Peter White catches up with Demián Bechir who stars as Carlos Galindo in A Better Life. Demián is no stranger to these shores having played the lead role of Ernesto in Ian Power’s debut feature The Runway which was released in cinemas earlier this year.
I thought A Better Life was a beautiful film, what attracted you to the role of Carlos?
It’s a magnificent script, everything was there on paper. The whole story was well made and written and the character was very powerful and real. I live in Los Angeles myself and I have spent many years around here so I know the story, the subject, and what we talk about in the film. As soon as I read it I said to myself ‘this is real’.
What preparation did you do for the role?
I talked to many of the undocumented workers, the gardeners, waiters, nannies. I’m very close to that community and was before we started on the film. I had the chance to talk to many of the gardeners around LA who shared their experiences with me.
Chris Weitz and I had an intense experience making the film, we would talk for many hours about the character, about what we wanted from him, and how he would look on screen. The physicality of him was crucial as we wanted the character to be far away from what I look like as a person and from what I look like in Weeds or as Fidel Castro in Che. So I gained 20-25 pounds and learned a lot about gardening. Also Chris asked me if I wanted to do my own stunts and I said yes, so I was doing things like climbing up palm trees. You need a good eye, an expert eye, to guide you through this emotional journey which is what Chris Weitz has.
Your parents and brothers are involved in theatre, was acting always what you wanted to do?
Yes, it was a natural thing for me when growing up at home. We travelled around together when my parents would stage their plays. Though I remember from when I was around 10 or 11 that I wanted to be a soccer player. I tried for many years and then my father said to me ‘You know theatre loves you more’. I love football but I’m glad I chose acting. I was working in professional theatre from when I was a little kid and I was a member of the National Theatre Company in Mexico when I was 13, but I was 17 before I realised that I wanted to do this forever.
You starred in an Irish film The Runway, how was that for you and would you like to come back?
It was one of the happiest times of my life, we had a great time shooting that film. We shot it in Luxembourg, then moved to west Cork, it was beautiful. Every time I shoot outside of my home I have a great time as those shoots are my vacations, but I never thought I would go so far, and it’s all thanks to acting. I’m really grateful that Ian Power gave me that beautiful role in a beautiful film for kids and families, I don’t have many projects like that in my career. It was fantastic working with those actors.
Did you have trouble with the Cork accent?
(laughs) A little bit, it’s not an easy thing to get.
Would you plan to do more film, or roles like Esteban Reyes (The Mayor of Tijuana who he plays in Showtime series Weeds) in television in the future?
I don’t have a preference. I’ve done films, worked a lot in TV, and of course theatre, so I feel comfortable anywhere. I’m just concerned about the project, so wherever there is a good script and a great character I will be there, whether it’s TV, stage or film.
And you will continue in Spanish speaking roles?
I learned English really late in my life. I was an adult, so for me it has been an incredible journey to be able to act in another language. I am trying to learn some French aswell, and I think I can manage some Italian. I am always willing to learn and to try different things.
I saw you played Miguel Hidalgo (leader of the Mexican War of Independence), how important is your Mexican heritage to you?
I have been really lucky to portray a couple of Mexican heroes. I played Emiliano Zapata in a TV series in Mexico who is the icon of Mexican revolution from a hundred years ago. And as you say I played the Father of Mexican Independence (Miguel Hidalgo) which happened 200 years ago. I’m not looking for those characters but they come into my life. I have played Fidel Castro and I also played a Colombian political figure, but as long as those roles keep coming I will be happy to play them.
Would you consider moving behind the camera to direct a film?
I think it is a natural instinct for an actor, well maybe not everyone has it, but I have that desire to direct. I have a script that I am trying to finance. I think the only interesting thing for an actor becoming a director is if he has something to say. So if you write your own material then that could be interesting for people to watch. I have a couple of other ideas but I have to do the first one first.
José Julián who plays your son Luis in A Better Life says you are ‘an actor’s actor’ so I would think that would really stand to you as a director?
Well he is a great kid and we say great things about one another (laughs). Being an actor helps a lot as you know how to work with actors, and I think that is going to help me. So I do agree with José there for when I make the move to directing. I hope I can bring him into my film as we would like to work together again.
I believe up next for you is Oliver Stone’s film Savages, how is that going for you?
Actually I have my first shooting day tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to it because a lot of crucial films in the history of movie making were made by him, so it is pretty exciting. I think it is going to be a pretty intense experience, the script is very heavy, and he has a great cast.
You played Esteban Reyes in Weeds, so would politics interest you?
(Laughs) No! No, no, no!. I don’t know anything about politics even though my ideas are a lot better than many politician’s (laughs). But that is something I complain about, I think that people should do what the know how to do.
I read that you bought a pick-up truck from one of the Mexican day labourers when you were researching the role of Carlos in A Better Life, do you still have it?
No, I sold it right away as soon as we finished shooting. Sometimes you find characters that are easier to approach and others that need a 24/7 concentration. I felt I needed more elements to help me prepare for this role so that’s why I bought it.
It was a pleasure talking to you, thank you for your time.
Thank you Peter and please send all my love to Ireland.
A Better Life which opens exclusively in the IFI on Friday July 29th 2011 is from Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy and producer of A Single Man and In Good Company. It is a poignant, multi-generational story about a father’s love and everything a parent will sacrifice to build a better life for his child.
Carlos Galindo dreamed of good things for his wife and future son when they crossed the border into the US. But when his wife left him, wanting more than he could give, Carlos’ only goal became to make sure his son Luis was given the opportunities he never had. After years of hard work and trying to set an example for his child, he still finds himself drifting apart from Luis, now a teenager, who is susceptible to peer pressures that could lead him down a dangerous path. Seeing a way to control their own destiny, Carlos borrows what little money he can and invests it all into his own gardening business, hoping to finally achieve the better life he always envisioned for his son.
However, after an unexpected turn of events, when everything he’s worked for is suddenly taken away, it is Luis, despite years of growing apart, who teams up with Carlos to take it back. Together, father and son embark on a physical and spiritual journey where they discover something more important – that family is the most important part of the American dream.
To read a review of the film click here
To view a trailer of A Better Life click here
To find screening times and ticket details click here