Exclusive: Lou Diamond Phillips Talks Prodigal Son & Teases Gil/Jessica

Lou Diamond PhillipsProdigal Son follows Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), a profiler who happens to have a serial killer (Martin Sheen) as a father, who uses his smarts to help the NYPD solve crimes. Lou Diamond Phillips, who stars as Lieutenant Gil Arroyo, directed the upcoming episode, entitled “Face Value,” which premieres on Tuesday on Fox.

On Friday, Phillips talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about working on the series, his character’s relationship with Jessica (Bellamy Young), Gil being a father figure to Dani (Aurora Perrineau), directing the episode, and more.

SCIFI VISION: When you first got the role of Gil, was there anyone that you were inspired by or that you thought of when you were creating the character, or did you just take it all from the script?

Lou Diamond PhillipsLOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS: A lot of it was in the script already. That was one of the things that I loved about this character, that being my age and playing characters who embrace their age, there's a lot of history there. There's a lot of mileage; there's a lot of baggage. You know, being the father of four daughters, I mean, that paternal instinct is right there with me.

I’ve played a lot of cops, and I’ve played a lot of military types throughout my career, whether it's, you know, Courage Under Fire or the sniper that I recurred on Numb3rs as.

And in the serial killer world, I mean, the interesting thing is that I very recently played Richard Ramirez, opposite Bellamy Young (in The Night Stalker). So, when she joined the cast, I was absolutely thrilled; I adore her.

In doing the research for Richard Ramirez, I did a deep dive into serial killers. I read the beautiful book by Philip Caputo [sic] about Richard Ramirez. It’s called The Night Stalker.

I also got to hang out, strangely enough, with Detective Gil Carrillo, who was one of the heads of the task force that was tracking Ramirez down. So, there was a lot of information, a lot of research that I was able to get from him.

Even going back to when I did The First Power, which was also a little inspired by Richard Ramirez, I hung out with Detective Bob Grogan, who was one of the guys that helped track down the Hillside Stranglers which ended up being two people.

So, throughout the years, whether it's my cop training or other training or some of the specific research I've done in this particular genre, all of that kind of came to bear when when I was thinking about Gil. So much of it was already there in my back pocket. I didn't have to go searching for it.

This season, Gil and Jessica have kind of gone back and forth a lot in their relationship. Is there anything at all that you can tease that's coming for them for their relationship?

I can say that we're not done. [laughs] This is an ever evolving relationship that they are both trying to navigate to the best of their abilities in their respective worlds, you know, in the police world and the world of the Whitlys. They have their own pressures and their own demands, but the beauty of it is that it's obvious that these two care for each other a lot. There is this spark there, this attraction that they just can't deny, and by stepping away from it, that kind of creates its own set of problems for them. So, I think the writers have done an amazing job of really giving us this push/pull, this on/off again kind of relationship that is not only true to the characters, but to the situation as it progresses. And there will be developments throughout the rest of the season; I can guarantee you that.

Okay, good. I'm rooting for them.

So, I had kind of talked to Aurora [Perrineau] about this a bit last season. Dani and Gil are close, but we don't really know much about what happened before we meet them on the show. Have you been as an actor given more about their backstory, and are we going to maybe get any more of that this season?

You know, they haven't really filled in a lot of those blanks, even with Gil's own personal life and his deceased wife, Jackie; there's still a lot of mystery there. I'm hoping that that's something we visit at some point.

Lou Diamond PhillipsWhat's very cool is that from the beginning of this season, you see the sort of special bond that Dani and Gil have. The fact that Gil is paternal, not only to Malcolm, but to his entire team, and the way he stepped up when JT (Frank Harts) was dealing with the systemic racism issues. Gil has a special and unique relationship with every single one of them.

And I can't help but think that Dani to him is reminiscent of Jackie, which is why I brought her up. I think that there's something special about her that just takes Gil back to his roots, and he feels just as paternal toward her, and the fact that not only is he is their boss, but that they have this familial relationship almost. She's able to be honest with him, and she's able to call him when she thinks he's stepping out of line. She brought up the whole Jessica situation that resulted in Gil getting injured. So, we see that there's mutual respect there but also an open door policy when it comes to Gil allowing Dani to air her grievances. I think that's very special, and I think that as we go down the line, we’ll be a little bit more revelatory about what makes their relationship special.

The episode coming up is the one that you directed. Obviously, you've directed other shows before. Had you wanted to direct
Prodigal Son from the beginning, or did it kind of just happen organically? How did you end up directing this show?

