Demian Bichir stars as Marco Ruiz, a psychologically conflicted Mexican police detective in the FX series "The Bridge," which returns for its second season Wednesday night at 10. Already a major star in his native land, the 50-year-old actor -- who has dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship -- also has earned accolades for his portrayal of a corrupt Tijuana mayor in the TV series "Weeds." And his sensitive performance as an undocumented immigrant gardener in the 2011 film "A Better Life" earned him an Oscar nomination in the Best Actor category. Bichir also is the American Civil Liberty Union's ambassador for immigrants' rights. Newsday interviewed him on the day Mexico was to play Brazil in the World Cup.
What was it about the role in "The Bridge" that interested you?
I saw this almost Shakespearean kind of character, that needs to transit between heaven and hell to do his job, to do the right thing in a world surrounded by corruption. I find that fascinating, because most of the problems we have in Mexico are because of corruption. The fact this character can be both was very appealing.
You've given interviews in the past about how Hollywood stereotypes Mexico, yet this series, with its corrupt cops, violence and narcotics kingpins, seems to be guilty of what you decry.
I always believe in every product there is room for improvement, and we always worry about making this show better. I talk to the producers, when I happen to be on the set I look around and I say, 'You know, guys, this is an exaggerated view of Mexico, we need to modify that.' I know Ciudad Juárez , I have friends in Ciudad Juárez, I know the city very well. And when I saw those scenes, I didn't think it was fair, and they agreed. And that was changed in many ways in season 1 and in season 2.
So you're OK with the complexity of the political and cultural vision in the series?
We talk about those characters that are corrupted, and that's because they're real. Those guys exist. And if they exist, it's because we allow that to happen. The important part is that the lead character on "The Bridge" is not one of those guys, he can make a difference. And we talk about corruption on both sides of the border. I'm for being accurate, I'm not part of a mission to make Mexico look beautiful; Mexico is already beautiful. I think we just want to think how to make this show better.
When you were breaking into the business, were there any concerns that you'd be slotted into stereotypical roles?
I was going out for many different types of roles. I once auditioned for a character who was from Afghanistan. Speaking of clichés, I wouldn't be Mexican for a lot of people, if Mexicans are seen as chubby, short and dark, I wouldn't be Mexican. I remember going out for a lot of different roles, but that's part of the challenge. I think of Anthony Quinn, if I could play half the things he did, playing Greek, Russian, he could play all different sorts of types.
As a former undocumented immigrant yourself, you've been really outspoken about the immigration situation. Is it getting better? Worse?
One of the biggest problems is misinformation. Politicians have been telling everyone that the new enemy is this community of hardworking people. The American audience is not curious enough to get the real facts. Misinformation creates fear, and fear takes you to violence. The first thing we have to tell President Obama is that there was this promise made twice about immigration reform. They need to stop the deportations, and President Obama has become the deporter in chief. They are separating families right now. That's only one part of the problem. And now all those Central American kids running away from the problems they have, that's another human issue, but people insist on making it a political issue.
I assume you'll be watching the big game today between Mexico and Brazil (He laughs, 'Of course!'). Your team had a tough time getting into the World Cup, and they were criticized a lot for their play. What do you think of their chances?
That's how the country works. We don't really support each other. The Americans, any effort you put on, they applaud that. In Mexico, not good enough, not enough support, no one gives credit for the big efforts. But this is a new generation of soccer players. These kids think they can win; there is no doubt in their minds.