Ever since it was announced that Demian Bichir was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in "A Better Life" he has helped put the plight of immigrants in a better light.
Bichir, a Mexican-American actor, plays an undocumented Mexican immigrant struggling to make a place for himself and his son by working as a gardener around Los Angeles.
He has made his rounds in the media circuit and recently sat down with the news cast of KTLA and told them he talked to real gardeners to prepare for his role.
"I had the privilage of talking with them--and I talked to them every day, everywhere--not only the gardeners, the nannies, the valet parking guys, the cooks, waiters, the bus boys--they're everywhere, and most people don't see them," he said. "And a few actors told us, 'You made me aware of that, and we're not fair.'"
"A Better Life," now out on DVD, was directed by Chris Weitz ("American Pie," "About a Boy"). Bichir first heard about the role for "A Better Life" when he auditioned for the "Twilight" series' "New Moon," which Weitz directed.
"...but it was not in my plans to be a vampire or anything. Then we started talking about this gardener, you know, and he began telling me the story, and so I got a little bit confused," Bichir told L.A.-based radio DJ Ryan Seacrest. "I didn't know if he was a vampire gardener, and just trimming the bushes by night! And then he was about this story, 'A Better Life,' that I read a year later, and I found a beautiful story and amazing character."
Weitz's grandmother, Lupita, starred in "Santa," Mexico's first talkie, in 1932. The director told NPR in June 2011 that he wanted to direct "A Better Life" because he wanted to get back in touch with his heritage.
"There's probably in Mexico not a more famous old-timey movie actress," says Weitz "She's [now] 100 years old and lives in Los Angeles. [But] she was in Mexico's first talking picture and is a very proud Mexican to this day."
In the 1930s, Weitz's grandfather persuaded the head of Universal Pictures to shoot Spanish-language films on the same sets as their English-language counterparts. The Spanish language version of Dracula starred Weitz's grandmother and was filmed at night, after the English-speaking cast had gone home for the evening, according to NPR.
What It Means To Be American
"A Better Life" has clearly been embraced by advocates for immigration rights. This topic has been one that Bichir has been having to address in many of his conversations with journalists.
He was asked to shoot a clip for the nonprofit, nonpartisan group called "Define American," which was started by Jose Antonio Vargas, the former Washington Post writer who disclosed his undocumented status last year in a moving story for The New York Times Magazine.
"Define American" is using video series, modeled after the "It Gets Better" campaign, in which people answer that very question.
Both Bichir and Weitz have supplied clips.
Click here to see Bichir's comments, which he simply defines American as being able to get "as many rights from all the wrongs."
Weitz had this to say: "I don't define American by a bloodline that reaches back to the Mayflower. The way that I define American is by being aware of the hard work that people have done to make this country great, understanding that I have not achieved success on my own, that the highways that I drive on, the house that I live in, the food that I eat is brought to me by people who are often here in this country without papers, but with every intention of being american and taking part in our society, and not having to stay in the shadows.
Click here to see Weitz's comments.
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