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Lou Diamond Phillips’ Latest Role Is a ‘Gift’

Lou Diamond Phillips talks playing a trapped Chilean miner in The 33 and how the experience has changed his life. 

Lou Diamond Phillips stars in The 33
Credit: 2014 Half Circle LLC. The 33. All rights reserved.

In 1987, Lou Diamond Phillips delivered his breakthrough performance playing Ritchie Valens – the father of Chicano rock who lost his life in a tragic plane crash just eight months into his singing career.

Now, almost 28 years later, Phillips is tackling another true story — one that captivated the world.

The saga of a group of Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days after a mine shaft collapse filled up our new feeds and took over our TV sets in August 2010.

Phillips, who plays foreman Louis “Don Lucho” Urzúa in the new film The 33, remembers the accident that became a global phenomenon clearly.

“It was an incredibly fascinating story, playing out in real time — almost like reality TV,” the actor says.

When Phillips found out that Warner Brothers was optioning the story of The 33, he immediately wanted to be a part of it. He recalls frantically driving through LA traffic on a day when director Patricia Riggen was in town – she would stay for two hours before hopping on a flight – and doing his best to convince her he had to be involved in the film.

The two hit it off right away but without a working script, Phillips was left in the dark as to his role in the movie. Weeks later, Riggen sent him a draft, telling him he’d be playing Don Lucho – the mine foreman and one of the leaders of the group.

“When I read the script it was like Christmas morning,” Phillips recalls. “It’s such a complex and challenging role, one I was so happy to be doing.”

Phillips and the rest of the cast – which includes Antonio Banderas – soon found themselves living the life of a real Chilean miner. The crew spent 14 hours a day, six days a week underground, filming in a working mine in Colombia.

“We were staying in a truck stop motel, we were all on diets,” Phillips says. “It was total immersion. There was no relief from it and I think that was a great thing.”

Those 35 days spent filming in the mine influenced the actor’s perception of the man he was portraying, but meeting the real Don Lucho proved life-changing for Phillips.

In the film, Don Lucho undergoes one of the most dramatic evolutions of any character. As foreman, he held himself responsible for the safety and well-being of the men he sent into the mines. When the collapse occurs and hope seems to be lost, Don Lucho’s guilt is crippling, causing him to lose faith in any chance of rescue.

Phillips was adamant that he didn’t want to play the miner as some kind of character type.

“If this had been some Hollywood conceit, they would’ve reduced these guys to two dimensional characters and I would’ve been the foil to Antonio’s hero,” the actor says. “This is a real man that I had to be respectful to. This was his life, his passion, his pride so you can understand how devastated he was, how responsible and guilty he was when the collapse happened.”

Don Lucho was the last miner rescued on that fateful day five years ago. His courage and his faith are two reasons why playing him has been a gift to Phillips.

“I’m grateful now to be playing guys that have lived,” Phillips says. “In the case of Don Lucho, I’m playing characters that I feel are inspirational, that are aspirational, that have qualities that I want to remember in my own life – a work ethic, faith, and inner strength. To be able to play characters like that is a gift. It’s an absolute blessing to me.”


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