C&I chats with the award-winning actor, a presence on screen as well as in the kitchen.
When we last profiled Lou Diamond Phillips, he was deep into filming the first season of Longmire, in which he plays Henry Standing Bear, the longtime friend of the titular Sheriff Walt Longmire and the owner of The Red Pony.
This time around, we’re on set watching a scene with Phillips’ Henry opposite Jacob Nighthorse, the Native owner of the casino that has brought violence to the once low-key county of Absaroka.
(Warning: spoilers ahead.)
The pair are deep in conversation about how to protect Nighthorse from a potential murder plot. “Every year when we come back to work, the producers have raised the bar,” Phillips says. “At the end of Season 5, the audience was not sure that Henry would stay alive for Season 6. And this season, the fine writing has not only enriched my character, but I am directing the second episode. It’s so exciting to help the cast shine in a different way. The crew is the finest I’ve worked with in a 30-year career.”
Phillips says he rightly suspected from the beginning that there was something very special about the series. “It was one of the best pilot scripts I’d ever read — classic storytelling evident from the outset. Our head writers have maintained that level of cinematic storytelling and there is nothing like it on television. We have a passionate and loyal audience of almost 6 million viewers [per episode]. Airing on Netflix [after the original run on A&E] has given us the opportunity for longer stories and deeper story lines, as we’re not constricted by the traditional 48-minute episode length.” He assures that the final story arc will bring closure and satisfaction.
Phillips’ Henry Standing Bear character has become one of his most beloved portrayals, but the actor has been on the scene for three decades, creating many memorable performances. He first came to the public’s attention in 1987, when he was cast in the starring role in La Bamba. The now-classic biopic features Phillips as Ritchie Valens, the Mexican-American rock pioneer whose meteoric rise was cut short at the age of 17 in the same 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The role made Phillips a star. He further solidified his reputation with his award-winning turn in Stand and Deliver. More recently, Phillips costarred alongside Antonio Banderas in The 33, about the Chilean mine disaster.
He has been busy with TV projects, too, appearing in everything from procedural-format shows to sci-fi series to the Netflix sitcom The Ranch.
In addition to his well-respected acting career, Phillips has branded himself a culinary aficionado with solid bona fides in the food world. He’s been a celebrity judge on Iron Chef America, has competed on the Food Network series Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off and the “Sauce Boss Cook-Off” segment on The Rachael Ray Show — emerging as the winner on both series — and has sat around the table with Gordon Ramsay as a guest on Hell’s Kitchen. Phillips has also competed on the Food Network’s Chopped.
“As my reputation as a serious foodie grew, I was able to move from hobbyist to pseudo-professional in the restaurant industry, most notably when I became one of the original partners in Tribeca Grill in Manhattan with one of my heroes, Robert De Niro,” Phillips says. “I am proud to say that, while my original motivation was purely sentimental — I wanted to be associated with De Niro any way, any how — Tribeca Grill has become an institution and has now been flourishing for 25 years.”
His association with Tribeca Grill and a higher profile in the food world led to even greater involvement. “Cooking for others has become my modus operandi,” Phillips says, “especially considering the amount of time I spend on location for film, television, and even theater gigs.”
One of Phillips’ favorite holidays and meals is Thanksgiving, and he once cooked this traditional November feast in July for the cast and crew of Longmire. “I love the Thanksgiving meal so much that I find it hard to stand on tradition and prepare it only every third Thursday of November. One’s blessings should not be limited to a once-a-year event, and with that in mind, I found the occasion near the end of the second season of Longmire to kill — or at least cook — two birds with one stone.”
This last season, Phillips has prepared meals for cast and crew on an ongoing basis, including a vegetarian feast of eggplant Parmesan and a creamy polenta with grilled peppers, corn, and leeks, as well as lamb lasagna and pea pesto served on crostini. At the screening of his Longmire directing debut, he served a special meal of Filipino dishes: pork and chicken adobo and pancit.
When the final season wraps, he’ll miss cooking for this close cast and crew, and he’ll miss his character, too. “I am completely enamored of the cast and crew, but, on a more selfish note, I feel the role of Henry Standing Bear is one of the most satisfying characters I have ever played,” Phillips says. “He is complex, intelligent, and iconic because of Craig Johnson’s books. And he is bestowed with the qualities of honor, integrity, and loyalty that I hope to emulate in my own life.”