„Depth is good!“

– Schauspieler Lou Diamond Phillips hat und verleiht Charakter –

Dass Schauspieler Lou Diamond Phillips seit Jahrzehnten im Filmbusiness tätig und erfolgreich ist, zeigen nicht zuletzt seine klugen und reflektierten Antworten. Mit sympathischer Demut und Selbstironie gibt er im Gespräch mit OffBloggerin Mareike Lange intime Einblicke in die Erkenntnisse über ein Schauspiel, das seine Tiefe durch Lebenserfahrung gewinnt, und eine selbstverliebte Branche, der es an Leidenschaft und Verantwortungs­bewusstsein mangelt.

Question: Welcome to the city of Oldenburg! What have been your first impressions here?

Lou Diamond Phillips: As my wife Yvonne is German, I have already been to Mayen, Koblenz and Cologne. But I haven’t been back to Germany since the premiere of „Shadow of the Wolf“ in Berlin in 1992. That’s why I was very excited to come to Oldenburg, especially with this film, especially at a film festival.

I think one of the reasons, why my career has been so long and that I have been consistently working, is that fortunately the European audience has responded to my work.

I was offered independent films because producers knew they could sell them in Europe and especially in Germany! This country has been strong for me for thirty years and so, to come back, be appreciative and grateful and make contact again with the German audience, was very exciting.

Lou Diamond Phillips spielt Ritchie
Valens in „La Bamba“ (1987)

Question: Your career lasts for a couple of decades now. Do you still look for inspiration, for example now at this festival and this surrounding?

Phillips: I am constantly looking for inspiration! It’s interesting, because my nine year old daughter is talking about wanting to be a writer. And we were talking to her about getting out of the comfort zone, looking at life, how other people live and how important that is. I literally just gave a speech at college where I graduated:

the older you get the more you live, the more you see, the richer your work gets, the more informed your characters become.

And I’m very excited for these characters that I’m playing today. The ones in „Quest“, „Longmire“, „The 33“, even playing Richard Ramirez in „The Night Stalker“, a serial killer, recently – the thing about those roles for me is that they carry baggage with them. They have texture, they have layers. All you have to do is look into my eyes.

I don’t have to act, I don’t have to do a lot of crazy things to illustrate the character for you. It’s coming out of my own life experience.

The interesting thing is: when you try to build those walls around yourself and put yourself in that bubble, you are cutting yourself off life a lot and that forms your work. And so I’ve never allowed myself to do that, I always wanted to live life. The small things in life are the ones that are most important to me. And so therefore, I feel like – it’s a cliché – but, by keeping it real, I am keeping my character real.

Question: You’ve mentioned your little daughter and talking to her. How important is getting inspiration from younger people, especially younger directors or younger actors?

Phillips: Santiago has often been asked: „how did you get Lou to play in your movie?“ Well, it’s all material- and character-driven. He wrote a brilliant script, it was a character that wasn’t treating to me, I haven’t had any role quite like him before. Some actors do the same thing over and over again, which is good for them, a lot of them get a lot of money for that. But that’s not what I started out to do. I’m theater-trained, I did Shakespeare, sketch comedy and Molière. I was always having vast interests and abilities and looking for a role that challenges me, that creates a difference in the characters that I play. I continue to challenge myself. And, when I spoke at my college, I talked to a bunch of college students that had the same dreams I had 30 years ago. I keep that flame going and I pass on the torch, as I said in another interview:

The fact that my films were really independent films, and to be able to do a film with a young film maker, his first film out, is once again my way of continuing to support the artform and to bring fresh blood and new eyes into cinema.

Szene aus „Shadow of the Wolf“ (1992)

Question: You already said you did a lot of movies with very different subjects. How do you decide which project to do and which not? One aspect seems to be the depth of the character …?

Phillips: Depth is good! Life’s too short and believe me, I sure made bad movies. Fortunately, I never took movies that I knew were going to be completely terrible, but some of them turned out to be completely terrible – like I got one little life boat while the Titanic is going down (laughs). But now, I’m in a place where I can be a little more picky and do things that interest me. I don’t have to be the star. There are times where I will to something simply to work with certain people. I will do something because I think the message is there. I will do something because I find the character to be interesting.

