party chat

Demian Bichir on The Bridge and Hollywood’s Mexico Problem

Demian Bichir. Photo: Gregg DeGuire/Getty

The killer on The Bridge commits murder as a form of social commentary. Why, he asks, does the death of one judge matter more than the many deaths of the illegal immigrants she opposed? Two bisected bodies — the top half of the judge, the bottom half of a missing Mexican girl — found on the line between the U.S. and Mexico mean the two countries have to work together to solve this, and Demian Bichir is on hand as a Mexican detective who brings charm and warmth to the task force. (His U.S. partner, played by Diane Kruger, has Asperger’s and must apologize for her inability to “exercise empathy.”) Bichir chatted with Vulture about how Jude Law convinced him to take the part and what Hollywood gets wrong about Mexico.

What’s this I hear about Jude Law telling you to take this part?
Yes! Actually, we were getting ready to shoot Dom Hemingway, we were in the south of France, and we were just talking, and I said, “I got a call from Los Angeles about a show that’s been a big success in Sweden and Denmark, I think it’s called The Bridge?” And Jude was like, “Wow, wow, wow! Fuck, man, that’s a fantastic show!” So hopefully he’ll watch it, too.

The politics between Sweden and Denmark are very different than the politics between the U.S. and Mexico …
That’s right. Which makes me even happier, because you want the show to be different. I haven’t seen anything from the original show, because I heard so many times how it’s so good, that I didn’t want to bring any of their ideas into my character. I want to jump into watching it as soon as this is over, once we have no more seasons.

From what I understand, your showrunner Meredith Stiehm is modeling this version of The Bridge after The Wire? So each season should expose a new level of institutional problems and corruption?
I’m really, really bad at following TV series, and getting hooked on them, so I have not seen The Wire.

Ah, okay. Well, what the drugs were to Baltimore in that show, the missing girls are to Juárez in your show.
Huh. I guess it is. The girls of Juárez, though, is a bigger deal than any drug trafficking or immigration issues. It’s kind of creepy. So many hundreds of women have been killed, and no one knows anything. That tells you that many different types of high-ranking officials and politicians are colluding on this, on both sides of the border. So one thing is, if you want to use drugs, you want to do harm to your system, buying or selling or anything, that’s one thing. But it’s something different if you are going to work and you get kidnapped, you get killed, and no one knows anything about that. That’s a bigger problem. But this is drama, this is a fiction, and if people get hooked on the show, if we’re lucky, people will be moved, touched, and we’ll hopefully open their minds, too.

Hollywood often depicts Mexico in a stereotypical way. Do you have any input to the showrunners to help get it right?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I wish I had some vote on that department, but they do listen to whatever we have to say, and they’re really, really good at that. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to changing anything, the way Hollywood is used to telling stories. If Hollywood tells you a story about Mexico, they will not cast a blue-eyed, blonde for any Mexican roles, although we have a vast population of blonde, blue-eyed Mexicans. But Hollywood thinks, We need to show you a peasant with a donkey. We need to show you that this street is filthy and there are rats everywhere so you know we’re in Mexico. Sometimes the Hollywood point of view is too narrow.

And although this is a show that has been produced and written by fantastic and intelligent producers and writers, there is a line that no one is willing to cross, which is going to the real thing and really showing how Juárez is. I know Juárez really well. I have family in Juárez. I have friends in Juárez. And I’ve been, my brothers and I, we’ve stopped in Juárez every time we have a theatrical play. So yes, they have a problem with the girls of Juárez, they have problems like any other major city in the world, but it’s a modern city. It’s a fantastic city. It’s a beautiful city. So it’s your choice which part of that city to show, like a bus station, “Let’s bring in this bus from World War II, almost like the cars they have in Cuba!” Cuba was cut off from the world because of the blockade, so they don’t have modern buses. But Mexico has not been under any blockade, so we do have modern buses. So if you choose to bring in a really old, beat-up bus in order to show the world that this is Mexico and not the U.S., that’s the choice you make as a producer, but I’m not necessarily agreeing with that.

Did Diane’s boyfriend Joshua Jackson come to set?
He came to set, and Diane and Josh were very kind to have my girlfriend and I for dinner, into their house, even before the beginning of the series when we were doing the pilot. They’re really, really nice, and that’s not a common thing that your co-star is so nice and open. Really, really nice people.

You said you were really bad with TV shows, but did you ever watch him in Dawson’s Creek or Fringe?
Um, I’ll tell you what I’ve seen. I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but pretty much the only things that I’ve been hooked on are Seinfeld, Family Guy, Two and a Half Men [laughs], the first season of 24 — whoa! That I watched in one shot. With my girlfriend, Grey’s Anatomy. Yeaaaah! Yes, yes, yes [sings], I have my feminine side! I had never seen one episode of Weeds when they cast me to play Esteban, and then they sent me the first three seasons, and I think I watched that in four days.  And that’s pretty much that. I have a long list of shows I want to watch in one shot, one after another. It’s a long list of homework. I want to watch The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, and Homeland.

You mentioned Two and a Half Men was one of the shows you watch, and you got to work with Charlie Sheen on Machete — or rather, with Carlos Estevez, since he changed his name for the movie?
[Chuckles.] I don’t think so. I think that’s a private joke between Robert Rodriguez and Charlie Sheen. I don’t think he’s really going to change his name. But I didn’t have a chance to work with him. All my scenes are with the great Danny Trejo. I didn’t get to meet Charlie. I didn’t get to meet Lady Gaga. I only got to meet Mel Gibson because we have a small shot together. And meeting Mel was cool. He was there finishing his character when I stepped in for wardrobe testing, and Robert Rodriguez saw us together and he said, “You know, let’s make a shot that’s not in the script,” so Mel Gibson gives me a big rocket, a big weapon that he sells to my character. We took twenty minutes, we drove to this empty space like in an airport hanger, and we shot this 30-second scene. And that was that.

The Bridge’s Bichir on Hollywood’s Mexico Prob