The star that was Lou Diamond Phillips
may have long since dimmed since his quasi-fame in the late '80s and early 1990s (La Bamba
, Stand and Deliver
, Young Guns
) but that's not slowing the frequently tabloid-headlining actor down one bit.
In the 1990s, he got mixed reviews in his Broadway debut as the King of Siam in a review of the classic Rodgers/Hammerstein musical The King and I
. He worked on a few indie films and TV pilots that went sort of nowhere.
And now, inexplicably perhaps, he's returning to the stage, as King Arthur in a road-show company of the classic Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot.
Phillips is replacing Michael York, who left the tour halfway through.
The show runs Oct. 2-7 at the Keller Auditorium, courtesy of Broadway Across America/Portland.
On the phone from California, LDP spoke with WW
about his role in Camelot
, his unique career trajectory, and his absence of chest hair.
WW: This is at least the second time you've taken on a seminal musical theatre role, and one long-associated with a potent theater personality (the first being the King of Siam in The King and I in the 1990s, so resolutely portrayed by Yul Brenner). Why?
I'm a little dumb that way…. The one thing that's fortunate is that more so than the King of Siam, where one guy was associated with the role, this part is a little more forgiving. The nice thing for me is that it is a bit like American Shakespeare—it deserves to be kept alive. Can I bring something to it that's different, I don't know… that's left of center or whatever….
So will your King Arthur attract the same sort of frenzied fandom that attended your performance as Ritchie Valens in the 1987 La Bamba?
I'm wearing tights in this one, so I'm not the young guy that I was… I dance in this, and I try to bring some physicality and vitality to it… this is not as staid and buttoned-up as the original—we've made it a little more vibrant.
It is long-rumored that Camelot was a favorite musical of the Kennedy family, and that JFK would play the original cast recording in the White House during his time there. What is your take on the Kennedy resonances in this musical, and what sort of comment on today's political situation is it to revive the musical now?
To be quite honest, I was really struck at the resonance and the relevance that Allen Jay Lerner's words have today. Arthur's central struggle, what he wrestles with morally and intellectually, is the conflict of war: He has this noble ideal, which is why he creates the roundtable, and I think that spoke to Kennedy and it should speak to any leader today… I mean, we're at war, man! There are a number of lines that are prophetic in this show… Just last night at the end of the play, when I am knighting this young man—after he's lost everything, this young man aspires to what he's taught—I've got this beautiful speech: “Perhaps one day people will sit around this table… questing for justice and righteousness and an end to war….” It's not the kind of fluffy stuff you typically hear in shows.
Great. So…do you have more or less chest hair than Richard Burton (who originated the role) or Robert Goulet (who has toured in the role).
A: I'm part Asian and part Native American, so I have very little chest hair: none at all, in fact. But Matt Bogart, who plays Lancelot, he's a hottie… my 8-year-old daughter says so, too!
Are you interested in getting back to Broadway?
There is the possibility that this one will go there… there's a window they've left open… and I love the whole Broadway community, they really are supportive and warm.
Your film career has sort of fallen off in the last, oh, 15 years or so. What sort of work have you been up to? What have some of your goals been?
Remaining employed is a big one. I have three daughters in private school and another on the way. I feel fortunate that I've never been unemployed as an actor in 20 years. Obviously I'd like to do more feature work; I get “hey, you're on the short list” all the time, but yeah, I'm on the short list with five other famous guys. And that's tough.