New Mexicans are still reeling from the demise of Walter White, the local drug kingpin. Some are still walking down memory lane with Mary Shannon, the US Marshall who worked for the witness relocation program here in town. Most of us are asking, “What’s next? Where can we turn to see one of our own on the small screen?” Luckily for us the answer came in the form of Absaroka County, Wyoming. You may be wondering how a county you’ve never been to in Wyoming, 812.7 miles away from New Mexico, is going to replace your heroes and villains you have grown to love. Well, that part is easy.
First, let’s meet the new Walt in town (just north of Albuquerque to be exact). Played by Robert Taylor, he is a detective/cowboy you will come to admire. Walt Longmire is the sheriff of a dangerous county in Wyoming who himself lost someone he loved to a violent death. With the help of his daughter, friends, and quite a few enemies, he tries to keep the crime down in the small county. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to this Walt, Longmire is going into its third season on A&E.
Let’s take a look back in time for a moment to a show some of you will remember called Murder She Wrote. It starred Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher helping the police of the small town of Cabot Cove, Maryland. While the show was on the air, The Daily Mail UK called Cabot Cove one of the most dangerous places on the planet to live. Murder She Wrote has been off the air for 17 years so somebody had to step up and take its place and Longmire has been happily filling that role. Absaroka County, Wyoming is geographically much large than Cabot Cove, but with a population of only about 30,000 it is the top contender for the most dangerous fictional place. Set in the modern day, you will still get your fair share of horseback riding, open landscapes and murder. Although experiencing Absaroka County, Wyoming may be a great way to spend an evening at home, you should think twice before visiting such a dangerous war-zone. Not even Walter White would take his chance in that area.
The beautiful open landscapes that help to make Longmire such an appealing show are actually found just north of Santa Fe stretching up to Las Vegas, New Mexico. On April 16, 2013, just two days after signing the “Breaking Bad Bill” into law, Governor Martinez got a tour of the Longmire set. “It’s really amazing to have it right here in our backyard, hiring New Mexicans and making sure they get to be experts in this industry,” Martinez said after the tour (KRQE).
Working alongside Sheriff Longmire is childhood friend Harry Standing Bear, a Cheyenne Native American. The relationship is complicated, sometimes strained and spans a lifetime. Harry is probably the most recognizable member of the cast. Some will remember him as Richie Valens in La Bamba, others as Jose Chavez y Chavez riding along side Kiefer Sutherland and Emilio Estevez in Young Guns and Young Guns II. Lou Diamond Phillips is Cherokee by blood but was adopted by the Sioux tribe in 1990. He has been active in bring attention to Native American causes for many years. After being cast in the role of a Cheyenne bartender he spent time with the tribe elders to learn their culture, bringing realism to his character.
There was a time when seasoned big screen actors would not have returned to the small screen. But recent trends in television have seen many an actor doing just that. It began slowly a few years back with Kiefer Sutherland and a small show called 24. It captured the public’s attention and showed complicated characters and big screen excitement could be made for the small screen.
Brian Reed caught up with Lou Diamond Phillips to find out what bought Longmire to his attention and pulled him back to a recurring television role.
Brian Reed: What was it that attracted you to Longmire ?
Lou Diamond Phillips: I thought it (Longmire) was a great script. I didn’t think it would reach over four million viewers but I’m not surprised. As of now, we got the go ahead for season three. How many seasons (the show is on) depends on the viewers.
BR: Longmire had 10 episodes in its first season on the air. A&E pushed it up to thirteen for the second season. It’s a summer drama that airs May through August. Luckily for the cast and crew the Santa Fe area stays a little cooler then the rest of New Mexico in those hot months. Being a bartender in the local watering hole in those temperatures must make Henry a popular person? How do you feel playing the character Henry? Can you personally relate to him?
LDP: I believe Henry is a stand up guy. He has a lot of integrity. He’s a lot more than just a Cheyenne bartender.
BR: There isn’t a lot of down time while shooting a drama series being one of the main characters. The work is demanding with long hours in and out of make up and on and off the set. When you have some down time what are some of the ways you spend it?
LDP: I love to spend time with my family. I also love to cook. When I have free time it also means that I’m unemployed and looking for my next gig. I have to go to a lot of meetings to determine which project would be best for me.
BR: When people decide they want to go out to Hollywood or now New Mexico to be actors, they may not realize how much work is involved. It takes a lot more than looking the part and memorizing lines. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that has to be done. You stated it takes you many meetings with agents, directors, and your family to decide what parts will help you grow as an actor. There are a lot of scripts out there to sift through also to find a part that speaks to you and showcases your talents. As an established actor is there any advice you would give to someone new to the industry?
LDP: Never give up. Keeping pushing to follow your dreams. Grow your network the best you can.
As it stands Longmire is following in some notable footsteps as the third longest running TV drama to come out of New Mexico in the last few years. Great television is what New Mexico is all about, so when your mourning period is done, flip on the television to see the new Walt in town. It’s time to start a new adventure.