Lou Diamond Phillips as Jose Tonorio in "Filly Brown", in theaters now!
You played Ritchie Valens in La Bamba. Did you give Gina Rodriguez any advice on playing an aspiring singer/rapper? And did you see any commonalities between Valens and Majo?
While there are many similarities, there are significant differences in Ritchie's and Majo's experiences, most notably, style of music, different eras, certainly a different environment that they grew up in. The world changed a lot in the 60 something years that separates them. That said, they are both young people with a dream and a fierce belief in themselves, supported by strong familial connections. Their music is inspired by their cultural and societal influences. But no matter what the external variables were or are, I simply told Gina to bring her own heart and fire to the performance. My personal epiphany was that my own personal dreams and goals were very much like Ritchie's and I knew that Gina could certainly relate to Majo's journey and simply put herself into those shoes.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I fell in love with acting at an early age along with a healthy respect for all of the artistic disciplines like literature, music and dance. I draw inspiration from the artistic process and am often inspired by other artists. Oftentimes, I consider what I do to be more than just acting, although that is my first love. Those of us who have chosen to make this our life's work can often be considered storytellers or communicators and, given the different forms of entertainment out there, find many ways to express our creativity. Beyond my own personal drive, my family keeps me striving for excellence and gives me a standard not only for my work, but how I try to live my life.
What life lessons can viewers, especially Latinos, extract from Filly Brown?
While I don't think Filly Brown set out to be a 'message' movie, there are certainly a lot of lessons that can be taken from it. Belief in yourself. The desire to find your own voice and your purpose in life. The right to take your place in society (no matter what your ethnicity) and earn your piece of the American Dream. The importance of family and a support system that strengthens you. A lot of these things are emblematic of second generation Americans and certainly part of the Latino experience. But the overall themes are very much a part of the American fabric, which is why I believe that, like La Bamba and Stand and Deliver, Filly Brown tells a universal story that everyone can relate to, no matter your cultural influences.
How does the cast of the movie feel about the great impact Latinos are making in Hollywood?
Especially for people like Edward James Olmos and myself, it was important to pass the torch to a younger generation, and seeing the incredibly talented cast of young people led by Gina Rodriguez, there is much hope for the future. While things have gotten better since we made Stand and Deliver, there is still a long way to go. We are seeing more opportunities in Hollywood and certainly more talented performers coming up who are pursuing those opportunities, but you still have to convince a lot of people in power who refuse to think outside the box. Commercial success is really the only language they speak so we need the success of something like Filly Brown to inspire more young people to act, write, direct, sing, and do anything in the business that will increase the numbers of artists and projects out there that Hollywood will recognize as viable. It's an ongoing battle.
If you could describe your character in Filly Brown in one word, what would it be and why?
Responsibility. But that's a big word. Jose behaves a certain way in the film because, as he says, 'I changed my life.' He got his priorities straight and knew that he had to be strong and responsible because he had to raise his daughters alone. That said, his strength made him stoic and he felt that the only way to be a rock was to be impenetrable. He comes to accept his emotional responsibility as well and that, in my mind, is what makes him a truly great character.
Thank you to the cast of Filly Brown, and to our ALMA fans for your questions!