With two films out, Demian Bichir tackles icy wilderness and the end of humanity
For Demián Bichir, acting runs in the family: Both his parents and his brothers are also in the business. So it’s no surprise that he’s worked steadily for 30 years in theater, telenovelas and films, earning an Academy Award nomination in 2011 for “A Better Life.” But Bichir is also a bit of a Renaissance man: He recorded an album during the pandemic lockdown, with one tune, “Your Pretty Blue Smile,” now available on his Instagram account.
The phrase is one he used to describe his wife, who died in 2019. Bichir spoke remotely with The Envelope about his entries in this year’s awards season race: Netflix’s “The Midnight Sky,” in which he’s an astronaut heading back to a plague-ravaged Earth, and the Robin Wright-directed drama “Land,” out next week from Focus Features.
Let me make sure I heard this right: You signed on to work with director-star Robin Wright in “Land,” but you’d never seen “The Princess Bride”?
I had never watched that film before, but when I was in Calgary [to shoot “Land”], I was switching channels and I saw this beautiful, younger Robin, and I was like, “Wait a second, what is that film?” I’d always been a big fan [of hers], but as a very elegant type of human being. I appreciate that very much, the eloquent, almost royal way she carries herself. But I had never seen that film before. It was great.
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And as you speak Spanish — does Mandy Patinkin’s accent in the film pass muster?
Mandy Patinkin can put up a taco stand tomorrow, and I will buy [from] it. Mandy Patinkin can do anything he wants and be great at it.
“Land,” which shot in Alberta, Canada, in some pretty extreme weather, proved fairly physically challenging. Was that aspect exciting to you?
I did it before with “The Hateful Eight,” and that had been my record under such extreme temperatures. It was very cold this time, but that’s always part of the challenge I love to experience. The first time I tried chopping logs [in the film], Robin was watching me, and I said, “Man, she’s going to fire me.”
So you’re not an outdoorsy guy?
I’m a theater rat. My parents have always been city people and theater people, so I never went into the Boy Scouts. I rarely take vacations, but when I do, I usually go to the ocean, and I try to stay calm and stare at it. That’s pretty much what happened in those mountains — I had the same feeling as being in front of the ocean. They have the same healing properties.
In the film, Robin’s character is in mourning and isolates herself in the mountains. Do you think she was trying to die?
Absolutely. You believe she wants to close the door behind her and just say, “That’s it.” When you encounter such terrible events in your life, it’s very difficult to recover, especially when the wound is openly fresh. There’s a lot of denial and a lot of anger, a lot of “f— the world” type of feeling. We have all experienced loss in our lives, and we know the feeling: It is a very lonely type of situation.
You did in fact lose someone very close to you — your wife, who died by suicide. Do you think this script resonated with you in part because of that loss?
I never say yes to a project because it has something to do with my own life. When you go through a loss, we learn many different things, and we hope that we will do it correctly in order to come back and be ready for yourself, first, then the rest of the people who love you and you love.
In both “Midnight Sky” and “Land,” you were directed by two veteran actors (George Clooney and Wright). How is that experience different, to have actors at the helm?
There is a director in every actor, but some of us won’t do it for real. I wrote a script that I directed that I hope will be out in the first half of this year, in Mexico first. It’s called “A Circus Tale and a Love Song.” What you have to do is command the ship and command the positions that make the ship work properly. An actor-director knows exactly what actors love and hate. And that alone is a big advantage for everybody.
You come from an acting family, but at one point you were hoping to become a soccer star. What turned you around?
It was pretty much like a revelation when I was only 17. I invited my coach to the opening night of a play that I was doing. The next time we were training, he told me, “Pelé, the biggest [soccer] player ever, he didn’t have any other choice in life. You are a fantastic, phenomenal … actor.” That was a beautiful way to tell me. That’s when I said, “That’s it, this is what I want for my life.”
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