Phillips, whose mother is Filipino and father is Scots-Irish and Cherokee, is best known for playing Mexican American and Native American roles. But he's only played a character of Filipino descent once before starring on the recently canceled Fox drama Prodigal Son. "I absolutely asked," Phillips says in an interview with Esquire. "He was originally written as Gil Martinez, which was fairly down the middle (ethnically). I said, 'Can we do something to make him a little bit more unique? I’m Filipino; I very rarely have ever played Filipino.' Chris Fedak (the show’s co-creator) happened to have grown up with a bunch of Filipinos. I gave them a list of, I believe, five Spanish-infused names that I also know were widely used in the Philippines, and Arroyo I actually took from (former Philippines’) president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who gave me a lovely presidential award back in 2004 for my work with the Filipino war veterans." Has it been frustrating for Phillips not to play Filipino roles? "No," he says. "Because in many instances, that’s a false flag. I grew up as an American kid. I grew up traveling around the world on Navy bases, spending most of my time in Navy schools with multiethnic classmates. It was never an issue for me. I was shocked by the racism that I experienced when I got to college." Phillips says that he sees it as being okay that he's played Mexican-American characters like Ritchie Valens in La Bamba. "I’m not Latinx, but (La Bamba director) Louis Valdez and I did a number of interviews recently because La Bamba was put back into the movie theaters 34 years later, and once again, he was justifying his casting of me," says Phillips. "He cast the actor he thought was best for the role, and some people go, well, he’s Filipino, he’s not Mexican-American. But those same people don’t go, Esai Morales is Puerto Rican, not Mexican-American. Elizabeth Peña was Cuban, not Mexican-American. So, where do you draw the line? I happen to agree that casting Caucasian people in what are supposed to be ethnic roles is not kosher, mostly because there is an authenticity issue. But also because it’s a matter of opportunity. You cannot compare the level of opportunity that we get, you know?"