Demian Bichir co-stars as Miguel in the new film “Land,” acting alongside Robin Wright in her feature directorial debut. His performance won the AARP Movies for Grownups Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Bichir recently spoke with Gold Derby editor Rob Licuria about how he connected to “Land,” working with Wright and how his career changed after his Oscar nomination 10 years ago for “A Better Life.” Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: Demian, this film explores grief and loss in a really compelling and contemplative way. How did that resonate with you when you took on the role and when you were playing Miguel?
Demian Bichir: First of all, great to see you again, my friend, We actors are always looking for this type of chance to explore new, different characters and it’s really fantastic when it’s so relevant, when you find a script that has not only a beautiful, juicy character but also when the story talks about something so timely and so much needed in these times. I found a very, very generous type of message in it and in Miguel, a fantastic opportunity to explore different things that I haven’t tried before. I found a very contained type of character, very frugal in words and actions and emotions and these two characters’ journey, to me, was a lot like humanity is. We are that, and this film shows the best of us when two entirely different human beings meet randomly and they don’t need to know anything about each other. They don’t need to ask any questions. They’re there for each other and you do need to be generous in order to give, in order to help, but you have to be extra generous, to be open to get that help you, to receive that. To me, the key part of this script is when she asks Miguel, “Why did you help me? Why are you doing this?” “Because you were in my path. You were in my path and you were right there.” How many times we just look away? Or because I don’t do that, I have that chance before, I have stopped many times just to see what’s going on with another human being and see if you can help. But a lot of people just dodge their way into a different path. So you don’t see that very often, especially over the last four years and especially over many different situations and issues that we still need to solve as humanity. And then, of course, the fact that Robin Wright was going to direct this, that this is her first feature as a director, that alone was a fantastic package that you don’t find very often.
GD: Yeah, you couldn’t say no, I suppose. I want to pick up on what you said a little bit earlier, because Miguel shows great compassion and empathy and kindness, seemingly without any ulterior motive. He doesn’t want anything and for a little while, I was wondering, “OK, what is he doing?” Because we’re so used to not putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and just blocking them out. Are you trying to say that “Land,” the film, reminds us that it’s something aspirational, that we should aspire to maybe be a bit more empathetic with people that we encounter?
DB: Absolutely, 100 percent. Most of the time, the way people get involved with somebody else or with different situations that are foreign to yours, it’s only if you’re going to get something in exchange. Most of the time, people look into any relationship and they do this crazy math. “What am I going to get from that, from this and from that call, from this meeting and from that friendship and from this love and from that kids?” I think, and I insist, this film shows the best of us. You don’t need to ask any questions. You’re just there because you’re human and because you can help. I just love that. You said that right, because I love that in the script and when I saw the film and of course, when we shot it, that was something that was fascinating. They keep on moving it and that’s all Robin’s magic in making the whole thing a very, very nice dance into something that we don’t know yet where it’s going to go. I think it’s just beautiful. But because in it, there are many different surprises and there are many different pops, things that you weren’t expecting, or you thought the characters were going into a certain direction and then, boom, they switch gears very nicely.
GD: Yeah, I love that. I just never knew where we were going and we’ve been on this ride and you bring up Robin Wright, the director. She’s directed plenty of TV and she’s very experienced, but she’s a very experienced actor. I wonder when you’re working with an actor-director, particularly when they’re starring in the film, what do they bring to the table for you as a performer that is different or special?
DB: Pretty much, actor-directors, they know. We actors know. We have a B.S. radar. We know when something is off and actor-directors, they know what actors love and hate (laughs). It’s just a very, very easy way to navigate into that new hat, so to speak. That’s been my experience with people like Chris Waitz who’s also an actor, a great actor, by the way, and Quentin Tarantino or more recently, George Clooney. They know what it takes to get the best from you and basically, it’s that you have to trust your actor. Some directors don’t understand that part and they just want to move you like puppets. But if you hire someone, it’s because you trust the actor’s instincts and experience and talents, and then all you have to do is just provide all the elements that any actor needs to play their best. And that’s exactly what these guys do. But they also have that in common with the other heavyweights such as Steven Soderbergh or Ridley Scott and many more people. That’s how they do it. They just gather the best team possible, the best heads of every department, and it’s just a beauty to see all those artists in full motion.
GD: Yeah, it is and you just reminded me you’ve done some great work with some really esteemed directors, and what a dream. But it just reminds me that when you were nominated for the Academy Award in 2011, 2012, I remember speaking to you beforehand thinking, this could happen, it’s very difficult to be nominated, but you received it. Can you remember back in the day what that felt like when you finally heard you’ve been nominated, you’re one of the five? It’s a massive achievement.
DB: It is. It is a massive achievement because, look, just take a look at how many fantastic, phenomenal actors are everywhere in the world, not only in the United States, and sometimes we consider the works of other films from other countries, the works of their leading actors, and we had that experience many times with Catalina Sandino Moreno and with Fernanda Montenegro and many more examples and I think that’s beautiful when that happens. Because it tells you how many fantastic actors are everywhere and to name only five, I think that’s just crazy and is so unfair because there’s so many more. Just to be a part of those five names, that alone is just a gift, is a blessing that I cherish very deeply.
GD: Yeah and it’s an obvious thing to say it impacted your career and impacted your life. But I mean, personally, how has it really impacted your life? What changes did you notice after that?
