The handsome, ruddy-faced, and often bespectacled Latino actor Demián Bichir debuted before the cameras from the age of 14 and launched himself as a telenovela star in his native Mexico in the '80s and '90s, prior to his slick and seemingly effortless transition into internationally oriented films during the early 2000s. Bichir became instantly known for his ability to combine rugged and exotic appeal with depth-signaling intelligence and articulation.
Although Bichir officially debuted in a U.S. production circa 1983 -- with a turn in the telemovie Choices of the Heart (a biopic of ill-fated Irish missionary Jean Donovan [Melissa Gilbert], set in El Salvador) -- at that time he failed to draw significant attention in the American press as anything more than a footnote. (In fact, a New York Times review of that picture, from 1983, misspells his name as "Denian Bicher.") Bichir continued to score as a well-respected actor in Mexico, however, and did additional Hollywood crossover work from time to time -- usually in American features with predominantly Hispanic casts, such as Cliff Osmond's 1988 romantic drama The Penitent, starring Armand Assante and Raul Julia. Bichir signed for one of his most prominent and popular roles in the 1999 Mexican erotic drama Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas, as Tomas, a housewife's former lover who pays a most unexpected visit to that woman and her husband (and impedes the already strained, cracking marriage).
In 2000, Bichir lent a memorable performance to the Mexico/U.S. co-production In the Time of the Butterflies, a Showtime original movie, directed by Mariano Barroso, about a plantation owner's daughter from the Dominican Republic (Salma Hayek) who courageously rebels against a Central American despot. Though not a starring role per se, the turn marked Bichir's first significant American breakthrough. It brought the actor much-deserved attention and second billing in an American film, when he played an insanely jealous boyfriend and pasta sauce entrepreneur, opposite Chelsea Altman, in Rudolph Gerber's eccentric soap opera comedy/murder mystery Heartbreak Hospital (2002). Unfortunately, that picture bombed with critics and the public and disappeared almost instantly -- which could partially explain why Bichir reverted to south-of-the-border films for his next several projects. The first of those pictures, Ciudades Oscuras -- Fernando Sariñana's memorably dark Altmanesque tale of intertwined urban lives, with Bichir at the center (as a bartender who has the film's individual stories told to him) -- scored with Mexican viewers. Bichir followed it up with the lead in the 2004 Spanish-language biopic Zapata, essaying the role of the famous Mexican bandit played by Marlon Brando 50 years prior.
Bichir then signed for dual roles in 2006. He played Malboro, a young man who reunites with his younger brother and sets off on a long trip to explore their family's heritage, in Mexican director Javier "Fox" Patron's moody, contemplative festival drama Beyond Heaven (Fuera del Cielo, aka Chilango Blues), and a Bolivian dad wildly desperate to reconnect with his child in Miami (even if it means breaking multiple laws) in Juan Carlos Valdivia's hyper-stylized American Visa. Though these features received limited bookings and returns in the United States, they drew significant international attention for Bichir that far exceeded any notice engendered by his early telenovelas or U.S. network telemovies.
Bichir continued to work steadily, landing a part in Steven Soderbergh's two-part biopic about Che Guevara, and he was cast in a recurring role on the Showtime series Weeds.
2011 proved to be a breakthrough for the hard-working thespian when his work in Chris Weitz's immigration drama A Better Life garnered him Best Actor nominations from both the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy. In 2012, the actor played a supporting role in director Oliver Stone's Savages, a crime thriller based on Don Winslow's best-selling novel of the same name.