From Stand and Deliver and The King and I to the recent film The 33 and the Netflix series “Longmire,” actor Lou Diamond Phillips’s career has been both long and versatile. He adds another feather to his cap with the romantic comedy Burning Desire at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, Conn. Phillips not only stars in the show as Lucifer; he wrote it as well.
DOUG STRASSLER: Is writing something you’ve always wanted to do?
LOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS: I acted a lot in junior high and high school, and I majored in theatre at the University of Texas at Arlington, where I got my BFA. But I’ve written my entire career. I had a few screenplays that almost got produced, and I always intended to get back to it. I do a lot of writing when I’m on location with “Longmire,” and also have a couple of novels in the works.
Does this play mean we’ll see more of you onstage?
I’ve tried to get back on the boards numerous times. I certainly never expected The King and I to become my calling card, but it’s such a beautiful show; I have done it in five subsequent productions since Broadway, including in North Carolina, Kansas City, and Melbourne. I’ve clocked over 600 performances, which I believe might be a record for anyone living.
I also did the national tour of Camelot in 2007 for seven months. My wife, Yvonne, came with me and did the makeup, and we also took our one-month-old daughter with us. I’m probably not going to go on the road again. I’m too old, and playing a different city every week is incredibly grueling.
How old is your daughter now, 8?
Yes, 8 years old, and she’s definitely got the performer gene. When a show comes on TV, she says, “I want to be on that!”
Where did the idea for Burning Desire come from?
It’s been a pet project for a long time. I wrote the opening monologue a long time ago. It was precipitated by a bad breakup, and I started musing on the dark side of love. Then I didn’t know what to do with that monologue.
The play is fairly timeless to me, although the technology has surpassed what I originally wrote. A couple of things have to be updated—like the iPhone 6 will be anachronistic within a year! Fortunately, I address attitudes toward dating and relationships, and those never go out of vogue. The play breaks the fourth wall; it’s a bit like Woody Allen in that respect. It’s also a healthy nod to the Greeks and Shakespeare. There are some universal truths in there that will resonate with older and younger audiences and make it a fun date-night show.
Is it true you wrote it while commuting on the train to and from The King and I on Broadway?
Yeah. I ended up staying at a friend’s place on Long Island during the run. When the rest of the play became clear to me, I’d write on the way in, then after the show catch the midnight train back to Long Island. I felt like Charles Bukowski—I’d have my 40 in a brown paper bag and be writing along the way!
[The character] Lucifer espouses a lot of my own philosophies, but I tried to tell the story in a non-pedantic way. I very seldom get to do comedy. Though I’m grateful for my success in the dramatic realm, I like to bring the funny. I’m often relegated to playing the brooding ethnic. This [role] is not something Hollywood will put me in any time soon.
Has casting for actors of color improved at all?
Yes and no. There are more opportunities because there’s a huge appetite for content, and more doors being opened for actors of color, but typically on shows with a niche audience. Specific roles might be written for minorities, but then it narrows the focus to be opened on other shows. People don’t automatically think of casting ethnic actors outside of the box. For example, I’m going to play Richard Ramirez [in The Night Stalker], but when it comes to casting the role that is just the best friend or the supporting guy, casting directors don’t often go that way. Producers need to be mindful of keeping the door open. I’m so proud of what Gina Rodriguez is doing on “Jane the Virgin”—I played her father in Filly Brown.
I am proud to say, though, that I was the first Asian King on Broadway since Yul Brynner, and that was the first production where Asian roles were all played by actors of Asian descent. Thank goodness that has become standard. I hope people keep an open mind to doing Asian or Latino versions of the classics.
What other television are you watching?
My wife and I refuse to watch the train-wreck reality shows, but we watch “Survivor” and “Project Runway.” We also watch “The Royals,” “Nashville.” I can abide “The Affair.”
Are you watching anything on your home base of Netflix?
“Orange Is the New Black” is fantastic. Uzo Aduba is an incredible discovery. I need to catch up on “Narcos”; Juan Pablo Raba, my co-star from The 33, is in it. And I’m impressed with the support they gave to the movie Beasts of No Nation. They’re redefining the landscape in a very positive way.
Do you have any other guilty pleasures?
I don’t drink anymore, so now I’m into desserts. I’ve finally discovered chocolate!