Actor-activist Demián Bichir

An ACLU Ambassador for Immigrants’ Rights, Bichir compares reality to the plotline of his FX series, The Bridge, about crime and corruption on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Part of a well-respected theatrical family in Mexico, Demián Bichir began acting at age three and established himself in his homeland with numerous theater credits, roles in telenovelas and in films, receiving a best actor Ariel (Mexico's equivalent of an Oscar) and other prestigious honors. Since making the transition to Hollywood, he's impressed audiences with his performances, including in a two-part biopic on Che Guevara, a recurring role in the Showtime series, Weeds, and the feature, A Better Life—for which he earned a best actor Oscar nod. Bichir stars in the FX drama, The Bridge, and makes his debut as a writer, director and project star with the film, Refugio.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Demián Bichir was already a major star in his native Mexico with an Academy Award nomination for “A Better Life.” In 2011, catapulted him to a leading role status here in the states.

He’s now costarring in the critically acclaimed series, “The Bridge,” airing Wednesday nights on the FX network which tackles the complex relationship between Juarez and El Paso set against a police procedural.

He’s also the ACLU’s ambassador for immigrant rights. We will start our conversation tonight, though, by looking at a scene from “The Bridge.”

[Clip]

Tavis: As I intimated a moment ago, this isn’t your typical police procedural [laugh].

Demián Bichir: Sometimes you get a little rough, you know, when things are tough and when someone’s trying to put a bullet in your back.

Tavis: What does that scene say to us about what this series, “The Bridge,” is or what it isn’t?

Bichir: It is direct, it is fearless and it’s brave in many, many ways. Without being a documentary kind of work, we try to go real into many different situations, and Marco’s life is in danger when season two begins and he’s trying to make a point in front of everyone to set up an example once and for all.

Tavis: Tell me more about your character.

Bichir: Marco Ruiz, you know, he’s one of those almost Shakespearean characters that deals with demons and angels the same day, sometimes at the same time.

He chose to be working in Ciudad Juarez, one of the most difficult places not only in Mexico, but in the world, for many reasons because he believes that he represents a difference and that he can make that difference happen. And he has to do that in order to transit safely, you know.

He is a real human being and I love those type of characters because I don’t believe in white or black, you know. I believe in different layers of tonalities and emotions and all that, and Marco has all that. He’s been through a lot. He went through a lot in season one and he’s in a really, really dark difficult place when season two begins.

Tavis: Would you say the series is dark?

Bichir: I think it’s darker now. I think it would be darker now. I think our drama goes deeper in terms of how every character’s journey concerns. You know, I think we are going deeper into the psychological and emotional journey of every character and especially to Marco’s character.

Tavis: When you saw this script or this opportunity come across your desk, as an actor from a well-known acting family, what was it about this character and this drama that made you want to be a part of it?

Bichir: You know, it is that what you said because this is all about that paper, that piece of paper, that material that you have. That’s pretty much all you have, and the names around it. Most of the time, we actors don’t have any more than that and we want solid drama.

We want well-written drama on the paper and that’s exactly what attracted me, you know, the possibility of creating this cop, that he’s one of the few great, solid cops that, as I say, he believes that he can make a difference. But also he’s no angel, so all those layers and different tonalities made my decision very easy.

In fact, I remember reading the script and seeing that the character was dealing with this vasectomy that he had just went through, right? And he was at home with his wife and his kids dealing with everyday normal problems. That, for me, got me hooked in it because it was real.

Tavis: This series, given where it’s set in terms of locale, the issues, of course, that come to bear because of the setting, makes this particular series, “The Bridge,” relevant and contemporary, given what’s happening in our politics in this country and in Mexico.

What’s it feel like to be a part of a series that is situated at a moment in time when the stuff that you’re talking about on the series is the stuff, of course, that’s being debated in our country every day?

Bichir: It’s happening as we speak.

Tavis: It’s like real time.

Bichir: Yeah. It seems like we’re taping it every day before it airs, right? We always try to probably more than just move you as an audience, probably change your mind, make you think, open your heart, open your senses and intellect. And probably, if we’re lucky, you will jump into that information to know more.

I think that’s probably one of the things that people love about the show, that we talk about many different things that the border between Mexico and the U.S. live every day.

