NEW YORK, Jan. 12 (UPI) — Lou Diamond Phillips said his cop drama Prodigal Son may be “out there” in terms of its over-the-top storylines, but it still is rooted in contemporary New York, and will address the real-life police issues at the heart of recent social-justice movements.
“We’re going to meet the racial inequality and the profiling and that sort of systemic racism in the police force head on,” the 58-year-old actor told UPI in a phone interview ahead of the show’s Season 2 premiere Tuesday on Fox.
“I don’t see how you cannot. It has been such a hot-button topic this past year,” he added. “I think we have — as a few other shows do — a very authentic perspective in the respect that my team, we are all people of color and, even beyond that, we are all mixed heritage.”
Phillips plays New York City Police Lt. Gil Arroyo, the precinct’s father figure and voice of reason, who joins forces with Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne,) a brilliant, but troubled investigator years after Gil arrested Malcolm’s unhinged, serial killer dad, Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen.)
Among the show’s other memorable characters are stalwart NYPD detectives Dani Powell and J.T. Tarmel (Aurora Perrineau and Frank Harts;) bubbly medical examiner Dr. Edrisa Tanaka (Keiko Agena;) Malcolm’s wealthy, alcoholic mother and Gil’s love interest Jessica (Bellamy Young;) and Malcolm’s ambitious TV reporter sister Ainsley (Halston Sage.)
“It’s not your typical television show,” Phillips said. “‘Bonkers’ is our baseline. That’s where we are starting from. We’re starting from a floor of ‘bonkers’ and we’re just going up. “
Season 1 ended with evil pharmaceutical tycoon Nicholas Endicott (Phillips’ former Young Guns co-star Dermot Mulroney) knifing Gil while Nicholas was on a date with Jessica before Ainsley slit his throat as Malcolm watched in horror.
“The situation with Ainsley and Endicott and Malcolm and then the situation with Gil getting stabbed, and that blossoming, rekindling relationship with Jessica — all of that continues in Season 2, but certainly not in a straightforward manner. There are twists and there are turns,” he teased.
Viewers also can expect more macabre crimes of the week and even darker humor, Phillips said.
The show’s second season, some of which the actor directed, was filmed in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic.
This meant crews were separated and masked while they worked, and actors had their faces covered until just before they filmed their scenes. They then returned to their dressing rooms to wait for their next scene instead of hanging around the set and watching their co-stars work.
“You work so hard in the film industry to create a very comfortable and creative environment, and that way everyone is relaxed, and now, with the COVID protocols, you have to be everything but relaxed,” Phillips said.
“It’s not as light-hearted as it once was, but everybody is committed to doing this because we want to make the show and get it to people.”
Phillips credits a strong work ethic and willingness to reinvent himself for his long and varied resume.
That includes performing “sketch comedy done in punk clubs at midnight,” as well as in the classic films La Bamba, Young Guns, Stand and Deliver and The 33, Broadway’s The King and I, the music video for Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and the animated series The Lion Guard.
“I literally trace it back to my theater days, which started in high school and then with my degree from the University of Texas in Arlington,” the actor said. “I did everything. I wrote plays and then I went out and raised the money to produce them and then I directed them.”
Over the decades, Phillips has played character roles, leading men, heroes and villains.
The key to his success, he thinks, has been his effort to not repeat himself.
For example, even though he has played several lawmen at this point, he always wonders, “How is this cop going to be different?”
“The integrity and the moral compass of Gil Arroyo is very much like that of Henry Standing Bear from Longmire, but one is a very rural guy, a Native American, and the other one is an urban Filipino, so it’s nice to have that latitude,” he said.
He also recently published his first book, the science-fiction novel Tinderbox: Soldier of Indira, which was inspired by artwork created by his wife, Yvonne.
Phillips originally envisioned the project as a post-apocalyptic movie, but, after he wrote the screenplay for it, realized it would be too expensive and a studio likely wouldn’t let him direct it.
So, he decided to write it as a book and make it a collaborative project for him and his wife.
“The novel was off-again, on-again for 10 years, whenever I had time between my day gigs to do some writing, and then it really, really came to a head in the last year, especially with COVID [lockdowns] because that just gave me eight hours a day to write and do the editing,” Phillips said.
“The reviews have been so lovely and Yvonne has 30 illustrations in the hardcover version of it that are just stunning.”
A second book already is in the works.
With sequels and reboots all the rage these days, Phillips knows what past screen role he would revisit if he could: 1990’s The First Power.
“It was a moderate success when it came out, but it’s gained a real cult following,” he said. “I still feel as if I have not done my quintessential horror film yet, so that would definitely be one of them.”
Fans of the modern western Longmire also would love to see Phillips reprise his role of Wyoming bar owner Henry Standing Bear.
The actor said he is game, even if it seems unlikely the show will return more than four years after it was canceled.
“All of us in the cast love those roles and would certainly go back to them in a heartbeat, but I think what we would be looking at are one-off movies,” he said.
“There’s a huge library of source material because Craig [Johnson] has written 16 books or so, and none of those plots ever made it into the series. [The show] was its own world.”