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Demián Bichir has always been a chameleon. The Mexican star instilled fear in us as Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s Che, captured our hearts as an undocumented father in A Better Life, and now he’s showing his unscrupulous nature as a corrupt lawyer in Oliver Stone’s Savages.
The film, in theaters today, follows two entrepreneurs with a mind-blowing product: marijuana. When word of their legendary weed reaches the Mexican Baja cartel, headed by the merciless Elena “La Reina” (Salma Hayek), she demands a partnership that she’s surprised they turn down. The young guns will soon learn that nobody refuses La Reina without sacrificing something they hold dear.
I got the opportunity to speak with Demián Bichir about the making of Savages, life after an Oscar nomination, his upcoming film projects and his take on Latino stereotypes in Hollywood.
Fandango: You went from working with Chris Weitz in A Better Life to working with director Oliver Stone. Did your knees shake a bit when you met him?
Demián Bichir: Of course when you think you’re going to meet Oliver Stone you start to shake but once you work with him you realize we all want the film to be great. You might be nervous when you meet him for the first time because he is intimidating, he’s made some of the best films so that alone it’s like f*ck I’m meeting the big guy. But on set it’s all about the work and everyone’s collaboration to make the best film possible.
Fandango: How would you describe Stone’s directing approach?
Bichir: He’s very clear, straightforward and he knows exactly what he wants. He’s a great commander. He’s strict like a good father and like any father he loves his children and he makes sure that everything is going to be fine. He’s always open to collaboration and allows you to bring your own ideas to the table.
Fandango: What strikes you about the fierce Salma Hayek?
Bichir: This is the first time we’ve worked together but we’ve known each other for many years. She’s always graceful, beautiful and I think this is without a doubt one of her best works.
Fandango: There’s a critical scene in the movie that requires a lot of working components. What’s your mindset like when you go into difficult shoots?
Bichir: It’s a team effort. You know it’s going to be exhausting and you need to be prepared for it. You depend on so many other factors and people and of course you need a great commander like Oliver Stone so you can transition through the day safely. But when you have a great partner, an extraordinary peer that can take care of you like Benicio [Del Toro] it makes it all a little easier.
At the end what we wanted to make made it onto the screen. It doesn’t matter how exhausting or tiring it is, you need to find a way to achieve what you want.
Fandango: As a Latino actor do you try to shy away from stereotypical roles?
Bichir: We actors try to run away from stereotypes as much as we can and there are so many things that we say “no” to that most people don’t know about.
It’s hard to be somebody else. I don’t think we can take Brad Pitt’s parts, but what we can do is write better stories and characters. I’ve been lucky enough to jump from one project to another and play different characters. I’ll be playing an Israeli agent in William Friedkin’s indie thriller Trapped at the end of the year.
There are many roles Robert De Niro [played] that has to do with the Italian mafia. He wouldn’t have a career if he didn’t want to do those parts either, or Al Pacino.
It’s not only about what you want as an actor but it’s also about the imagination of people like Steven Soderbergh who can picture me as Fidel Castro and Chris Weitz to see me as Carlos Galindo, you need that amazing imagination to be able to take you there.
Fandango: What’s life like after an Oscar nomination? Super sweet?
Bichir: Of course it’s a big deal. It creates many opportunities, more people know your name and hopefully better offers come.
I got a call from Pedro Almodóvar, I mean, come on. I couldn’t be happier or luckier. I missed the opportunity to work on his latest film project since I was doing a play in Mexico but we already talked about working together in the future. Wherever there is a good project I will be happy to get on an airplane and go.
Of course there is a wish list of people I would like to work with and most of them are in Los Angeles. Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, J.J. Abrams, the list is endless. I’m still waiting for Woody to call, come on Woody!
Fandango: Did you find it crazy how people couldn’t stop talking about your great guacamole skills? I have a feeling you’re a good cook.
Bichir: I am really good at making guacamole. [Laughs] I cook very simple things to survive but nothing fancy. I’m pretty good. Everything is a la parilla, me puedo ser una buena carne, un buen pollo, pescado y ensalada. En fin nada muy complicado.
You have to take care of yourself. I’m always conscious of my diet and my exercise but that’s only because I like exercising and sports.
Fandango: So you could have been in Magic Mike then?
Bichir: Ah, I don’t think so. I’m not good at that. I could play that role if the time comes. I could become that. [Laughs]
Fandango: What are some lessons that you’ve learned along the way?
Bichir: That it takes many years of hard work. You need to hang in there and be working really hard, be ready to get rejected and be persistent and patient.
Fandango: When are you going to officially start using Twitter?
Bichir: I opened up an account and I haven’t touched it since. I just need to learn how to work it, I promise I will try.
Fandango: Let’s talk new projects and aspirations. Will we see you directing anytime soon?
Bichir: I directed a play long time ago, I write a lot. I’m writing a script now that I will direct and it will be my first feature. It takes time. Che, for example, Benicio Del Toro and Soderbergh began talking about seven years before it got made so when the time is perfect that’s when it will happen.
Fandango: What can you tell us about your character in Machete Kills?
Bichir: I can’t talk about it because Robert [Rodriguez] is still changing a few things. I’m really honored that he called me to be a part of this project. He’s so young but he’s always been so assertive that any actor would like to work with him. Shooting starts this month so it’s going to be crazy hot but I’ve shot in hot weather in Mexico so I’m ready.
Additional reporting by John Halecky