Lou Diamond Upchurch was born 17th February 1962 at the Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines. Filipino, Hawaiian, Chinese, Spanish, Scottish/Irish, and eighth Cherokee Indian origins gave him his unusual good looks and brought him main leads in movies. Named after the World War 2 hero Leland ‘Lou’ Diamond, he seemed destined for stardom right from the beginning. He later took the Phillips surname from his step father, George Phillips.
As a child he lived with his family in many American States before finally settling in Corpus Christi, Texas. Becoming interested in acting, Lou took a keen interest while at Flour Bluff High School, before majoring in Drama at The University of Texas at Arlington where he performed in many lead roles while taking classes. This led to an invitation to join a Comedy Troupe known as The Zero Hour, and a stint at the at Stage West theatre in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 1982, Lou met the late Adam Roarke who would become a key figure in his acting career. Roarke became inspired to start an acting school after attending a Dallas-located Halloween party populated by young actors. The former actor decided to open his Film Actors Lab at the Dallas Communications Complex in Las Colinas, Texas.
Lou joined the Film Actors Lab, first studying acting, then later becoming an instructor. Teaching acting alongside Roarke, the two men gained a good reputation in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
While still at the Films Actors Lab, Lou began to make his way into films, briefly appearing in low budget student films such as Angel Alley, Interface, and a role in the NBC Tv movie Time Bomb. Lou appeared in a small role as a member of a terrorist gang with Morgan Fairchild as the leader.
For 1986’s Trespasses, a film that began production a few years earlier, Lou and Adam Roarke were approached to try and complete the film after the maker put his own ranch at risk on the back of securing any sort of release. Lou signed on in a small role, and also co-wrote the story so that it would at least make sense and be a complete film.
During this time, Lou also made a very brief appearance in the long running tv show Dallas, and a more substantial role in an episode of Miami Vice, before getting his big break in 1987’s La Bamba.
In La Bamba, Lou stars as Ritchie Valens in the true but tragic story of the Rock n Roll star. Lou came by the role by chance after being sent to the audition under the confusion that it was for a Musical about Frankie Valli. He was even considered for the role of Bob, Ritchie’s half brother, but impressed the director, producers, and the Valenzuelas family so much that he was chosen from 500 other young hopefuls to play the lead role of Ritchie Valens.
Lou bonded with the Valenzuelas family during filming, and at one point actually became Ritchie to them which led to an incident involving Ritchie’s sister at the airfield scene. When the actors began boarding the plane for the final fatal flight, the scene was interrupted by Connie Lemos, Ritchie’s real life sister, who was only six years old at the time of her brother’s death, who hysterically tried to keep Phillips from boarding the plane.
With the completion of La Bamba, his first major break into Hollywood, it was finally a film Lou could call his own and he was now a star. Even after more than 20 years since it’s release, La Bamba is still a film he is mostly identified with til this day.
Before La Bamba opened Lou starred in the TV movie The Three Kings as a mental patient, and decided to return to his home town Texas to star in Dakota, a low budget drama set on a ranch. Lou not only starred in the movie, but also served as an associate producer.
On September 17th, 1987, during filming of Dakota, he married Julie Cypher on the set, with the assistant director standing in as Justice of the Peace. The two met a few years earlier while Lou was making Trespasses. Lou described his wedding at the time, “a very sweet, very romantic sort of thing”. Sadly in 1990 this was to end in divorce, with Julie leaving Lou for the singer Melissa Etheridge who was a close friend of them both.
“It’s pretty well known that I was married to Julie Cypher and she ended up with Melissa Etheridge, which was the reason for the ending of our marriage” says Lou when interviewed, “But I wish them both well. There are no hard feelings. I particularly wish Melissa well, now that she’s surviving cancer. But that’s a chapter I closed a long time ago”.
Riding high on the success of La Bamba, he next starred in a supporting role opposite Edward James Olmos for Stand and Deliver. Cast as Angel, a troubled gang member who is shown the error of his ways by a tough caring teacher, Lou was recommend to audition for the role by the films star and co-producer Edward James Olmos, who he had previously worked with on Miami Vice.
In 1989 the role as Angel in Stand and Deliver won him the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting male and he also received a Nomination for the Golden Globe award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture by an actor.
After his success in La Bamba and Stand and Deliver, he was now considered a big enough star to join the likes of Emilio Estevaz, Kiefer Sutherland, and Charlie Sheen in the 1988 Western Young Guns. The story followed the adventures of Billy the Kid and his regulators, with Lou portraying Chavez Y Chavez, a mexican indian, who he described as “a killer, a savage, and at the same time very mystical, the quiet one”. The film also spawned a sequel two years later.
