Heartbreaking Moment Lou Diamond Phillips Spent with the Sister of Ritchie Valens

Lou Diamond Phillips, 59, has had a more-than-30-year career at this point, and while it hasn't been one-note, he will of course always be known for his spot-on portrayal of Ritchie Valens (1941-1959) in 1987's La Bamba.

Phillips then (above left) and now (Images via Columbia & Matthew Rettenmund)

Valens, the rock pioneer who died tragically in a plane crash as just 17, left behind a sister who was 12 at the time of the accident, and Phillips is now recalling an emotionally raw moment he shared with her during the making of the movie.

As La Bamba hits theaters again as a part of TCM Big Screen Classics, he remembered in a new interview that Connie Valenzuela Jr. ignored the film's director's warning to avoid being on set for the filming of the scene when Valens boards his final flight.

“She was 12 when he passed, so she was truly affected by this, she had memories, she was old enough to feel that loss. She came up to me, and I knew something was wrong immediately. She looked a little timid … But she called me ‘Lou’ for the first time in like five weeks … And I felt, ‘Wow, something’s wrong.’”

Something was wrong — but acting-wise, it was right:

“It was like floodgates opened. She literally collapsed into my arms. She started pounding on my chest, saying, ‘Why did you go? Why did you have to go?’ And I just realized that being there on the set that night, that was 30 years of pain that had a catharsis. And in the the movies, she could stand on that runway and maybe stop it from happening … She had that moment to finally let it all out.”

His evocation of Valens was mesmerizing, and he had an early indication of just how successful it was from that moment.

La Bamba is in theaters April 18, 21 and 22.

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