From soccer dreams to ‘The Bridge:’ Demian Bichir shares his passion for acting

Actor Demian Bichir longed to be a professional soccer player. And he was pretty good in his native Mexico, where soccer is a national passion. But he was simply too gentle for the sport.

“I wasn’t talented enough, I think,” he says, seated on a beige frieze couch in a Beverly Hills hotel. “You need to be cold-blooded to play sports. You cannot be ready to kick a penalty kick in the last minutes of the game, with people shouting, and you want to be in the theater. I was too emotional for playing a sport where you need to be cold-blooded.”

But other things drew Bichir to acting, too. Both his parents work in the theater and so are his two brothers.

“It’s part of my genes and part of our family. The love for the arts and theater has always been a part of our story… My brothers and I grew up watching my parents, how to play this serious game about becoming someone else,” he says.

“That was always appealing. And even though I wanted to play soccer professionally, and I tried up until I was 15, acting was what I was doing ever since I was a kid. It was a natural thing, a very powerful thing to do. And I think it was when I was 17 that I decided I wanted to do this for the rest of my life because I realized that those two hours on stage every day… that was my real chance to be free.”

Not only did he accomplish that in his native land, but in the U.S. Bichir, 51, moved to New York when he was 22 and a year later he hauled himself to Los Angeles where he landed some Pacific Bell television commercials.

His role as Fidel Castro in Che attracted industry attention, and two years ago he was nominated for an Oscar as best actor for A Better Life. Then he became top cop in last year’s female buddy cop comedy The Heat.

But his role as the humanistic detective working with a brusque American counterpart in FX’s The Bridge displays his true colors. As Marco Ruiz, Bichir exposes the strata of the life he’s earned along the way.

“When I was 17, that was the first time I arrived in New York,” he says. “When I landed in New York I knew I wanted to live there. And, when I was 22, I closed everything in Mexico, and I decided to learn a new language. And I moved to New York. I fell in love, and it was fantastic. It was one of the hardest periods of my life and I just miss it so much.”

“It was tough because my girlfriend and I, we were young actors, non-working actors, struggling actors, going to auditions, trying to learn English. And at the same time it was fantastic. It was one of the most dear times in my life. Everything was beautiful.”

That year was full of firsts for Bichir. “My first job was in a club called the Underground… I would do many different things: I would be a bus boy, cleaning up the mess of the night. Sometimes I would be in reception stamping your hand as long as you could prove you were old enough to drink. I was also a bartender. I played many different roles. For me it was actually interesting.”

When he left New York he also split with his girlfriend. Though he never married, he has a daughter, 3, from a later relationship.

“I became a father almost by invitation because we’re not together,” he says. “We are a family, a very big family because I love my daughter’s family, but we don’t live together. And that’s the way it was from day one.

“This is the way I see life: sometimes you’re invited to some events, and it’s really up to you to say, ‘Yes, I accept,’ or ‘No, thank you very much.’ I said yes to it, and it’s been very beautiful. We never married. We met during the shooting of a film, and we had a beautiful romance.”

He’s in a new relationship, he says. “I have a fantastic romance ever since I met my girl,” he says.

His girl is Canadian actress Stefanie Sherk.

Does he want to marry? “It’s really hard to actually know if something is forever. I never plan that,” he says. “You have to go day-by-day. You love who you love every day, and you expect that to last forever. But you also have to be truthful when things are not right. And that’s when instead of having 14 kids everywhere and 18 marriages you need to be smart and truthful and fair to the people you love. If you’re lucky enough to go to the next level, then that’s beautiful, too.”

Luaine Lee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service