Mexico City-born actor Demián Bichir laughs a bit as he gives his analysis on the current state of U.S. immigration legislation and the suggestion by some people that the government should find a way to send 11 million undocumented Mexicans back across the border.
“Realistically, I don’t know how that could ever happen,” Bichir, 47, told me via phone during an exclusive interview about his new immigrant-inspired drama “A Better Life.” “Immigrants are here. They exist. They have houses. They work. It’s something you can’t ignore. They are here to make their lives happier. Maybe it’s time we start accepting them as part of this country.”
It’s a message Bichir, best known by mainstream American audiences for his recurring role in the Showtime series “Weeds,” says is the pulse of “A Better Life.” The film follows the story of Mexican gardener Carlos Galindo (Bichir) and his teenage son Luis (José Julián) as they try to stay afloat in East L.A. amid unpredictable work circumstances and toxic neighborhood influences.
During our interview, Bichir talked about taking to the streets of L.A. during pre-production to talk to real immigrants about their experiences pursing the American Dream and if he thinks a film like “A Better Life” can change peoples’ minds on immigration issues.
What resonated with you about this story when you read the script?
The first thing that struck me when I read the script was how real everything was – the characters, situations, locations, and the father-son relationship. There weren’t any gimmicks or tricks. It was a straightforward role. Chris wanted to be sure we were going to take a natural approach to everything.
I thought the realism of the characters and scenarios were the most powerful parts of the film.
Yeah, Chris is a really precise director. He wanted to be sure that we were going to have a natural delivery and a real approach to the whole story. You need a good director in order to help you deliver your best. That’s what Chris Weitz is.
Immigration is an issue we see a lot in films. What makes “A Better Life” stand out from the rest?
I think one of the great things about this story is that we talk about the real problem that immigration issue – the separation of the families. This is a story of father and a son. This is a universal story. A father would do anything in his power to overcome any obstacles in order to give his son a better life. We also talk about this community of workers that are undocumented and work really hard in this country. They all have a house. They all exist. It’s something you can’t ignore. They are here to make their lives easier and better and happier.
Part of your research on this film was to go out into L.A. and talk to real day laborers. What did you learn about them?
All of them have a heart. The fact is that these immigrants are good people. What we need now is to give them a face and a name. We need to know who they are. They’re the people who are taking care of our babies, cooking our food, parking our cars, and working in our gardens. That is part of the debate that is going on every day.
Do you think a film like “A Better Life” can help change the way people think about immigration issues?
As an actor you are always looking for this type of script and character. You don’t find these kinds of scripts very often. If we’re lucky enough, this story is going to change a lot of things in our society. I believe in the power of cinema and moviemaking and that a single film can open minds and touch hearts. I hope we can have more of these human powerful stories so everyone can get a different view about the problems. People are going to look at this film and see things that are going on every day. If that change someone’s view, all the better.