Hardcore Poetry: Demian Bichir on Savages and Machete Kills

The newly Oscar-nominated actor on working with Oliver Stone, Steven Soderbergh and Robert Rodriguez.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


In Savages, the drug war gets turned on its head. The head of a Mexican drug cartel is Elena, a woman and mother played by Salma Hayek. As her liaison Alex is Demian Bichir, A Better Life’s hard-working, well-intentioned father Carlos Galindo. Bichir has been working for over 30 years and made films like Steven Soderbergh’s two part Che and notorious Mexican films like Alex de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango. We got some private time with Bichir to have a conversation about Savages, his prolific filmography (including the upcoming Machete Kills), and stargazing at the Academy Award Nominees Lunch.


CraveOnline: You’re the face of Elena’s drug business. Does that add a layer to the challenge of your performance?

Demian Bichir: Yeah, that’s one of them. Being the smart arm of this organization makes the character even more challenging because I was coming from a whole different role when I played Carlos Galindo in A Better Life. But I was very much looking for a character like this, and then I was lucky enough to find this character in an Oliver Stone film. That made it really appealing and exciting.


Did doing A Better Life lead directly to Savages?

Not necessarily because I did shoot Savages after we shot A Better Life, but it was way before the nominations and all that. It was out of a meeting that I had with Oliver and we talked about the possibility of playing Alex.


Did he know your work from Che or even earlier?

Yeah, from Che and he had some other things and material and this and that. We just had a really nice meeting. We talked for an hour in his office and that was pretty much what I wanted. That was almost all I wanted, just to meet the guy, to meet the legend and be able to talk to him for a while. Then I ended up even having a part in the film which was even better.


Did you feel that way about Soderbergh also?

Those two guys are pretty much the same story because they offered me the part. I didn’t audition for it. I put myself on tape for Che but for a general kind of interview. Then these are two directors that have a tremendous rich work in their resumes. Some of the greatest films that you love and have enjoyed in the past were made by these two guys. Then Oliver has been around for so many years doing amazing films, savage films. They’re very much alike in many ways. They move fast, they’re clear and they’re generous and they play hard.


Were you aware when Stone was changing film stocks?

No, and I don’t want to know. I don’t need to know. I just tell the story of my character the best way possible and then he does the magic.


What did you think of the style of writing in the book?

I loved it. I loved it. I remember I read it in no time. You can’t put that book down. From chapter one, “F*ck you.” What a great way to begin a book, or anything. The way Don Winslow tells a story and writes makes it a really joyful ride.


Was the book helpful with your character?

It was, yeah. That’s where everything begins and that’s where you nurture your knowledge towards this story and the character. Everything that you need to know to be the character is right there, begins in the book and then the script that Oliver wrote. Of course all the things that you talk about the character, how do you want the character to look on the screen and what’s his background? Many of the things that are not in the book or the script you have to build and create, but everything begins there.


Is everything you shot in the film?

No, it never happens that way. Most of the times some scenes that you think are really good don’t make the final cut anyway. But it’s not necessarily because they’re bad or they don’t work. Sometimes it’s a matter of timing. Sometimes it’s a matter of you don’t want to tell that about the character, you don’t want to say this or that about certain scenes. There are many, many things.


Are you going to be in Machete Kills?

I am going to be in Machete Kills with Robert Rodriguez and I can’t wait to get to the set and work with this guy because that again, this is one of those filmmakers you’re always hoping to work with. I met him just three or four months ago and it was fantastic to meet the guy. We are very excited to move this forward.


What character will you play?

I’m playing a guy called Mendez and that’s pretty much all I can say because he is, as we speak, finishing the last touches on it. He wants to keep that secret.


Have you worked with Danny Trejo before?

No, never. No, but I’ve seen his work for many, many years and I think he’s a fantastic actor. He has such a great personality and a fantastic face.


Do you think that’s going to be a savage film to make?