DB: I’ve been very lucky to have different key moments in my career. Growing up in the theater in Mexico, so many breaking points and fantastic moments happened to me in my life through my career in Mexico and the U.S., and to me, every single one of those key moments, it’s like a chance to advance a little more, advance, advance. I love that feeling. There isn’t anything less encouraging than the feeling of nothing is moving, it’s just not going anywhere. But that happens after every work, not only when you get the attention of the Academy like that in that case, but also, every time you make a film, every time I make a film, I think I become a better actor after that. I think I’m a better person. I’m a better human being. I learn a lot from that experience. I learn from my characters. I learn from the people around me and I certainly have learned so many things, so many great things from my directors also, and it hasn’t been the exception now with Robin Wright. It has been a beautiful, beautiful, ride.
GD: There’s something about you as a performer, Demian. For example, in “Land,” it’s very non-verbal. You don’t say a lot, but there’s a lot going on on your face. I find your vulnerability really compelling and I’m wondering if that is intentional because you bring that to a lot of your roles. I mean, from “Alien” to this, for example. Even when you’re not trying to be vulnerable, there’s something about you that feels authentic. What is that, do you think? What’s that little secret sauce?
DB: Well, thank you so much for that because that’s where we’re going to go. We put everything we have into that. That’s what we want to achieve, to make people feel that something is happening there. It’s not only how the character looks or whatever he says, but also what’s happening when he’s silent, what’s happening when he doesn’t say a word. And to me, I just love when that happens to me as an audience, when I watch my favorite actors. It’s when they don’t say anything, when the camera stays there that it makes me fly. Such a great feeling. So I thank you deeply for saying that because that’s that’s pretty much what we want.
I can only say that I try to be truthful to not only the character, but the moment the character is living in that precise instant, and that was one of the things that I loved about this character that is so frugal in words and actions and everything. He says very little in order to express himself. He’s so present and sometimes during the shoot, Robin and I would cut up some lines, like, “We don’t need this, we don’t need that.” Because sometimes it’s too much exposition and you just need to feel and sometimes, just a small, little, tiny reaction or a look or something subtle says so much. But you need a wise director next to you in order to take certain risks and I insist, I’ve been so lucky to have worked with so many great directors that they take that chance with you. They take that risk with you. They believe in you, they trust you, and they jump off the bridge with you.
GD: Yeah, because what have you got to lose? Go there. If it doesn’t work, do it again. But without giving away too many spoilers in case our audience hasn’t seen the film yet, the film, for me, really soars in that scene at the campfire when there’s a sunset behind you. Bobby Bukowski, the brilliant cinematographer, is filming you in silhouette and you’re singing together. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” And it’s kind of funny, but also I think that’s the moment when they connect, really, and it’s not romantic. I mean, thank God it wasn’t romantic. Talk us back to that moment. It was very effective.
DB: You know, I agree with you that even when I read the script, I, for a second, thought this might go into a little romance, and it goes into a big, huge romance, and they don’t even have to kiss. They don’t even have to hold hands or anything. I think this is the purest form of love that you will find, the way the film is made and is presented. That is a beautiful moment and the characters have many different beautiful moments. They go through four seasons and you see the change of the weather conditions in every season and every moment is so beautiful and I couldn’t agree more with you. Bobby Bukowski’s work is just spectacular. It is just so insightful and so soulful and it’s very, very true to what we saw. Because sometimes it doesn’t translate very nicely from your eyes to the screen and in this case, it was equally beautiful. We saw there what we were shooting and then what you see on the screen.
That song, it’s a very interesting song because I knew it. Pretty much all of us know the tune but I had never really stopped to listen to the words until I had to learn it by heart and it’s so fantastic. It’s such a great song and it talks a lot about what’s happening in the film. It talks about this chance of becoming a better you, “Welcome to your life. There’s no going back,” It’s like, this is it, and, in the times where you won’t know what to do when the light goes down and all that, I will be right there behind you to hold you. That is pretty much a beautiful way to express that friendship that is such a deep type of love. Why I say that [is] because they don’t expect anything from each other and they don’t demand anything from each other. They’re just there and when Edee opens her heart and allows Miguel to enter and help her, at that precise moment, Miguel also finds redemption in his own journey, and that, to me, completes the cycle into a beautiful solution.
GD: When the film was finished, I listened to the song on Spotify because I was like, “Yeah, those words, it’s like poetry.” It’s perfect for the film. I saved this last question to the end, this is a bit more spoiler-y. If anyone hasn’t seen the film, go away and watch this later. In the end, we see Miguel, he’s unwell, obviously, and to me, that was a bit of a gut punch because I didn’t see that coming at all and I was destroyed when he cries because he’s so stoic and everything’s pent up inside, he’s nonverbal, and then it just all comes out. It was very moving. Can you talk us through that?
DB: That was a very important moment in the story. Again, without saying anything, only by saying a few words. That’s when everything lands. That’s when this cycle that I was talking about closes beautifully and purely, and then we know what these two human beings have been through, which hasn’t been an easy ride at all, and the fact that Miguel breaks down when he hears her story in such a brief fashion, it’s because he knew she’s been through a lot, but he never imagined that it had been so painful and then comparing that to his own pain and sorrow and grief and to me, that is exactly where this film connects with everybody because we at some point, whether it happens in an early stage of your life or later on, we will experience the loss of a loved one because that’s life and that’s how it is.
I think the saddest part of these times that we live in is that a lot of people who have lost their lives, and my heart goes to every single family who has lost a loved one to COVID, the vast majority of these deaths have been alone, completely alone, and just the fact that you won’t have a chance to hold your loved one and give a kiss and say goodbye, that alone is terrible. I think that’s the most horrible thing, the saddest part of this pandemic. The fact that these two human beings decide to be there for each other, when she doesn’t hear or see Miguel, she goes out there into this personal journey to find him and none of them want to leave the other one alone and that’s, to me, a beautiful way to end their story. That’s probably why a lot of people are connecting so deeply with it.