For Demián Bichir, star of "A Better Life," life keeps getting better and better.
The Mexican actor, best known to U.S. audiences as the wily Tijuana sheriff Esteban Reyes on Showtime's "Weeds," on Tuesday received an Oscar lead actor nomination to match the Screen Actors Guild nomination in the same category that he picked up several weeks ago.
"It was a great sign, and I think it was a gift," Bichir said of the SAG recognition. The Oscar nod, he said, "is really beyond any imagination."
In Chris Weitz's drama, Bichir plays a hard-working East L.A. gardener, an undocumented immigrant who’s doggedly pursuing the American dream while struggling to raise his teenage son. Bichir himself immigrated to the United States some 20 years ago to pursue English-language roles. He already was an established Mexican film and television leading man when he crossed the border to work in New York and Hollywood.
Bichir is one of only a handful of Mexican actors and actresses to have scored Oscar nominations, including Anthony Quinn for "Zorba the Greek" (1964) and Salma Hayek for Julie Taymor's 2002 bio-pic "Frida" about painter Frida Kahlo.
"There always are good roles for Latinos. Unfortunately, most of them are part cliche and characters that are just too obvious for any Latino actor to play," such as gangsters, drug dealers, thieves and prostitutes, Bichir said.
Despite the obvious relevancy of its subject matter to Mexican audiences, "A Better Life" has not been widely distributed in Mexico. "As weird as it sounds, a lot of people don't know about the film in Mexico," he said.
But Tuesday morning, the Mexican media were on the phone en masse besieging Bichir. Could it get any better?
-- Reed Johnson
Photo: Demián Bichir in "A Better Life." Credit: Summit Entertainment