Lou Diamond Phillips talks about his first Emmy nomination for Crossroads of History and about working in comedy
Since his breakout role as Richie Valens in La Bamba, it’s been fascinating to watch as Lou Diamond Phillips has pivoted his career to diverse roles both in television and film. In July, Phillips received his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actor in Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for his role as Chieftain on The History Channel’s Crossroads of History. The honor matches his Tony nomination on Broadway for his role in The King and I. Not only is it his first Emmy nomination, but the category is also new to the Emmys. Crossroads of History is a show you need to be watching. It retells unknown yet factually correct moments in history with liberal doses comedy with Phillips appearing in the Columbus episode. I caught up with Phillips to discuss his first Emmy nomination, what’s in store for Longmire, and how he’s going to be singing on Disney’s Elena of Avalor.
Well congratulations. This was your first Emmy nomination.
Yes indeed. I have to say it’s so out of left field. For me to be nominated in comedy is a bit of a head scratcher. I’m known mostly for drama, and I’m quite proud of the dramatic roles I’ve had. Longmire is going into its fifth season. I go for a day to do Crossroads of History, just to have fun, and the next thing I know I’m getting nominated for an Emmy for it. It was a surprise all around.
Are we going to be seeing you in more comedy now?
I certainly hope so. The funny thing is I’m very proud of the comedies that I have done. The Big Hit is a cult favorite. Disorganized Crime is an underseen Disney comedy way back in the day, and it certainly has its fans. I don’t look like a guy you cast in comedies, the bulk of my work wouldn’t speak to it necessarily. I love the fact that this nomination helps expand a preconception about me and open the door to do more comedy because I really do love it.
I cut my teeth in comedy, it was actually my first professional paying gig even if it was seven bucks. I did sketch comedy at this punk club back in 1980 in Fort Worth, Texas. That grew into what became known as the Front Room company at Stage West where we would do the classics such as Hamlet or Dr. Faustus at 8:00pm, and at midnight, we’d turn around and do these very raunchy sketches called The Zero Hour. Even then, I was pushing the boundaries of what my wheelhouse was.
How did you even get involved in Crossroads?
They called. I don’t even know if Elizabeth Shapiro had seen any of my work before. There were comedy shorts, and YouTube videos. There are a handful of people in Los Angeles who know that I’m funny. Not so long ago, I did Another Period with Natasha Leggero. That was a lot of fun, so maybe they caught that and thought I was perfect for this vignette about Columbus. You never know what work of yours is going to be seen when it goes out there.
I tell young acting students this, that you really need to do every job, no matter what it is, to the best of your ability and bring your A game every single time because in this day and age everything you do is out there for consumption. I 100 percent ended up doing The Night Stalker because Megan Griffiths met me at an awards ceremony where I won Best Supporting Actor for Filly Brown that introduced Gina Rodriguez.
Now, here you are nominated for the first time, in comedy, in a brand new category.
I have no expectations because this was such a surprise and I’m enjoying the ride.
Are you a historian?
I am. I was boringly good when I was in high school. History yes. I was literature minor and drama major in college. I most definitely am of the mind that we need to learn from history otherwise we are destined to make the same mistakes. A lot of the fiction I’ve been doing lately, I’m wading through Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. I should say I’ve returned to my activist days where I espoused a lot of Native American values. I feel I need to be up on the history.
One of the things I love about Crossroads of History is that Elizabeth Shapiro came up with this brilliant idea that there were these pivotal moments that actually happened. She takes this satirical lighthearted view of them, but the truth of the matter is there’s a lot to be learned here. Had things gone a different way then maybe history would have played out differently. I loved the fact that Hitler got rejected from art school.
What would have happened if he hadn’t?
I loved 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Trying to go back to prevent Kennedy from being assassinated. You can’t change history, but you can examine it.
I read Buried My Heart At Wounded Knee. It’s a wonderful documentation and a great read. Have you read it?
I haven’t. It’s my first time. Some people like to call it revisionist history. We’re not revising the history. We’re revising the perception of it, and that’s very important because as they say, history is written by the victors. The written history will skew a certain way, but when you examine the facts and look at things from a different perspective, say perhaps a more informed and open-minded perspective, then you get a better idea of what the big picture was. We owe it to ourselves and the generations to follow. Even though Crossroads of History is a very funny and light-hearted look at history, it’s got cogent and valid points.
It was so cleverly done. It reminded me of Monty Python.
Absolutely. The beauty of it. It’s not broad. We were told to approach it as if it were a drama. [Laughs] The truth of the matter is the writing was so fantastic, all we had to do was commit to the voracity of the lines, and it comes out hilarious.
What were you doing the morning the nominations came out?
I was working. I was doing a cameo in an Independent film in Loca. Danay Garcia is the lead, and she is about to make her debut on Fear the Walking Dead. A few of my buddies are in it too, Emilio Rivera, Cuete Yeska both were in Filly Brown appear with me. It’s a gritty and tough look at Mexican cartels. There I am with my hair slicked back and an orange jump suit. You know what people expect from me these days, and I got the phone call. It was a bit of a shock and a bit out of context for what I was doing that day.
You’re so busy these days, I can’t keep up, but it’s a good thing.
I have to say, a lot of these challenges being put in front of me now are some of the most exciting of my career. I feel I’m playing these roles that have depth and texture. I’m playing guys who have lived a bit and have history. I’m having a lot of fun. I’m also keeping my eyes open for things that continue to expand the resume.
Longmire has quite a following. It’s doing really well.
The fifth season starts on September 23 on Netflix. My character really benefitted from the move. We add 20 minutes, and you get a full episode on that network. On A&E we had 42 minutes, and sadly it was my character. A lot of my stuff ended up on the floor. We’ve seen the difference with Season 4, and we’ll see it with Season 5 where Henry gets his own backstory and the audience is treated to an insight into his character.
Which is great because we get to learn his backstory finally. The fans will love that.
Absolutely. We get a lot of his emotional life and what’s going on with him, and a few outstanding threads that need to be resolved. He had gone down this perhaps dangerous and slippery path of being the new Hector on the reservation, and how was that going to play out. How is that going to convolute his relationship with Walt? There are some very interesting things happening. I’m very happy that much of it is native-centric, and we’re bringing back fantastic guests.
How long did Crossroads take to shoot?
It was literally a day. They come out of the blue. I get a call from my manager who says, “There’s interest in you to do this thing next Thursday. Are you open and are you interested?” I read the script and the next thing I know, I’m on set for the day.
First of all, the script was hilarious. I will always jump at the chance to do comedy. What made it even more fun for me, was my buddy Oscar Nunez was already involved, Michael Mando from Better Call Saul was on it. Carlos Alazraqui is in it too, we both provide voices on Elena of Avalor, Disney’s first Latina princess. It’s the usual suspects and for me, it makes it fun as I get to hang out with buddies.
I have Elena of Avalor on DVR. I can’t wait to watch it. Not only is it groundbreaking for Disney, but it’s also exciting.
It is exciting, and I’m thrilled. I think it started out as a guest spot but is now this recurring villain. Being a Disney villain is second to only being a Bond villain. [Laughs]
How true. We only remember the villains.
Right? He’s not a totally despicable villain. He’s goofy and funny at times. I understand I’m going to get to sing in future episodes, so I go back to my Broadway roots a little bit.
Would you ever go back?
In a heartbeat. It was a magical experience and once again, the one time I appeared, I got nominated for a Tony Award which was wonderful and I’m incredibly grateful. I need to make sure when I go back I need to make sure it’s something completely different.
Earlier in the year, I wrote a comedy, and I’m talking to a few people about mounting an off-Broadway production of it.