Totally, yeah. Those filmmakers, they’re savage. Different genres maybe or different approaches or different stories, but they’re always really savage. You like that. You like hardcore poetry.


Was big action something you were looking to get into also?

Hopefully. We’ll see.


You keep going back to savage and hardcore. When you think about acting, is it a full contact sport?

Sometimes you have to work with certain analogies. I always find I’m a sports fan, I’m a sports lover, I love pretty much all sports and I play some of them. I grew up playing soccer so I’m a big fan of the actual sociological phenomenon, what soccer means in terms of association and team effort. Making impossible possible. I relate that to love and work all the time, and to many, many sports. Basically when you work on a film, you are playing a serious game and you are among other players. Sometimes it’s a tennis match. That’s what Oliver Stone does for example. He shoots balls at you, some of them are easy, some of them are really difficult and you have to be ready to go for all of them. Then if I had to compare this Savages thing with a sport, this could be rugby. I think this is rugby. This is a rugby match. There’s contact. It’s hardcore. It’s passionate but it has rules too. You don’t want to kill anybody.


Do you happen to know if Castro saw Che?

I don’t know if he saw it. He probably did. I don't think he would think that we were as great as the originals. I don't think he would ever admit that we are as charismatic as he or Che was. I have no idea.


You got to do an Alex de la Iglesia film, Perdita Durango. What are your memories of that?

Oh man, that’s one of the greatest experiences ever because I had so much fun doing that. It was one of those roles that you say yes because of the people involved. Having big a big fan of Alex de la Iglesia’s El Dia de la Bestia, The Day of the Beast, I was really, really happy to have that chance to work with the guy, and then being a big fan of Javier Bardem also gave me the opportunity to play that but it was only three days shooting. We shot that in three days and it was great. It was fantastic. He took me all the way to San Sebastian, to the San Sebastian film festival and I had a lot of fun doing that.


Was it crazy or an orderly three days?

It was crazy. It is crazy. It was the heaviest scene in the film. It was crazy because my character and Javier’s character, they beat each other’s ass to death and it’s great. It was cool.


What about your time on “Weeds” and doing American television?

I was lucky because even though I don’t really think about TV very much, there are so many great shows out there and I was lucky to be a part of one of the best. It’s a great production team, fantastic directors and amazing, amazing writers and a dream cast. I was lucky enough to have all my scenes with Mary-Louise Parker. I just regret that I didn’t have enough scenes with Elizabeth Perkins or Justin Kirk or the kids. We had a few but not as many as I wanted. Kevin Nealon for example. But having a chance to work with Mary-Louise Parker was incredible.


Which of your Mexican films do you hope fans go back and discover?

Hmm, there are many. There are a few really good ones. Fuero del Cielo is one of them. Todo el Poder or Enemigos Intimos. Even the ones that I did somewhere else. In Colombia, we shot La Toma de la Embajada which is a film based on two events that happened there 20 years ago. Then we did another film in Bolivia called American Visa. The one that I did with Penelope Cruz and Victoria Abril in Spain called No News from God, Sin Noticias de Dios, Don’t Tempt Me they call it here. Or Hidalgo. I just did another film a couple years ago called Hildago – La Historia Jamas Contada, The Story Never Told Before. There are a few really good films.


How was the awards season experience?

It was cool. It was great. It was crazy and thanks to Benicio [del Toro]’s advice, I just relaxed and kicked back and enjoyed the ride.


What was your favorite party or award show?

I think The Oscars was really, really exciting, exciting and fun because it was one of the best shows ever. George Clooney was telling me that. He agreed on that too and Brad Pitt. Being able to be with those guys at many events, with Gary Oldman who’s a fantastic guy, he’s such a great guy and an amazing actor. To be able to share those moments with those actors and everybody else around, probably one of the best times we had was on the Academy luncheon where they give you your actual diploma stating that you were nominated, amongst those guys. Everyone who got nominated was there so that was exciting.