Demian Bichir: Life after Oscar nomination

Mexican actor Demian Bichir insists that getting an Oscar nod for Best Actor in A Better Life (2011) has not changed him.

With the exposure that came with the Oscar nomination, he just might be able to cherry-pick from plum roles.

"Hopefully, I'll get to work with more people I admire - and of course I've already done that with people like Steven Soderbergh and Oliver Stone - but I'm still waiting to hear from Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Jim Jarmusch and Martin Scorcese," he says with a chuckle over the telephone from the state of Arizona where he was on a press tour.

Bichir, 49, worked with Soderbergh in the film Che (2008) and with Stone in Savages (2012).

The actor adds: "The way I see my life and my work is that every project - every film, every play or anything I do - will potentially be my passport to something better, if you're lucky enough to get a good final product.

"After my nomination for A Better Life, a lot more people knew about me. I'll be forever grateful to director Chris Weitz and to the film, because it's one that I'm emotionally attached to in many ways."

In A Better Life, he plays a gardener who struggles to bring up his son in East Los Angeles.

His latest role, while also a strong character, is on the small screen.

In TV drama The Bridge, which debuts in Singapore on Fox channel on Monday, Bichir plays Marco Ruiz, a detective with the police force in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Ruiz is teamed up with American detective Sonya (played by German actress Diane Kruger), who hails from the bordering town of El Paso, Texas.

The drama showcases the socio- economic differences as well as the strong links between the two countries.

"This is a very interesting approach in terms of drama. They share this border and it's one of the most complicated zones in the world. I like that they talk about the problems on both sides of the border - corruption and violence," says Bichir.

"It's not about blaming one another. It's just about getting to know each other and their differences, and trying to work together to solve their problems.

The new series is based on the 2011 Scandinavian TV drama Bron/Broen, which mean "bridge" in Swedish and Danish.

Bichir admits that he has not seen the original show, which deals with borderland issues of the two Scandinavian countries.

He reasons: "I didn't want to see the original series because I'd heard so many great things about it and I didn't want to bring anything from it to my character. I wanted to go from scratch and make this a brand new project, at least for me."

In any case, his version has got rave reviews since premiering in the United States earlier this month.

The San Jose Mercury News wrote: "(Cable network) FX may have struck dramatic gold again. This series is mesmerising. It sucks you in like a good book and has you yearning for more."

The Philadelphia Inquirer said: "It's artfully directed, but intensely grisly. And its atmosphere is far more coherent than its sometimes sketchy narrative. But it does string you along. With barbed wire."

Other than El Paso, The Bridge is also filmed on location in the Meixcan city of Juarez, and an Australian journalist on the same group interview call asks just how safe life really is in the area.

Bichir gets a little worked up at the question and raises his voice slightly: "People always put tags on countries like Mexico, and I don't think that's fair or accurate. It's about being misinformed and people being afraid.

"There is organised crime in Juarez, but that's for specific targets. If you're a tourist going there, you're not going to get killed just by visiting.

"If you're talking about dangerous places, up until now, no one in Juarez has stepped into a movie theatre and killed people, or into a school with weapons and killed children," he says, referring to the many instances of school and cinema shootings across the United States.

Bichir, who debuted in the Mexican entertainment industry in the early 1980s, is a big star in his native country, having done more than 60 films and TV productions since then.

He made his American debut in 2001, in the film In The Time Of The Butterflies opposite Salma Hayek, but got bigger exposure in the US only when he took on the recurring corrupt mayor role of Esteban in the critically acclaimed TV series Weeds.

He comes from a prominent Mexican family of actors, which include his parents Alejandro Bichir and Maricruz Najera, as well as brothers Odiseo and Bruno.

Despite that, acting was never on the top of his wishlist while growing up.

"I actually wanted to play football and I still play sometimes now. If I'm shooting in Spain, I'll go to the stadiums to see Real Madrid. I would have loved to play football but, you know, acting just came along," says the bachelor who is dating Canadian model Stefanie Sherk.

He has a two-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

"My family all spoke the same language for as long as I can remember, and I tried to be the stubborn one and step away from that.

"But in the end, I still went into acting."

yipwy@sph.com.sg


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