Yeah, it most certainly happened organically. You know, Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver were very aware of my director resume. When they hired me, Adam Kane was our first season show runner. He and I talked about directing an awful lot, so, I mean, the conversation was already happening in the first season. As a matter of fact, I had sat down with some of the execs over at Berlanti, just in general, a director meet and greet. A lot of people know me as an actor, but they don't know my philosophies as a director. So, the conversation was definitely underway last season, and we thought about it for two seconds when we got the back nine but decided that we just wanted everybody to have a good footing and get the show really, really solid before branching out into letting actors direct.

But even before the beginning of this season, the guys called over the summer and said, “When we get up and running, we'll make sure you've got a slot.” So, it was a great vote of confidence, and I'm incredibly grateful to Sam and Chris for giving me this shot and also, not only that, but giving me this script. I mean, Lauriel [Harte Marger] wrote such an amazing, quirky, weird, twisted script, and when I said yes to the episode, I had no idea I was going to get Catherine Zeta Jones, or Alan Cumming for that matter. It was like this amazing gift that just kept giving.

So, is it hard directing and also being in the episode? Because you kind of have to wear both hats at once and be thinking in terms of behind and in front of the camera at the same time.

Yeah, absolutely. It takes twice as much concentration, if not more than that. Fortunately they minimized Gil's presence in this one. I would never do this with a character that I had to focus on so much that I couldn't think about anything else. Gil is very comfortable to me. He's you know, like one of his nice, cozy turtlenecks. I just flip him right on. So, I know when I've got my performance, and I know when I'm happy with what I've done as an actor.

Lou Diamond PhillipsThe important thing, as a director, is taking care of the rest of my cast, and also, I think, leading the army and inspiring the rest of the craftspeople, the artists to do great work. In that respect, the preparation and the homework is the most important thing. I have to know the answer to almost every question by the time I get to set, and a lot of what needs to be done has already been locked down so that you don't have to be explaining things three, four, or five times on the day or figuring it out. So, to me, when I'm acting and directing, I mean, it's rule of thumb always, but even more so when I know that there are days when I have to go through makeup and hair and wardrobe and concentrate on my lines and be there, you know, giving to the other actors while on camera together. Every once in a while, I mean, I don't do this very often, but every once in a while, if there's a complicated camera move, or if something's happening that I need to double check, because I can't see it from where I am in the scene, I will sometimes do playback, but I will very, very rarely go to that, because that eats into your day, and the schedule was very, very tight.

Now, obviously, you're friends with the cast. Does that make easier or harder to direct your friends and be bossing them around? Or is it just more fun because they're there?

I think the huge advantage is there's a great deal of trust. I mean, the chemistry that you see on screen in Prodigal Son is very, very real and very organic. This cast loves each other; we’re all incredibly tight. So, there's never a question that I have their best interests in mind or that I want them to look good or that I want them to come off incredibly well, not only as a coworker, but a friend.

You don't always know what people's agendas are, especially in the world of television, when the director comes in, and you meet them the first day they're on set, and they're asking you to do things that may or may not be in keeping with your perception of the character of the story. So, having the trust of the cast is very important, but not only that, the trust of the writers and the producers. Knowing that I am very intimate with, not only my storyline as Gil Arroyo, but everybody's, that I've been paying attention to to what Ainsley (Halston Sage) is doing, to what Edrisa (Keiko Agena) is doing, to anyone on the show throughout, that, I go, “Hey, you remember when you did this six episodes ago? I think this is a little echo of that,” or, you know, just to have this shared history with each other really, I think, gives us yet another level of shorthand.

Now you made me wonder. You said you don’t necessarily know their agenda. Other than what you just mentioned, is there anything else that other directors, not necessarily on Prodigal Son, but just in your past, have done that maybe you made sure you avoided that you didn't like or that you made sure you changed that you can think of?

One hundred percent. I actually did a panel for the DGA on actors turn directors and that was one of the questions right off the bat. I don't know if this was Gene Hackman or Morgan Freeman this was attributed to, but they asked him what his favorite kind of director was, and the answer was, “One that stays out of my way.” [laughs]

There's a definite, you know, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” kind of thing, because our cast is so professional and so well prepared and knows their characters so well. You're not going to give them any bigger insight than that, so to try and lecture them at any point is usually just lip service to hear yourself talk. So, I avoid that kind of thing at all costs and try to make the direction - and that is literally, the term, “direct” - you know, “Go this way; go that way. Go a little faster; come back this way,” to where you're fine tuning a performance that they've already carved out to a great degree.

