Born on a military base in the Philippines, Lou Diamond Philips rose to fame with a series of hit films in the late 1980s, including La Bamba, Stand and Deliver and Young Guns. After a few flops in the early 1990s, Philips earned a Tony nomination for his work in The King and I on Broadway. He continues to make television appearances, and plays poker competitively.
Actor. Lou Diamond Phillips was born February 17, 1962, on the Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines, to Lucita Aranas and American naval officer Gerald Upchurch. The young actor was eventually adopted by his mother's second husband, taking his stepfather's surname, Phillips.
Though he was raised in small-town Texas, Lou Diamond Phillips had stars in his eyes from a young age. Passing up the opportunity to go to Yale, he instead chose to attend the local University of Texas at Arlington, where he got his Bachelor of Fine Arts in drama. He was active in drama club productions and a local comedy troupe. Eager to break out of the small-town drama scene, Phillips capitalized on whatever opportunities came his way. The up-and-comer would often go to great lengths to meet idols (like Robert De Niro) when they passed through nearby Dallas.
Phillips remained actively involved in the theater after college, appearing in various productions at Stage West Theatre in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1987, Phillips got his big break in Hollywood with a starring role in La Bamba. In perhaps his most beloved performance, the actor played ill-fated rocker Ritchie Valens in this biopic turned cult hit. Seemingly out of nowhere, Phillips became one of Hollywood's most promising young stars.
Before La Bamba was even released, Phillips had finished Stand and Deliver (1988), in which he gave a dynamic performance as a gang member whose life is changed by a tenacious and caring math teacher (played by Edward James Olmos). Phillips's intense performance would go on to garner him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. That same year, Phillips portrayed yet another outlaw in Young Guns, placing him among a crew of young Hollywood heartthrobs that included Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Phillips would make a second appearance in the film's less commercially successful sequel, Young Guns II, in 1990.
After a three-year winning streak, the Texas actor fell upon tougher times at the box office in the early 1990s. He starred in a series of mediocre films like Harley (1991), Shadow of the Wolf (1992) and Sioux City (1994). After this dry run, Phillips was pleased to return to box office success once again with his supporting role in Courage Under Fire (1996), which starred Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan.
In 1995, Phillips went back to his roots on the stage when he debuted as the King in the 1996 Broadway production of The King and I. This change in direction earned the actor a Tony Award nomination as well as a Theatre World Award. His surprising mid-career shift caused a bit of a stir, but Phillips saw it as emblematic of his reach as an actor, noting, "Hollywood will put you in a box, so to speak. Some people will have seen you in La Bamba or another dramatic film and think, OK, that's what Lou does. But they don't really have an idea of the range or diversity that I can bring to a project."
Having seen him travel from stage to Hollywood and back again, no one was surprised when Phillips made the crossover to television. In 2001, Phillips joined his old friend Kiefer Sutherland to guest star in two episodes of the popular TV action drama 24.
Phillips recalled how that happened: "We got the call from the people at 24, saying, 'Listen, we don't have a script yet, but the episodes are going to revolve around Kiefer, Dennis Hopper and a role that we'd like you to do.' That's really all I needed to hear. So I made one phone call—to Kiefer's cell phone on the set—and said: 'Listen man, they want me to come on the show. Is that cool with you?' And he said, 'Yeah, c'mon, let's go!'"
In subsequent years, Phillips popped up on television shows like Numb3rs and Stargate Universe. He also embraced the reality TV craze by appearing on—and winning—I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Outta Here and Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off.
Recent efforts have led to roles on the series Longmire and Blindspot. Phillips has also continued to work in film, notably with the 2015 drama The 33, about the 2010 Chilean mining accident that trapped 33 workers underground.
When not auditioning for his next role, Phillips can be found playing a mean game of poker. Though he had been playing the game since college, the actor got serious in 2009 when he entered into the California State Poker Championship, ultimately placing 31st out of 403 entrants. After his successful first foray into competitive card playing, Phillips went on to enter the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, walking away with over $30,000 in earnings.
While he was making the movie Trespasses (1986), Phillips met assistant director Julie Cypher, who became his first wife. After they divorced in 1990, he was briefly engaged to actress Jennifer Tilly. In 1994, he married Kelly Preston (not the famous actress of the same name); the couple had three children, twins Isabella and Grace and younger sister Lili. Though the couple separated in 2004, they did not officially divorce until 2007, by which time Phillips had begun dating Yvonne Boismier. When his divorce went official, the two married and soon had a daughter, Indigo Sanara.
Lou Diamond Phillips has played characters of many ethnicities, and has often fought back against being pigeonholed in any one. His own diverse background (Hispanic, Scottish-Irish, Asian, Cherokee) has helped him avoid being typecast.
While acknowledging that he has been lucky to get a shot at a variety of roles, he hasn't forgotten how much harder it used to be. One night in a Hollywood restaurant, Phillips ran into Sidney Poitier and thanked him for opening the door for leading men of color. He fondly recalled the famous actor's response: "Sidney Poitier, who is class personified, said: 'Lou, you're a leading man because you're a good actor.' Brought tears to my eyes."
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