Lou Diamond Phillips – Avenge the Crows
By: Kelly Kearney
Q) You have a new film coming out on Blu-ray and DVD called Avenge the Crows. Can you tell the fans a little bit about the film and how your character Casper fits in?
A) It’s all pretty complicated actually. I think it was my friend Cuete Yeska who is also in the film that brought my name up. We had done Filly Brown together and I’ve always tried to be a supporter of independent films and certainly new voices and new filmmakers in the industry. This one is a very gritty and real story about what it’s like to be embroiled in that life and I had certainly heard of Danay Garcia. I had heard a lot of really great things about her when this film came my way. She’s proven to be such a powerhouse! I mean, her work on “Fear the Walking Dead” is just fantastic. I was there at the beginning of Gina Rodriguez’s stoic rise so as I said it just pays dividends to lend my name and my ability to a well-meaning project. So, this one is sort of a brutal and honest look at not only the ramifications of being in this life and living the thug life, but the attempts at redemption. I think that is sort of the biggest story here, but also to create some sort of balance. A lot of these misdeeds and missteps will come back to haunt you so it’s a constant struggle between trying to find something light and redemptive or something that is dark and vengeful. I thought it was an interesting character study in that way.
Q) Where did you find your inspiration to play the tough gang inmate Casper?
A) Once again, it was something that came from his past and this interaction they had. It’s very much a part of how strong emotions and love or loyalty can become perverted over time and there has to be some sort of vengefulness that comes from that – how something pure can turn into something relatively dark and you know that’s always something interesting to play, especially when you’ve got a finite amount of time to do that. This role is definitely a cameo for me and I certainly wouldn’t call this film my movie by any stretch. There were also a number of old friends of mine on the project. Steven Bauer and Danny Trejo and some others who had committed to this that made me feel like, “Ok this is a group of people that I’ve known for a long time and involved in a worthy project.” I have to say Nathan [Gabaeff] wrote a very compelling and not an easy script, definitely not a simplistic story in the least. So, like I said, I’m always happy to support that.
Q) The film was written and directed by Nathan Gabaeff. Was there anything you learned from Nathan’s direction that you will take with you to other projects?
A) It was interesting because I just directed the second episode of “Longmire” and for me it’s a similar approach because casting is huge and the first major hurdle. Nathan had written the script I think he knew exactly what he wanted. The interesting thing is I think many people, like young film students, think you’re going to get on the set with the director and have these long and lengthy artistic discussions about philosophy and approach. But the truth of the matter is in independent film, time is money. You’ve got a finite amount of money and a finite amount of time to actually get this thing in the can. So, the one thing that was underlined for me was the necessity, even on a small film, for Danay and I to meet and get together and get on the same page. We had a day of rehearsals a few days prior to my day of filming and I think those discussions and that homework is incredibly necessary when you have characters with a lot of history and baggage. It helps to get on the same age and not have some half-hour discussion before filming while the cast and crew are waiting around for you.
Q) Originally, the film was titled Loca after the lead character played by Danay Garcia. What was behind the decision to change the name to Avenge the Crows?
A) I wasn’t privy to that particular thought process, but in some ways I think you want something that is a little more descriptive. I think it’s sort of the immediate branding and maybe they wanted something that would grab the audience. Loca might have been a little obtuse and maybe limited the context of the film. This film is about a subculture in society and you want people to see it. So, I don’t think they wanted to turn people off just from the title or poster.
Q) Danny Trejo plays bar owner Tony in this film, but this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with him. You both guest starred in “Elena of Avalor” for the Disney Chanel, a completely different genre than Avenge the Crows and not the usual Trejo project. What’s it like working with Danny?
A) Yes, “Elena of Avalor” I play a recurring villain on that show and Danny did an episode. The funny thing is that Danny and I have never physically worked together. We are old friends and used to work out at the same gym in the valley, but we’ve never actually exchanged dialogue or been in a scene together. So, this is the third project we’ve been involved in together. He just did a small role in a western I’m about to go film on next week. So, once again we will be in the same film without ever crossing paths.
Q) Do you have any favorite moments from filming Avenge the Crows?
A) Two actually the first being working with Danay. Just sitting across from her, I had this real sense of an instant connection with her. And in our business sometimes you can meet someone and feel like you’ve known them for years and that certainly a blessed occasion. You can also connect the dots here because soon I’ll be directing an episode of “Fear the Walking Dead,” coming up in the Spring. I’m a huge fan and I don’t know if Danay will still be there or not, but I’m hoping she will be because I so loved working with her. Secondly, I just loved working with the many Latino actors that I have crossed paths with over the years. Like I said, Cuete stopped by and a few others I worked with on Filly Brown. And some of them even going back as far as Stand and Deliver! Another thing that jumps out at me is I was on set early, around nine o’clock, because we had to put the neck tattoo on that my character has and I literally got a phone call that day that I had been nominated for an Emmy in the Best Comedy Short category! That was momentous.
