With a filmography that spans nearly 40 years, Demián Bichir has had more than his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career. In the mid-80s, he moved to New York and then Los Angeles to pursue his craft, but he was eventually drawn back to Mexico, where he became one of his home country's biggest box office stars. He won an Ariel Award, the Mexican equivalent of an Oscar, for his role in 'Til Death in 1994, and his 1999 blockbuster Sex, Shame and Tears became the highest-grossing movie in the country's history. While he was a bona fide star in Mexico, he would only gain the attention of American audiences nearly a decade later
His portrayal of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in 2008's Che (Part 1) and Che (Part 2) helped put Demián Bichir on one Hollywood map, as well as his portrayal of Tijuana mayor/drug kingpin Esteban Reyes on Showtime's Weeds. He landed his first Oscar nomination for his performance in 2011's A Better Life, which lead to a string of unique roles in films such as Foreverland, Savages, The Heat, Dom Hemingway, Machete Kills and a starring role alongside Diane Kruger in FX's The Bridge. Last year he returned to the big screen as part of Quentin Tarantino's enormous ensemble cast in the critically-acclaimed Western The Hateful Eight, which is currently available on Digital HD and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD March 29.
Demián Bichir portrays Bob, the mysterious caretaker of Minnie's Haberdashery who has been watching over the place in Minnie's stead while she's visiting her mother. Bob, along with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), are holed up in Minnie's, waiting out a massive blizzard, when four strangers arrive. Bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell), his captive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who claims to be the new Red Rock sheriff, round out The Hateful Eight, and none of them may be who they claim to be.
The Hateful Eight almost never happened, after the first draft of Quentin Tarantino's script leaked online in early 2014. After writing a new draft, the writer-director held a live script read in Los Angeles with a slew of actors, many of whom would end up playing the roles they read on stage. Demián Bichir, however, wasn't one of them, as his role Bob was read by Denis Menochet, who played Perrier LaPadite in Inglourious Basterds. The role was originally envisioned as a Frenchman, but the filmmaker changed Bob to a Mexican, leading to Demián Bichir being cast. Amber Tamblyn also read for Daisy Domergue during the script read, but the role ultimately went to Jennifer Jason Leigh in an Oscar-nominated performance.
I recently had the chance to speak with Demián Bichir over the phone about his experiences on The Hateful Eight, working with Quentin Tarantino and shooting in the harsh winter conditions in Colorado. We also spoke about his next project, Ridley Scott's highly-anticipated Alien: Covenant, which starts production later this year. Take a look at our full conversation below.
I remember the live read of the script was a huge deal in L.A. I heard it sold out in a matter of minutes. I know that Jennifer Jason Leigh was actually in attendance during the live read, so I was curious if you were actually there as well?
Demián Bichir: No, I was not. I was not part of that reading. I did not attend that reading. I was not attached to the project then.
Denis Menochet read the Bob role during the live read, before Quentin changed the character to a Mexican. Aside from changing the character's nationality, are you aware of any other distinct changes that were made for Bob when you came aboard?
Demián Bichir: I have no idea, because I don't know anything about the first draft, the initial idea about the script, the one that got leaked and the one they read. I didn't have any access to it, so I wouldn't know what the differences are.
Can you talk about when Quentin did approach you then, and what he told you about the character as far as how he relates to the story?
Demián Bichir: Yeah, all I knew is that he wrote it for a French actor, and he wanted to change it to a Mexican character. I had worked with Robert Rodriguez on Machete Kills, and I guess because of Robert, Quentin got to know my work and he would talk to him about me. Robert kept insisting that I was a Tarantino actor, that I had to work with Tarantino, so I told him, 'Listen man, feel free to tell Tarantino that.' Please, talk to him. Tell him all this! (Laughs). I guess he did, and we met at a dinner and he told me, 'I've been watching a lot of your work and as soon as I have this script ready, I would like to send it over to you.'
Playing a character like this in the 1800s, was there a level of research that went into it for you, to get a feel of what a guy like this might be doing or thinking?
