Demián Bichir is one of our most dependable actors and his performance in Robin Wright’s Land deserves more recognition. Wright’s film, her directorial debut, is seemingly straightforward, but the more it sits with you and the more you spend time away from it, the more you think about it. Land is a quiet meditation on loss and grief, and one of the reasons it resonates so deeply is because of the sturdy patience of Bichir’s Miguel.
Bichir was eager to join Wright’s film because of how the screenplay spoke to him. He commented on how the collaboration with Wright seemed promising and said a juicy part like this doesn’t come around too often.
“I found it to be very powerful. It was a really different role from things that I have played before. I saw the opportunity of exploring different types of approaches and that alone represented a challenge.”
Wright’s character, Edie, goes to a cabin to be alone after an unspeakable tragedy. Miguel hints at similar grief, but we don’t get the details of what happened until towards the end of the film. The emotions of these characters connect in a truly special way. Land doesn’t sensationalize the grief of these two individuals but rather acknowledges that pain and grieving come differently to everyone.
“Miguel’s life is not in Edie’s timeframe. He’s been through a lot. You usually have to build the things you don’t see on screen. They are not necessarily on the page. Sometimes it can be a very difficult journey but it’s also very necessary. Most of the time, you will find that some roles are very close to you and you can’t relate to certain things. I usually work with what is right there. To me, Miguel’s journey is unique. We all have gone through a loss of a dear loved one. If we haven’t, we will. That’s the only thing that’s certain in life. Everybody deals with it differently.”
Bichir went on to say that he wanted to keep a clear distinction between his own grieving processes and those of Miguel. Some actors use substitution, but Bichir respects Miguel so much that he felt it was necessary to tap into something totally separate from his own life.
“Being the same person, Demian and Miguel, they both grieve differently. If I gave Miguel the same process of grieving that I would go through, I wouldn’t be honoring the spirit of Miguel’s character. I had to create something for him. Our stories are different. Any loss is a terrible thing in a human being’s life. The way I see Miguel is that his personal journey is way more complicated than mine. Here you have a Mexican fellow—far from his original home—and steeped in an entirely different culture. Not just the American culture but the Native American culture. That shapes you as a human being. The choices he makes and the loss of his daughter and wife weight heavily on his actions. That was the result of his own actions. He used to drink a lot when that happened. When you have that guilt on your shoulders, it’s an entirely different journey for him to handle.”
Bichir and I talked a lot about the respect between Miguel and Edie. When she says that she wants to be alone and not receive word from the outside world, he agrees immediately. There is no scene of him questioning her choices. He doesn’t try to invade her space. There is an automatic understanding that he will honor her wishes and Bichir’s presence is very calming. It’s almost as if he soothes the audience as much as he soothes Edie.
“We see a man on a journey on a hunt for redemption. If you are lucky, you will find that before you die. That being said, anything that happens in Miguel’s life becomes secondary. His primary task is to heal from his past. The only way of doing that is finding redemption. When he meets Edie, he doesn’t mention what’s happened to Edie. He doesn’t have to. What really matters is what is happening between him and Edie. Little does Miguel know that Edie is his link to redemption. That’s why I say that it’s so timely. How many people stop their daily routine to help someone else? How many people stop their car when they see someone laying on the ground? No one wants to be involved in anything. To me, that’s a key part to the story and the key element to Miguel’s journey. She was right there crossing his path. To Miguel, that’s beyond anything else. That’s a responsibility bigger than him and that makes you human. That’s the most important factor to this story.”
That talk of respect also extended to the world outside of Land. Bichir contemplated how he and Wright didn’t know each other before filming began. They bonded immediately. He recognizes that the world is still incredibly divisive, but if we can approach each other like how Miguel and Edie co-exist, we might be able to actually listen instead of fight.
“We’ve forgotten how to be human. The main reason people act like that—with all this intolerance in every sense—is we are so afraid who is not like us. Anybody who doesn’t think like me, instead of putting themselves in their shoes, they decide to be afraid. Ignorance creates that fear and that fear creates violence and hate. It’s a beautiful lesson on human kindness. We all have that in our hearts—sometimes we forget. Whatever she decides, he’s not going to step on that. When she decides to let him help her, that’s when he finds redemption. The fact that she allows him to enter her life—with an almost religious respect—that alone is a gesture of generosity. You have to be generous in order to give. The only way you can give is if you surrender and stop resisting.”
In addition to Bichir working with Wright both in front and behind the camera, he took part in George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky. Like Land, Midnight is an emotional journey. I was surprised that the film was not action driven but fueled by the emotional tension and thoughts of loneliness and suffering. After another character dies, Bichir’s Sanchez gets a beautiful moment alone with that person’s memories. Acting so authentically with nothing but a green screen proved to be another challenge.
“You have to observe life and you have to feed your imagination. Those are your main tools. Imagine something clearly. That’s the big thing. Robin Write has that in common with the heavyweights that I’ve worked with in the past. She provides you with any tools in order for you to create something beautiful. They want to make sure they cover every angle and every base. Some people use their own personal experience. For me, it has to do with whatever happens in the story and connecting with that. You also have to trust your own instincts that what you imagine will be there.”
The emotional similarities between Land and Midnight were not lost on Bichir.
“Both of those stories are about how we depend on each other as human beings and how much we have to help each other and have to have each other’s backs. We are in the same boat. It was very emotionally powerful and very fulfilling and healing in different ways. When you stand up in front of that beautiful scenery in Alberta, while I was making Land, that alone makes you a better human being. Whatever you have to recover from, nature has that power to heal you.”
It’s remarkable that the tenth anniversary is A Better Life comes in 2021. Bichir received a very deserved Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of a man desperate to make his son’s life better in Los Angeles. What’s maddening is that Bichir is the last person of Mexican descent to be nominated for Best Actor. He’s only one of two such men, in fact, to ever be nominated for the lead category. Anthony Quinn is the only person in Bichir’s company and he won Best Supporting Actor for Viva Zapata! and Lust for Life. We cannot honor great work if the great work isn’t there to begin with.
“We appreciate that you don’t like it either. It tells you so much about who we are in the US. It’s a very clear reflection of how little we acknowledge the workforce of 12 million undocumented workers. We insist on ignoring that. We insist on not caring for those. It’s okay if they live in the shadows. They made out lives easier and better. There isn’t a single activity in any American’s life where an undocumented worker is not involved. All the food you eat who you think picks it, packs it, and then delivers it? That’s only on the hard work side of it. There are great politicians and musicians and lawyers and doctors and we need to tell those stories too. Let’s not really invite them to the party. The African American community of artists has fought for that presence very strongly and you see the results right away. They are beautiful, magnificent artists. We still need to have that presence. Hollywood is not brown enough. I’m not saying they should just give away the Oscars. I’m saying let’s create the stories that have more meaningful Latin American characters. That’s part of our reality.”
Land is now playing in theaters. The Midnight Sky is streaming now on Netflix.