Q) With so many action/thriller films out there, what is it about this film that separates it from the rest and will make fans want to see it?
A) Hollywood is becoming extremely polarized and there’s that gap in the middle between action films and kid’s films. Early in my career, I did movies like La Bamba and Young Guns – those middle range budget films that they just don’t make anymore. Now, they make that a hundred million dollar superhero movie because they want to make five hundred million dollars. So, they pour all of their money into that. But what I’m happy about is that in the last decade or so there has been a real resurgence of independent films. That doesn’t mean it gets any easier to find the money. I mean, I’m trying to raise money for a couple of projects of my own, but there are people out there trying to make stories about real characters and a real slice of life. Stories that reflect the human condition. I think with the advent of streaming companies like Netflix and Hulu, what use to be called niche programming has done incredibly well on there and on cable stations. You will get things like “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” ‘Better Call Saul” or “Game of Thrones” and even “Longmire,” my contemporary western. And there’s an audience out there for these types of stories. I mean some films are designed to make five hundred million dollars and others are designed to make their money back and be a piece of art. This is a movie that’s not just supposed to be entertaining, but it’s a movie that’s supposed to be illuminating and make you think. That’s the game of art. As I said before, to be able to contribute to that and get real stories out there, that is a blessing. I think all of us love popcorn movies. We love those big splashy, flashy, entertainment films, but I also think to balance that (at least in my case as an artist) – balance it with stories that are a little more grounded and real.
Q) There’s also a lot of crow imagery in the film, can you explain what the crow is about and why it’s so important to this film?
A) I think it goes back to some of the indigenous legends. They crossover not only to the native culture, but the Latino culture as well. I think that’s very much a part of what Loca the character is about. It’s also the street image that’s being projected in this film, a part of a gang identification.
Q) You’ve had a long and successful career and the fans have followed you from La Bamba to Young Guns to “Longmire.” In a business that can often be fickle and youth-obsessed, what’s the secret to your career longevity?
A) I get asked that question a lot and I guess people are amazed I’m still around. [laughs] Anytime something last this long, you kind of go back and ask yourself why and the reason usually is the foundation. This and getting back to basics. I think the reason I’m still here is that I love what I do. The end result isn’t supposed to be fame or money. The end result is supposed to be acting and fulfillment. I enjoy creating characters and telling stories and sometimes I get paid a lot and sometimes I get aid a little. But I have continued to be challenged and enjoy the roles that I have played. I try to do something different every time I go out for a role and, obviously, over the years there has been a certain kind of overlap. If you look at the span of my career, I think a template was set by my early work in high school and college theater in that I love a lot of different kinds of genres and roles. Like I said, while I’m playing this tattooed bad ass in prison I get a call that says I’m nominated for an Emmy in a comedy. Thank goodness I’m afforded the opportunity to show some range and stretch my acting muscles, to be taken seriously in a lot of different platforms and venues. I think that’s why I’ve been able to keep it fresh and exciting and, hopefully, the end result is presenting characters that the audiences respond to.
Q) Besides Avenge of Crows coming out December 5th, are there any other projects you’re working on that the fans can look out for?
A) Like I mentioned earlier, “Longmire,” which started streaming last week and I guess the fans are finishing up their binge on that final season. I currently have Quest, where I play an abusive step-dad and stars Gregory Kasyan who filmed this when I think he was ten years old. Since then, he’s won a couple of Best Actor awards at couple of film festivals. Dash Mihok and Betsy Brandt are also in that. I’m also doing Created Equal, which has also won a number of awards and was directed by Bill Duke and stars Aaron Tveit, Edy Ganem and myself. That’s quite a thought-provoking film about a young nun, played by Edy, who feels like she has a calling to become a priest. She sues the Catholic church for the right to enter the seminary and I play the monsignor defending the Catholic church. Once again, a very thought-provoking and interesting film. I’ve done a lot of guest spots that many of them have already aired, but with Direct TV and On Demand they’re worth mentioning. I did a couple of episodes of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and I do a nice little bit in Graves with Nick Nolte and Sela Ward. That was directed by my dear friend Megan Griffiths who also directed a film I did called The Nightstalker. I just did a guest spot on “Criminal Minds” and I can’t really talk about it much, but I will be going off to do another Western soon, which is always fun to get back into that genre. Also, like we talked about, next Spring I’ll do some directing on “Fear the Walking Dead.” And even though it’s not for a couple of months, I’m incredibly excited. I am such a huge fan of the show the original “The Walking Dead” and, of course, the spin-off. Since I know many of the people on the show, getting a chance to direct an episode will be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to it.