The other thing that is just a pet peeve of mine is that it gets easy and gets lazy, and especially in the COVID world, it's even more difficult, but, you know, just never yell from the monitor. There are certain directions, certain conversations, especially between you and the cast, that are about their process and that don't need to be screamed out over a megaphone for everybody to hear. It's like, if you want to make an adjustment, I think that's something between you and the artist. And once again, I think it underlines that trust that they have that they're in good hands and that they're in an environment where they can do something or try something and even make mistakes, and it's going to be okay, because they're not going to be called out publicly.

Lou Diamond PhillipsYou mentioned you got to work with Catherine Zeta Jones and Alan Cumming in this episode. Can you just talk a bit about working with them?

You know, when you have resumes as accomplished as theirs, you really never know what you’re going to get. You can get somebody who really feels that they’re above everything. Both of them were such salt of the earth, kind, warm, generous people, and they came fully prepared and just ready to rock and be team players. I mean, they integrated into this cast seamlessly. I mean, not only as a cast member, but even more so as the director, you got somebody who just stepped onto the set and solved half your problems for you. That's always what you pray for, to have that level of professionalism and artistry. The two of them bring such energy and such - I don't know, this great twinkle and sparkle to the proceedings. It's really lovely.

Before you go, I did want to ask you about your book. So, can you talk a little bit about it and what made you decide you were going to write a book?

It’s actually a bit of a process. I've been a writer as long as I've been an actor, but fortunately the acting thing took off for me. I wrote a novel in high school, which was terrible - really, really, really bad - [laughs] and then one in college that I think actually might have something to it. I might go back and revisit that.

So, I've always written, but when I got to Hollywood, that evolved into script writing, you know, writing screenplays, that sort of thing. During college, I'd also written stage plays. Most recently, I had a play that I wrote and produced at the Seven Angels Theatre in Connecticut. I did that a few years ago and acted in it as well. So, that's always been a passion of mine.

When Yvonne and I, my wife, first started dating, she was reading a lot of my writing, and I was looking at a lot of her amazing artwork. She is an unbelievable Illustrator. She had done this series of manga style illustrations that she was eventually going to turn into a graphic novel. This was from the mid 90s before graphic novels were a hit, before manga was hip in this country. She was really ahead of the curve.

So, I thought, “Wow, this could be a great [movie].” They were inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Tinderbox, so the story was already there. I was very true to the princes, and princesses and kings and queens kind of roots, you know, this fantasy setting that was there. But in making a movie, I thought, “Hey, let’s set in outer space, you know, let's give it little Star Wars treatment.” When I finished writing the screenplay, Yvonne and I both realized [laughs] that it was going to be so expensive, nobody would let me direct it.

So, we thought about it and talked to my manager, Jamie Roberts, who said, “This has always been a thought, why don't you write the book?” And so I did.

And over the course of about ten years, to be honest, in between acting gigs, and, you know, even during acting gig sometimes, I was working on the novel.

Then, when the pandemic hit, it just seemed to be the perfect time to finish the final edits and the notes from the agent and the notes from the publisher and the editor.

The book came out in November and did so well that I'm already working on the sequel. Once again, it’s Yvonne's idea. I mean, it shot up to the top of a lot of the Amazon charts and has done incredibly well for Aethon books, and it's selling well in all platforms. The Kindle, the hardcover, and the audiobook are all doing incredibly well. So, I'm very, very gratified by all of that.

Lou Diamond PhillipsThat's great. I'll have to check it out.

Lastly, you’ve been in so many things. I didn't even realize you were in that many until I started looking it up. I know you probably can't necessarily pick a favorite, but is there like one memory that just kind of sticks out from all the years that you've done this, when you think about it - not from this show, obviously from something other than Prodigal Son.

I've been so fortunate. I mean, as you said, when you start looking, you realize how much I've done. That’s because so much of it has been successful. I'm just incredibly proud of a lot of the work out there, [even] some of the stuff that wasn't widely seen, like The 33 that I did with that stellar cast, you know, Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, about the Chilean miners. I really am grateful for the entire experience, from the Cinderella story of getting cast in La Bamba, to what I'm doing today. That has been literally the dream. The dream was to have a career at this, not just to get famous, not just to get rich, but to have a life of acting and getting paid enough to be able to not do anything else. I've achieved that more so than any of my wildest imaginings. So, to me, that's the thing that I focus on and not just that one time where I got lucky, or, you know, was sitting across from Harrison Ford or working with Denzel Washington. I've just been blessed time and time and time again.

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