Respecting the art of acting, learning the business and influencing the world are goals that should be instilled in an entertainer, said actor and director Lou Diamond Phillips March 24 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years as a professional,” Phillips said in a moderated discussion after a screening of “La Bamba.” “That’s what you aspire to be, not just to be on the cover of People Magazine.”
The 1987 movie starred Phillips as Ritchie Valens, the rock star who died in a plane crash at the age of 17 along with performers Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper in 1959.
The event evoked nostalgia among the crowd of 734 people.
Fans were excited before, during and after the film. They held posters, photos, magazines and even a painted canvas of Phillips as Valens. The crowd whistled and cheered as the main characters made their appearance in the movie. Fans also cried during the emotional scenes.
“La Bamba is my favorite movie,” an audience member said right before the lights went down and the film began. “It inspires and reminds me why I should be proud of my Latin heritage and upbringing. I even remember watching it when it first came out back home in New Braunfels.”
After the screening, Texas Public Radio hosted a Q&A with Phillips for the audience.
“La Bamba” was Phillips’ breakout movie.
“First of all, they cast me, an unknown kid from Texas,” said Phillips, who attended high school in Corpus Christi.
But when Phillips auditioned for the movie that turned out to be “La Bamba,” he thought he was up for a different rock biopic. His agent told him it was a musical about the life of Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons. He didn’t know much about Valli, but he knew he could do it.
At the Tobin, Phillips’ charm and sense of humor took center stage as he remembered that day. Phillips sang from the popular Four Seasons song “Sherry” — purposely screeching the lyric — and had the audience laughing.
Before “La Bamba,” Phillips had mostly played tough-guy, criminal characters.
“I was always the gang member,” he said. Earlier roles included Punk 1 in the movie “Interface” and Sidewalk Thug in an episode of “Dallas,” according to the Internet Movie Database.
Audience members lined up to ask Phillips their questions. Some fans were not able to contain their excitement and were in tears.
One audience member told him how she loved that he still had a full head of hair.
“No, this is a toupee,” Phillips joked.
“What advice do you have for aspiring actors?” asked another audience member.
“It is my massive pet peeve to not learn lines,” Phillips said. “Do your homework and learn lines. Every time I read my lines, I learn something new.”
A teenage audience member told Phillips she had previously met him and started getting emotional as she expressed how much she looks up to him. Coincidentally, it was her birthday on March 24 so Phillips engaged the entire audience and sang “Happy Birthday” to her.
When portraying a real person and out of respect for the job, Phillips always approaches it like a professional, he said. Playing Valens was one of the hardest roles he ever did. He never played the guitar and only had a week to learn 16 songs. He practiced so much that he had to wipe blood off the guitar, he said.
He made a powerful statement by quoting Bruce Lee.
“I am not afraid of a person who knows 10,000 kicks,” he said. “But I am afraid of a person who knows one kick but practices it for 10,000 times.”
Phillips told the crowd he was thankful to everyone who came and that he was proud to be a Texan.
“I think that’s the part about being a Texan,” he said. “You don’t forget where you came from.”
Amparo R. Polendo contributed to this story.