Demián Bichir: Yeah, absolutely. You have to. Whenever you work on a character, you need to step into many different aspects of the film. If it's a period film, you better know your history and your geography, but that's part of the work that we all go through. It takes awhile. It's a long process. And then, of course, you have to know what kind of history you're playing. Who is this character? Where's he coming from? Where's he going? What does he do with these other men and this woman? That's all part of table work, we call it. We just sit and go through the script and try to understand every single letter. Only then are you ready to play.
A Quentin Tarantino script is obviously a lot different than almost any script, really. When you first read it, what really jumped out at you about how he writes a script different than anyone else?
Demián Bichir: It's one of his pictures. Quentin's scripts are known to be fantastic, to be perfect, incredibly well-crafted. I think one of the best ways to describe that is his scripts, particularly this one, The Hateful Eight, it sings. It goes movement by movement. Every line is there for a reason. There is nothing you can put in the garbage can. Every letter matters and everything has a musicality and a rhythm. You just have to read it correctly, and if you're lucky, you will get your lines by heart and everything else has to do with his eye, and the way he moves his camera. It's like a symphony.
You shot this in Colorado in harsh winter conditions. Can you talk a bit about those conditions and how much you were subjected to the elements during production?
Demián Bichir: Yeah, we shot in the mountains of Colorado, and that was part of the challenge. Every project has its challenges. Sometimes it's only emotional, sometimes it's physical, sometimes it's both. This, that was part of the challenge, the temperatures, the weather and the altitude. It's a very high place where we shot. That's a really bad combination for a tropical fish such as myself. Having been born in Mexico City, it's a very high city, but not as high as Telluride and not as high as the mountains of Colorado. That alone was a big challenge and the temperatures. I've never been in such extreme cold, but, you know, I was surprised that I was doing a lot better than I thought. After that, it was all very nice. It was a beautiful ride, because the scenery in the mountains and the white, and everything around it, was just really, really beautiful. That's the way it is in the film, when you see (cinematographer) Bob Richardson's work, it's like, 'Wow. This is poetry, man.'
Absolutely. The decision to shoot in 70mm was just incredible as well. I was fortunate enough to see it during the 70mm roadshow, and I was just blown away by how amazing it looked. Did that affect your work as an actor at all, as far as what he wanted to capture, in these really wide shots?
Demián Bichir: Well, it was also part of the adventure. We were all very excited about it, and you have to be ready to be in character at all times, and to be there for your fellow peers even if the camera doesn't see you. Just the fact that we were, all the time, in frame, that was also part of the beauty of it. It was very much like theater, what you see on stage. You can't be thinking about something else, or be foreign to what's happening in the scene. That's what any actor is trained for.
Is there anything you can say about your role in Alien: Covenant? I know a lot of people are looking forward to that. Is there anything you can say about that, or what you've been discussing with Ridley so far?
Demián Bichir: Well, I can only say that it's just one of those blessings that any actor hopes for. I've been lucky to work with some heavyweights and the journey that I'm going to be able to jump in this spaceship with Ridley is, without a doubt one of the icons in international, universal movie-making... Many of his films marked me personally as an actor, as an artist, and just to be able to share this adventure with him, just the fact that he invited you to be a part of it, that alone is a privilege. That's something you're always grateful for. I'm looking forward to it. I'm jumping on a plane tomorrow, so the adventure will begin tomorrow.
I heard you start shooting in a month or two.
Demián Bichir: That's in discussions as we speak, with production. We don't know exact dates yet, all I know is it's going to be a long shoot, almost like The Hateful Eight. It took five months to shoot The Hateful Eight. We spent a couple of months in the mountains, and a couple of months in a studio in Los Angeles, and this will go for about another four months or so. I have very little details at this point, but we will get there. I'm sure we will get together and read, rehearse, everything.
That's all I have. Thanks so much, Demián. It was a real pleasure.
Demián Bichir: Oh, my pleasure, man. Thank you very much for your call.
You can watch Demián Bichir as the mysterious Bob in Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, which is currently available on Digital HD before arriving on Blu-ray and DVD March 29. We'll be sure to keep you posted with more on Demián Bichir's role in Alien: Covenant as soon as more information comes in. Will you be picking up your copy of The Hateful Eight next week?