Next up Lou joined the cast of the comedy Disorganized Crime as an inept bank robber. The film wasn’t a commercial hit, and even Lou was disappointed by the films lack of conviction as either a comedy or action-heist movie. “As a film, I felt it was a bit disappointing, and I think it should have been funnier” recalled Lou. “Unfortunately, I think the script was funnier than the actual film came out to be, but I think we were all on a different page. I think the director wanted to make more of an action film or a heist film than he wanted to make a comedy, and Jim Kouf – he was also the writer – I think that he shied away from the comedy of it, which is unfortunate because if we had gone that way I think the film would have been more satisfying.”
Teaming up again with Young Guns co-star Kiefer Sutherland for the 1989 action movie Renegades. Lou starred as Hank, a Lakota Indian who joins forces with a cop (Sutherland) to avenge his brothers death. The film was directed by Jack Sholder, who had a previous hit with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Both actors concerned gave fine convincing performances and the film was a minor hit.
In 1990’s political drama A Show Of Force, he played a drug lord and also in the same year starred in the leading role in his first entry into the horror genre. The First Power saw Lou as a cop on the hunt of a supernatural serial killer. At the time of release, the film received bad reviews but has since enjoyed more cult movie status when it found it’s way onto video, and later DVD.
For his next film Ambition, he not only starred but also wrote the films original story. Portraying a young man so desperate for success he is even willing to kill in order to get what he wants. When interviewed, Lou recalled his disappointment in how the movie turned out; “the final product has little relation to the words I originally put on the page. A situation made worse since, as the lead actor, I was made an accomplice to the mutilation of my baby”
Robert Redford was producer on his next movie, The Dark Wind, based on a novel by Tony Hillerman and telling the story of an Rookie cop Jim Chee’s investigation into corruption, witchcraft, and murder.
The making of the movie became a very troubled shoot when Hopi Indian religious leaders thought the script showed their ancient rites being depicted in a sacrilegious way and soon other Native American groups began protesting against the movie because Lou is not a full-blooded Indian.
Shadow Of The Wolf, Lou’s next movie, was reportedly the most expensive Canadian movie ever to be made. Based on the novel Agagukby Yves Theriault. The story centers on a village leaders proud son, Agaguk, who is constantly at odds with his father about their views on the taking over of the westerners.
Around about his time Lou was dating again and he became romantically involved with Jennifer Tilly, his co star in Shadow of the Wolf. The two later became engaged but following his split with her, Lou married Kelly Preston on April 24th, 1994 after meeting the former model whilst playing Pool at the Hollywood Athletic Club.
The mid nineties saw Lou receiving less roles in major Hollywood productions and instead, turned to lesser known independent and TV movies, including Extreme Justice, a cop thriller co-starring Scott Glenn.
In 1994’s Boulevard, Lou co-starred with Kari Wuhrer in a story of a young woman escaping from an abusive husband. Lou played a manipulative pimp, Hassan who tries to force Kari’s character into prostitution.
Stepping behind the camera for two movies, Dangerous Touch, an erotic thriller with Kate Vernon, and Sioux City, a movie which was very personal to Lou. Starring and directing both movies, they also featured an appearance from friend an mentor Adam Roarke.
Sioux City featured a soundtrack by the Pipefitters. Lou knew the band members from The Pipefitters since his pre-movie stardom days in Texas, and even briefly toured with the band in between making movies. Although the group were successful they never recorded any albums, but can be heard on the soundtrack with Lou singing the song “Find your Way Home”.
The year 1996 turned out to be a great year for Lou and saw a dramatic increase in his profile when he was given the role of King Mongkut of Siam in the broadway production of The King and I. Reprising the role made famous by Yul Brynner which raised more than a few eyebrows when it was announced who was to be the star of the show.
The revival opened on April 11th, 1996 at the Neil Simon Theatre, and ran for 780 performances, closing February 22nd, 1998. The role led to a Tony Award nomination and Lou later went on perform as the King again for a limited run in 2004 and 2006.
During his time on Broadway, producers cast Lou in Courage Under Firestarring with Meg Ryan and Denzil Washington in one of the first films to depict the 1991 Gulf War. Just before landing the role in Courage Under Fire, Lou made a conscience decision to go for larger Hollywood productions. It was a good move and the film gave him chance to show his acting skills. Winning praise from critics he was awarded best supporting actor.
The influence of Hong Kong movies on Hollywood was in full swing by the later part of the 90’s, and director Kirk Wong made his American film debut with The Big Hit.Lou starred opposite Mark Wahlberg in the big action/comedy movie as part of a gang of hired hitmen. The film gave Lou the chance to show exactly what he is made of with a hilarious turn as the gold toothed Cisco.
