offered the opportunity to do a cameo in the film “Che” (from 2008) that Steven Soderbergh was directing with Benicio del Toro. For me, it was like an automatic yes, and producers of ‘Camelot’ were very kind to let me out of rehearsals so that I could fly to Spain, shoot for one day and then fly back.

“The only caveat was the that film was going to be in Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish. I’m half Filipino — at some point on ‘Prodigal Son’ we’re going to reveal that my character is Filipino as well — but with ‘La Bamba’ and ‘Stand and Deliver,’ people just assume I’m Latinx. I’ve always been very clear and it’s never been a secret that I’m not.

“So I am not fluent in Spanish, even though I grew up in south Texas. Sadly, I’m one of those Americans who is not multi-lingual, but I have spoken Spanish in projects in small doses. So we made it clear to the producers that I don’t speak Spanish, but that I could learn the three scenes I was doing phonetically. I had a 10-hour flight from L.A. to Madrid to learn the scenes, so everything was fine. And I found out later that Benecio recommended me, so this was thrilling.

“Off I go on the plane, and I have an audio recording of the lines so I can get the pronunciations and the inflects correct. I’m working the entire flight over and I’m supposed have a full day when I get there to work with the translator and dialect coach and then we’ll shoot the day after that. So I arrive at the hotel at 10 or 11 at night and the translator is there and tells me that not only has the schedule changed and I’m filming at six o’clock the next morning, but the scenes have all been rewritten! So the six pages I learned by rote on the plane no longer apply.


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