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By Jeff Sneider
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - After earning an Oscar nomination for his lead performance as an undocumented immigrant in the 2011 drama "A Better Life," Mexican star Demian Bichir found himself in high demand on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. He straddles both worlds in FX's new series "The Bridge," which debuts Wednesday night at 10 p.m., and co-stars Diane Kruger.
Bichir plays Marco Ruiz, a detective with Mexico's Chihuahua State Police investigating the gruesome murder of an American judge whose body (well, half of it) is found on the bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, to Juarez, Mexico. Ruiz teams up with El Paso PD detective Sonya Cross (Kruger) to catch a serial killer operating on both sides of the border.
Together, they must navigate the slippery politics of Mexican law enforcement, which is already consumed with illegal immigration, drug trafficking, violence and prostitution. In advance of the series premiere, TheWrap spoke with Bichir on topics ranging from bilingual TV programming to Hollywood's often negative depiction of Mexico.
TheWrap: How did you first get involved with "The Bridge"
Demian Bichir: I got an invitation from Elwood and Meredith and I was excited because I liked what I'd read. The pilot was really well-written and I liked the character on paper. But you never know what's going to happen next because all you have is the pilot. When they threw out Diane Kruger's name, that helped me make my decision.
Do you feel like your Oscar nomination for "A Better Life" opened doors for you in Hollywood and helped get you this show?
The way I see life and my work is that every project - every film, every play or anything I do - will potentially be my passport to something better, if you're lucky enough to get a good final product. After "A Better Life," a lot more people knew about me and we got a lot more attention. I'm just happy that it happened with "A Better Life" because it's a film I love very much and I'm emotionally attached to in many ways. I'll be forever grateful to Chris Weitz because he put all he had on my name and he won. You don't find too many people who really bet on you blindly, so that was without a doubt why I'm doing this.
Did you watch the original Scandinavian series "Bron" that "The Bridge" is based on?
I didn't want to see the original series because I'd heard so many great things about it and I didn't want to bring anything to my character. I wanted to go from scratch and make this a brand new project, at least for me.
Marco Ruiz is billed as one of the only honest cops on the Mexican police force. Is that suggestion, that most Mexican cops are corrupt, a cliched stereotype in Hollywood?
There are many other stereotypes and cliches but with the way corruption works, the fact that Marco is an honest man in a difficult world is not a very common type of situation. There are many cops like Marco Ruiz who go out there and risk their lives for a very low salary. What's sad is that the vast majority of cops are not like Marco Ruiz. There are some, but he's one of the few. There is corruption on both sides of the border. Violence affects both sides. Immigration is an issue that affects both countries and we talk about all of that on "The Bridge." I haven't seen any series that talks about that and about Mexico in such an important way.
How do you feel about the show's depiction of Juarez and how it deals with preconceptions and prejudices that Americans may have about Mexico?
It's hard to change those because there's a way Mexico has been perceived throughout the years. If you change it, or show Mexico as a beautiful place, which is the way it is, maybe the audience won't buy it, so they throw in a little filth. I don't think that's fair, its just the way Hollywood works.
What are your thoughts on bilingual programming? Do you feel like the Spanish-language scenes add to the authenticity of "The Bridge"?
You don't find too many shows with full scenes in Spanish with subtitles. That makes it more real. When the Mexican characters are in Mexico, they speak Spanish. Sometimes we speak Spanglish, too. I have family in Pasadena and San Jose and we talk in Spanglish sometimes, going back and forth. Even though it's a risk because some people may lose their concentration when they have to read, I think it works. They're not stepping into another world or another planet, it's just part of reality.
Episodes of "The Bridge" will be dubbed in Spanish on FX's Spanish-language network MundoFox. Do you feel like TV networks and cable companies are paying more attention to serving the growing Latino audience?
Maybe, because they just found out how important we are, economically speaking. Hispanics spend a lot of money and the networks need to pay attention to us so they can make more off advertising on our shows.
What are your thoughts on how the series handles Diane Kruger's character having Asperger's syndrome?
That's one of the things that I found really attractive. This is not a common way of approaching two lead characters. They usually want to make them perfect. Marco is far from perfect and Sonya Cross has her own issues. The fact that these two characters have to deal with each other's differences speaks to how Mexico and the United States work. Sonya and Marco couldn't be more different but they still have to work together and get to know each other as fast as possible because they have to have each other's back and rely on each other while working on the same task force. They need each other and that's how the U.S. and Mexico should be instead of pointing fingers at each other. We share many problems and need to work on them together. Diane has the hardest role on the series and it's amazing to watch her handle it with precision and grace.
I read that you asked Jude Law if you should commit to "The Bridge." Is that true?
We were shooting a film called "Dom Hemingway" with director Richard Shepard in the south of France and we were chatting about what was next. I told him I got the call to do "The Bridge" and he said 'Wow, wait a minute! I know that series and it's fantastic.' I had a great time doing that film with those guys.
You starred on Showtime's "Weeds," so "The Bridge" is your second cable series. Do you find that cable gives you more freedom than network TV?
You can find freedom anywhere, it's about who your creative team is and what you can actually show and talk about. When you work in cable, there's a wider variety of things you can talk about. There are many things you can show that make the whole thing more fun but the freedom to create something interesting.
Most people know you as the corrupt Tijuana mayor on "Weeds" or as the lawyer working for Salma Hayek's cartel in Oliver Stone's "Savages." Between "The Bridge" and your role as an FBI director in "The Heat," is it nice being on the other side of the law for a change?
My character in "Savages" is the only one who's not violent. He's really well-educated and his biggest sin is that he's a fantastic lawyer working for the wrong people. That's what I loved about that character. He was the only person in that organization not hurting anybody. Now Marco isn't an angel or a perfect human being. He's just like any of us. He's a human being and he has that duality. We can be an angel or a demon depending on the circumstances we're living in. That's what I like about Marco Ruiz. He can walk on fire and never get burned by it, but he's no angel. He has a side that makes him human.
I laughed a lot while watching "The Heat," in which you play Sandra Bullock's hard-ass boss. How was it working with her and Melissa McCarthy, and would you like to do more comedy in the future?
I've done a lot of comedy in my life in films and theater. Not too much in English or in the U.S. but it's a genre that I like very much. The way Paul Feig made "The Heat" is just incredible. After every take there's a new way to approach the scene and he throws in new lines and different ways to go. It was a really cool exercise because I'd been a big fan of their work. I was actually talking about how well it's working this morning. You would have to make a sequel out of every Sandy Bullock movie because every movie she touches is gold. Who knows, maybe my character would be Sandra or Melissa's lover in a sequel. Imagine spanking them!
Should "The Bridge" find an audience and prove to be a hit, are you looking forward to returning for a second season?
For me, "The Bridge" was about that month doing the pilot, and I was happy just doing that. It's hard to control the future or know what people or networks want. When we got the greenlight to do the series, I was even happier. But the way it works, this is it for me. I'm putting all my energy and everything I have into these 13 episodes. We'll know soon whether I'll be back in January or February.
In addition to "Dom Hemingway," Bichir will soon be seen in Robert Rodriguez's "Machete Kills," which hits theaters October 4. He's also planning to direct his first feature film "Refugio," which he also wrote.