He also became a parent for the first time in 1997 when his wife Kelly gave birth to twin girls Isabella Patricia and Grace Moorea. Kelly liked Lou’s look in The Big Hit so much that she wanted him to appear that way in the delivery room when the twins were born. He told her he didn’t think he could get past security like that!
Next up was the sci fi movie Supernova which proved to be a troubled shoot including changing director three times during filming. The movie also starring Angela Basset and James Spader was finally released in January 2000.
1999 was a extremely busy year for Lou with the birth of his third daughter Lilli Jordan, and the releases Brokedown Palace, TV movie In A Class Of Their Own, and the special effects horror movie Bats which is in the same vein as Hitchcock’s Birds.
He teamed up with Kiefer Sutherland in 2000 in the bizarre Picking Up The Pieces in which he had a very small cameo role as a police officer. Lou then starred in the action movie A Better Way To Die and the psychological thriller Hangman alongside Madchem Amick.
Around this time, Lou auditioned for the role of John Dogget in the popular Sci Fi show X-Files, and was seriously considered before the role was eventually given to actor Robert Patrick. Lou continued to look for further television projects, and in 2001 was given his own tv show by CBS, Wolf Lake.
Before it was even broadcast, Wolf Lake was subject to several changes and was finally aired with a completely new cast and story from it’s original idea. Subsequently, the series was cancelled before finishing a full season. During Lou’s time on Wolf Lake, he took time out to film a cameo appearance in friend Kiefer Sutherland’s hit series 24.
Following the rise of his profile and the disappointment of Wolf Lakebeing cancelled by the network, Lou found himself once again turning to independent films including Malevolent, Absolon, and Route 666.
Although the films may not have been big budget productions, Lou continued to put his all into each role, keeping a level of professionalism with every film he becomes involved with “Every film I take, I take because, at least in the beginning, I have hopes that it will be a good movie” Lou reflected when interviewed. “Having said that, not every film I’ve made has turned out like I hoped and some have been more painful than others. I’ve always wanted to make a really scary movie and I had enthusiasm for ‘Route 666’ but the production was such a mess that I soon realized it was a case of ‘Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here”
A minor role in Hollywood Homicide came along came next. The role was originally meant to be larger in the films original script but the final film only contained one scene in which Lou is in drag as an undercover vice police officer. The film was still a great experience for him who enjoyed working with the ageing Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford.
“I’ve got to say, Harrison is probably the most relaxed actor I’ve worked with in my life. He’s truly amazing. They say “Action!”–boom! There’s Harrison Ford” recalled Lou from his time on set. “I was doing a scene, I’m sitting across a table from him, and between takes I kind of looked over, and I had one of those moments where the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I went, “Oh my God, that’s Harrison Ford!” When you’re working, you don’t really think about those things, but I just had one of those star struck moments where it’s just like, “Look where I’m at”.
Lou split his time between film and Television, making guest appearances on George Lopez, Jack and Bobby, The Handler and the less successful pilot for Aquaman. He also joined an all star cast for the Sci Fi Channel’s mini series, The Triangle.
Continuing to work on television, he was offered a guest appearance on the U.S show Numb3rs, as Agent Ian Edgerton, the FBI’s best sniper, and fourth best shot in the United States. The character proved to be popular with the shows viewers, and has returned to the series several times for further appearances.
It was announced in 2005 that Lou had separated from his wife Kelly. The couple split after 11 years of marriage, with Kelly filing for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized in 2007.
Lou’s private life became the subject of tabloid news in August 2006 following an incident with his fiance Yvonne Marie Boismier. The two had
previously met while shooting a Radio Shack commercial in Vancouver, British Columbia. He plead no contest to domestic battery upon Yvonne, and was ordered by the courts to attend counseling sessions.
The couple managed to work through their problems and went on to marry on August 16th 2007, less than a month after his finalized divorce from Kelly. Their first child together, daughter Indigo Sanara, was born October 9th, 2007.
In 2007 he returned to the stage as Col Jessep in A Few Good Men in a production of the play at the Casa Mañana Theatre, in Fort Worth, Texas. He also starred as King Arthur in the national tour of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot at the Royce Hall at UCLA in Los Angeles, replacing Michael York, who originated the role on tour.
He went on to star in and direct the Hallmark movie, Love Takes Wing, a Christian drama and the seventh TV movie based on a series of books by Janette Oke, and also stepped into the shoes of John Wayne for the remake of Angel and the Badman.
In 2009 it was announced that production had began on the television Sci-Fi series, Stargate Universe, with Lou being cast as Colonel Telford, a lifelong military man and the chosen leader of the ill-fated expedition. As well as a very busy acting career, Lou is also a keen poker player and is also actively involved in many charities. He can be often spotted at various charity events, poker tours, and even appearing on NBC’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.