Lou Diamond Phillips is dedicated. Like his fellow stars in “The 33” — the film about the 2010 Chilean mining accident, where 33 miners spent 69 days trapped miles below the surface — he spent most of his days shooting in an actual mine. That gave him plenty of opportunities to learn what it was really like for his character, Luis Urzua, aka “Don Lucho,” the foreman who had warned his bosses about the deplorable conditions and unmet regulations, then was racked with guilt after the mine really did collapse.
Have you ever read George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”? It has lengthy, detailed descriptions of the conditions inside English mines in the 1930s that will give you nightmares, although conditions have dramatically improved, even with the Chilean mine that collapsed.
I haven’t read it. But when this film began I had just started reading Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, and the first book starts in a Welsh mine. There I was, down in Colombia, thinking, “Maybe this isn’t what I should be reading right now.” It was talking about a mine collapse and the hardships of going down into a Welsh mine. But I looked at it as kismet — one of those fringe benefits of getting into the proper mindset.
Don Lucho is the essentially smartest guy in the room, though in this case it also means he’s the one pointing out, initially, how little hope they have for escape.
It was a fine line for me to walk, because I could come off as simply the naysayer or the foil to Mario Sepulveda [played by Antonio Banderas] and his overflowing optimism and blind faith. But where Don Lucho was going from was pragmatism and realism. He knew the odds of rescue, and he knew what had happened, time and time again, when mines had collapsed.
His overwhelming guilt about not being able to effect change in the mine before the collapse, despite his considerable efforts, is what comes across most in the film.
He took it all very personally. You have to understand this is a small community. Even though Don Lucho was the boss, these men were his friends. They ate together, they raised their families together. He had a huge sense of responsibility, in addition to the pride he took in his work. I wanted to capture that responsibility and that guilt he directed at himself. I remember when I first read the script, I thought to play him as simply the villain or the conduit through which we see Sepulveda’s heroism would have been reductive, simplistic. I’ve played a lot of heroes in my time, and heroes, I’m sorry, but they tend to be very one-note. They tend to be simple. And Lucho is incredibly complex. I thought, “How can I portray a man who willingly gives up his leadership without making him look pathetic?” There’s this growing desperation to him. He tries to get his s— together after the collapse, but at every juncture he’s foiled: the radio doesn’t work, the chimney ladders are not complete, the ramp is blocked. Time and time again the things he had raised awareness of were not in place. He was not given the tools to properly do his job.