And this particular border, El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, they couldn’t be more different, and the same time, you know, we’re bound together forever. We will be there forever. No one can change that. And I think that when – because that’s what I hear in the streets. You know, when people talk to you about the show, they say it just looks so real, you know, so good.

And the fact that we have scenes in Spanish, complete scenes in Spanish, because it wouldn’t make sense if I’m from Mexico, if Marco Ruiz is this, you know, Chihuahua state police cop and he lives in Ciudad Juarez with his wife, beautiful Catalina Sandino Moreno, they wouldn’t be talking in bed in English. You know what I mean? As much as they both deal with the language every day, right?

So when FX says we’re fearless, that’s what they mean because it is a risk. You know, not many people get connected when they see subtitles, right? But a lot of people have stayed and watched the rest of the show because of that reason.

So it’s a blessing that me as an actor, I’m able not only to play a fantastic character and be a part of a great show with an amazing cast, but I’m also a part of these things that we deal with every day, you know. It’s almost like I don’t think it’s a political statement, but I think we talk about many different issues that we both have to solve together, Mexico and the U.S.

One of the things that people love is that we’re not calling this country the bad guy and this country the good guy, you know. We’re talking everything that we share, good things and terrible things.

Tavis: There are some people, though – the show might not do this, but there are people in our society, certainly in our politics, who call people good guys and bad guys.

Bichir: Absolutely, yeah.

Tavis: And a lot of folk who think that Mexico is the bad guy, particularly that these immigrants are the bad guys.

Bichir: Absolutely, yeah.

Tavis: You have dual citizenship, Mexico and the U.S. How do you read the present debate, faux debate, about immigration in America?

Bichir: You know, I think one of the basic problems is misinformation because we don’t need to convince you or my fellow countrymen or those 12 million undocumented workers in hope to get immigration reform. But we need to talk to the people who don’t believe in this force of human beings, right?

I think there’s a vast amount of lies that politicians tell the American people in order to make them think that we’re working for you, your tax money is working for you, we will get rid of this new enemy.

We don’t have a new enemy now, so let’s make this new enemy this undocumented workers because they are here to take your jobs and they’re here to take everything you have. And that couldn’t be, you know, more far away from the truth.

We are playing with this double morality kind of game saying we need them here because they are here. They have been here for decades, sometimes, you know, a couple of centuries. But at the same time, we say we need their work, but we don’t want them here.

Of course, everyone benefits from them, you know, Mexico and the U.S. because the amount of money, this community of people, sent to Mexico is a lot of money every year, you know, billions of dollars.

And then everyone is happy here because there’s this force, these people who can work for peanuts, for nothing. They don’t have a name and a face, so they can’t get organized and demand better conditions to work, right? So everyone wins, but them. So it’s a matter of also getting the facts and not let your politicians lie to you.

Tavis: Nobody wants to watch a series that proselytizes or preaches. We want to be entertained certainly by television. But I wonder whether or not, beyond entertainment, there is a message of hope or empowerment that you hope that the series offers viewers without being preachy.

What’s the takeaway? What do you hope to take away from this series is for those who watch it beyond just being entertained?

Bichir: You know, I always think that there is an intelligent viewer on the other side of the TV. I always put all my money on intelligent spectators, smart people watching whatever you do. Part of the great things about the show is that no one is saying, yeah, this is happening because of these guys. Man, look at that mess. Or those guys, you know. Look how much drugs they consume. No, no, no. We have to stop doing that.

And in that sense, Marco’s character and Sonya’s character, my character and Diana’s character, Marco and Sonya, they represent that in many ways, you know. They are very much like the U.S. and Mexico. We couldn’t be more different, right [laugh]? And still we respect each other. You know, we learn to live and appreciate those differences and then we work together and we cover each other’s back.

Tavis: That’s a nice parallel, nice metaphor, nicely done [laugh], you and Sonya. The show is “The Bridge” on FX starring one Demián Bichir. Demián, good to have you on the program.

Bichir: Thank you so much, man.

Tavis: Take care of yourself.

Bichir: Thank you very much.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley on pbs.org.

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Last modified: July 21, 2014 at 5:59 pm