Actor Lou Diamond Phillips currently appears on Longmire, a crime drama about a sheriff in rural Wyoming on A&E, as Henry Standing Bear. Standing Bear, who is the best friend of Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor), is Northern Cheyenne and owns a local bar. Phillips, who is Filipino on his mother’s side and Scots-Irish with some Cherokee on his father’s, has played a wide range of ethnicities over the course of his career. For two of his best-known roles, he played Mexican-Americans: Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, the film that launched his career, and Angel Guzman in Stand and Deliver, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination. On numerous occasions, he has played Native characters, including Jose Chavez y Chavez (identified as a “Mexican Indian”) in the Young Guns movies (1988, 1990), Hank Storm (Lakota) in Renegades (1989), and Agaguk (Inuit) in Shadow of the Wolf (1992).
In an extensive interview with The Onion AV Club, Phillips reviewed a lot of the significant roles in his career, and specifically addressed the Native characters he’s played. When asked to speak about Renegades, he offers: “It’s interesting when you look at the progression of things. There was Young Guns, then there was Renegades, and now once again I’m playing the Native character, and the respect that I started with then is something I’m still trying to apply today. As soon as I knew that I’d landed the role of Henry Standing Bear, I flew to the Cheyenne reservation in Montana just to soak it up, to get the blessings of the people that I’m representing.”
Renegades, he says, “sent me on the road of approaching Native characters with the utmost respect and with an attempt to inject dignity and integrity into the roles. I worked with Floyd Red Crow Westerman, who played my father in Renegades, and went to my very first sweat with him. It opened my eyes to that way of life and that culture.”
For Phillips, playing characters with ethnicities other than his mostly-Filipino makeup has been the norm, and he has faith that doing the research will pay off. “You can look at a lot of the films I’ve done, and I represent a lot of different groups without ever really having been a part of them,” he told The Onion AV Club. “You know, I was never a Cholo, I wasn’t raised in East L.A., but I managed to soak that up and get it right in Stand And Deliver. So it just solidified my notion that if you’re representing something, you don’t create it in a vacuum. You go and see the real deal, and you try to get it right.”
The penultimate episode of Longmire’s first season airs this Sunday, August 5, at 10 PM Eastern/9 Central on the A&E cable network.
(Note: This article has been corrected. A previous version wrongly identified this Sunday’s episode as the premiere of Longmire’s second season.)