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Demian Bichir Talks Diversity and Latino Representation in Film and TV

Demian Bichir Talks Diversity and Latino Representation in Film and TV

With his incredible performance in Chris Weitz’s “A Better Life,” which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Mexican star Demian Bichir became a part of the American film scene. With several other roles in English-language films such as “Dom Hemingway” and “Savages,” and the success of the TV series “The Bridge,” Bichir has cemented his place in Hollywood as one of the most remarkable actors working today. But despite his incredible recognition this side of the border, the talented actor has not stopped working in his native Mexico. This makes for a very prolific and diverse career, which continues to uphold the importance of Latino representation in film and television. This weekend, the Guadalajara Film Festival in Los Angeles (FICG in LA) will honor his career and accomplishments during the opening night gala on September 5 with a special award known as The Tree of Life. Before then, the incredibly busy star took the time to talk to us about his eclectic journey, Latinos in Hollywood and his upcoming directorial debut “Refugio.” 
What does it mean for you to get this award from the Guadalajara Film Festival here in Los Angeles? In a way, it honors your work both here and in Mexico. 
As I recently mentioned, I don’t think I deserve a recognition of such nature. That’s why I consider it a double honor, because I feel there are people with more prominent careers that deserve it more than me. But evidently it is a very important distinction and I’m thankful to the Guadalajara Film Festival. It is a festival that I really love and which I’ve been attending since its inception. Whether I’m presenting a film, being the host for the opening night galas or being a judge, I’ve been part of all these different sections. I really thank them for the honor. 
Your career has been incredibly eclectic: You’ve worked on soap operas, films and now American television. How has this journey shaped you as an actor? 
Most people think that I started my career on TV, but I actually started in theater when I was a kid, with my brothers and parents. We’ve always worked in professional theater. This really shaped the kinds of actors we are. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on a few TV projects that were of very good quality, particularly with Argos TV. But essentially, the basis for my work has always been theater and of course film. These have been vital for my personal development. I’ve had the chance to make films in diverse parts of the world and I hope to continue doing that. 

On that note, after all the success you’ve achieved, what keeps inspiring you or pushing you to pursue new ventures? 
I’m still in search of the same thing. I look for interesting projects, for memorable characters, and to work with people that I admire and respect. I hope to continue having the same fortune and hopefully I can keep on finding better and better opportunities as an actor and as director. I hope that the things that I’ve done outside of Mexico help to open more doors for others as well. 
Would you say the Oscar nomination was a turning point in your career? Has it changed the way you approach your work? 

I keep on working as hard! [Laughs] They asked me the same question when I won the Ariel Award for “Till Death” (“Hasta Morir”) in 1995. People would ask if that was a turning point. I think that every important moment in your career is a new turning point. After the Oscar nomination more people knew my name, especially on this side of the line, in the U.S. When more people know about you, the doors that open are wider. However, the work and effort is exactly the same before and after.
In recent years, Latino talent has become more prominent in Hollywood, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Why is it important to open more spaces for Latino talent to shine? 
I think Latino talent is necessary for this industry in all aspects, not only regarding actors, but also directors, writers and cinematographers. Throughout the years we have demonstrated how much talent we have to offer. I think there is a lack of stories that represent us. New paths are being opened but there is still much more to do. It is very important to have a healthy group of Latino directors, cinematographers, etc. It is not only good for us as Latinos, but it is great for the American industry as well. 
Is diversity necessary in the film industry? 
Of course, that’s what this country is made up of.  Other minorities have demonstrated this through very important talent. The African American talent is first rate. For Latinos, we still don’t have the exposure or presence that, for example, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson or Kerry Washington have. We have an equal amount of talent but we have to claim our own place within the industry. 
Is it difficult to find roles as a Latino actor working in the U.S.? 
Yes, of course. It’s complicated because there are many stereotypes and clichés, and we have to break them as much as we can. The only real way to break through them is to write new projects, new stories about success, stories that can inspire the Latino community.

“The Bridge” is a success with American audiences. To what do you attribute this? What attracted you to the project in the first place? 
The pilot was great. It is first-rate drama. As I said, the names involved in any project make a difference. Elwood Reid and Meredith Stiehm, who are very experienced producers, managed to get an outstanding cast spearheaded by Diane Kruger. In addition to that, the fact that Gerardo Navajo was called to direct the pilot made it a very attractive offer. It is easy to say yes to a product of this caliber, but after that, nobody really knows if it will become a successful TV series or not. Nobody knows if the pilot is going to result in an entire first season, and nobody knows if that first season will have the chance to be followed by a second season. Since none of that is easy to predict, I focus on what’s there, on what’s tangible, which is the pilot. I concentrate on doing my best for that, and I think that’s what we all did.

We’ve been fortunate because people have liked the show. One of the things people like about the show, which is what grabbed me as well when I read the material, has to do with the bold way it talks about the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico via the shared border. The characters define these differences very well and they also highlight our similarities. I think that’s a great approach and people seem to like it as well. The show might have a long life because as long as the world keeps on being how the world is, we are going to continue being neighbors. 

Some of these stories are familiar to Latino audiences, but not so much to the majority of Caucasian viewers. What do you think has attracted them to the show? 
That’s the most important part. It’s very interesting to know that the biggest portion of our audience comes form the Caucasian population. I believe the Latino audiences should also watch a show of this nature because these are stories that directly concern us and represent part of our experience. What the audience can get from the show is that problems that happen between two countries that share a border share a mutual responsibility — that one country is not better than the other, and that it is a waste of time to put labels or to blame each other for X or Z problem.  I think people have really responded to this because it is approached in a very realistic manner. 
How do you balance working between Mexico and the U.S? 
I go wherever they want me! It doesn’t matter if it’s China or Mexico. Wherever there is a good project and I think I can help tell that story, I jump on a plane and I go anywhere. 
“Refugio” will be your directorial debut. What can you tell us about the project?  
We finished shooting “Refugio” at the end of last year. We are about to finish post-production. I’d love to have it done before the end of the year so we can screen it as soon as possible. “Refugio” is a romantic drama about a boy who grows up in a circus and how he becomes a man in search of love. It’s a redemption story in which luck plays a big role. It was a joyous experience from beginning to end. I knew I would love directing, I wanted to do it for a long time. I’m really eager for people to see it, so its cycle can come to an end. Then, I want to make another film, and another, and another, as long as I have the opportunity.  

Throughout your career you’ve worked with renowned directors such as Steven Soderbergh and Oliver Stone — have they served as inspiration or reference now that you are directing your own films? 
For sure. I think all of them have been my mentors without even knowing it. They don’t know that many of the skills that I used to film “Refugio” are things that I learned working with them and other directors from around the world. Robert Rodriguez, Richard Shepard, Chris Weitz, of course Soderbergh, but also from many of the Mexican directors that I’ve work with. Everything helps. It is all a collection of experiences that help when problems arise on the set. 
Did you always want to direct? 
I think there is a director in every actor [Laughs]. The actor is always very involved in every film project. The actor works very hard throughout the film not only in the story but also in other aspects. Actors usually bring many ideas to the table that serve the film as a whole. We have that particularity. Some actors take it to the extreme and direct their own films. The results are always interesting. 
You are going for a win at the Oscars next time around? 
[Laughs] Of course! I will be back! 

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