By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 29, 2011 at 6:57AM
Demian Bichir, scion to a theater family in Mexico City, was at the height of his fame 20 years ago when he decided to come to the States, first to New York and then L.A., to find his way in Hollywood. And he has made a decent living as an actor--he plays the mayor of Tijuana on the cable series "Weeds," and starred in Steven Soderbergh's "Che" as powerful Fidel Castro, even though Benicio del Toro towered over him.
That's the role that led director Chris Weitz to cast Bichir as an L.A. gardener in $10-million drama "A Better Life," which was one of the first screeners mailed to awards voters, and garnered the actor a well-deserved Screen Actors Guild nomination. Whether that also leads to an Oscar nod remains to be seen, but now more actors like Tom Hanks--who Bichir exhorted to watch his film when he ran into him one day--will pick out the film from their screener pile. Some 100,000 SAG members will vote on best actor; the winner will be announced at the SAG Awards on January 29.
Eric Eason ("Manito") wrote the film with Roger Simon ("Enemies: A Love Story") about a laconic, hard-working single father, an illegal immigrant gardener who wants the best for his son (Jose Julian). When his truck is stolen, he and his son go on a journey to retrieve it (shades of "The Bicycle Thief"). To prepare, Bichir bought a gardening truck and drove it every day to the set; he packed on thirty pounds. He gardened and rehearsed with Julian, staying in character for days. And yes, he was in good enough shape to scurry up a tall palm tree --multiple times.
In real life, he looked suave in a tux at the recent Governor's Awards, and hangs out with such pals as the Three Amigos--Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Alfonso Cuaron--and would love to act for Pedro Almodovar. Let it be, please.
More in our interview below.