Question: So you’ve done both, independent movie and Hollywood productions. What’s the challenge and what the advantage?

Phillips: It’s interesting, because the acting is the acting. Film and television have grown so close together, Game of Thrones is not a TV show but a movie every week and they have the budgets to support that. Even on my show „Longmire“ we spent a couple of million Dollars per episode and I got to direct one this year as well. The support system is there. When you make a smaller film, the support system is not there. You don’t have the nice trailer, you don’t have the four star catering and you don’t have time. In those situations, necessity is the mother of invention. People tend to get more creative, people tend to be more adapt at making it work. And that is the advantage of small films:

there is something really refreshing about working with a bunch of artists who want to be there.

They’re not there for the pay check, they’re not there for the glory, because you don’t know if the movie is ever gonna get out. It makes them brave and passionate. Working with a big budget is wonderful, but then you get fat and you get lazy. Seriously. A lot of people are there for the pay check, they are very cynical about it. They don’t care if it’s good or not and that’s such a shame. I approach every project wanting it to be the latest great thing that I did. I did one film where millions of millions of dollars were going down the drain, every day. And they didn’t seem to care and it wasn’t making the movie any better. As a matter of fact they hurt the movie ultimately. The set was so slow and everybody was so relaxed.

There’s something about a good dose of fear (laughs), that really helps everybody.

Having the pressure, for example, I have to make this in ten hours because I can’t afford to pay overtime, forces you to do a good work.

Question: If it comes to film production, do you always wait for offers or do you also take initiative?

Phillips: It’s a little bit of both. Some offers come to me. In the early ’90s, I wasn’t auditioning any more, my agent said: you’re gonna do all this. I thought wow,

I must be the star now, right? Bullshit. I realized that things were passing me by.

And today, more than ever, there’s so much competition out there. I get told that I’m on the shortlist for a role but I’m on the shortlist people just as famous and just as good as me. There are times when you have to fight for it. In 1996, when I read the script for „Courage under Fire“ and they wanted to do the audition with me, I said: whatever it takes, I want this role! And I went to the auditions four times, until they finally gave it to me. Nowadays, with the amount of competition, you have to be proactive, show a certain amount of enthusiasm and passion.

Szene aus „La Bamba“

Question: At the end of the 1980s, you have been acting along with Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and others. Do you regret that you didn’t become the highest level super star or are you even a bit glad, because it opened up other opportunities?

Phillips: There are a handful of people who are still doing the kind of work that they were doing in the 80s. Tom Cruise for example is one of them. Even George Clooney and Brad Pitt have low points. There is no guaranty. A lot of people who I started with, are doing TV now – or are no longer with us, literally. So, I’m incredibly greatful for the career that I’ve had. And there is one more important thing:

I’m not the one with blond hair and blue eyes. The classic Hollywood movie star is a white guy. Therefore, a number of those roles you would think could have been open to me, were not. There is still a struggle in Hollywood to be a leading man of colour.

There are no Asian leading man since Jackie Chan. Everybody’s path is different and it would be incredibly naive to ask: why is „so and so“ not more succesful if he is not given the same opportunities.

Question: You have been able to watch Hollywood intensively. How did it change over the years?

Phillips: Hollywood has this „home run-mentality“. They will spend 150 million dollars on a movie to make a billion dollars and then spawn two or three sequels. I still have this desire to make a piece of art, a really beautiful film. It is still out there, you can still see it, for example „Moonlight“ last year. There are people out there trying to make good movies that are standing the test of time and are not just about commerce. I was always fortunate that I was working. Of course, it is always nice to have more options. But I don’t necessarily want to be Tom Cruise. I’m very happy with the kind of work that I get. The fact that I do wanna change from role to role and make different kinds of films and genres – that’s exciting to me and keeps my work fresh. Would I turn down Tom Cruise’s paycheck? No! (laughs)

Mr. Phillips, thank you very much!

Interview: Mareike Lange
Fotos: Filmfest Oldenburg

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