Demián Bichir, Star of A Better Life and Surprise Oscar Nominee

The prolific Mexican film star is up for Best Actor among the likes of George Clooney, Gary Oldman and Brad Pitt

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Demián Bichir arrives at a 2011 San Francisco screening of the film 'A Better Life,' which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor

Long-awaited Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday morning, and the lesser-known Demián Bichir is included among some of Hollywood’s biggest names. He received a Best Actor nod for his role in A Better Life, a drama portraying the struggles of an undocumented Mexican day laborer in Los Angeles. A well-known and rather prolific film star in Mexico, Bichir remains a mystery to much of the American public. Above all, the actor has said he hopes the Oscar buzz will encourage people to view the film, which, like Bichir, has gone relatively unnoticed.

(LIST: Summer Entertainment Preview 2011: A Better Life)

Fast facts:

  • Born in 1963 (age 48) in Mexico City to a theater director father and an actress mother.
  • Brother of fellow actors Odiseo and Bruno, whose collective cinematic presence in 2003 prompted the Mexican MTV Movie Awards to create the category Best Bichir in a Movie. Demián won.
  • Played Esteban Reyes, the fictional mayor of Tijuana and husband of Mary-Louise Parker’s character in Weeds.
  • Became a father in May 2011 after a brief tryst while shooting a film in Spain.
  • Began his acting career at age 14 in the telenovela Rina.
  • Moved to New York at age 22, where his first job was making guacamole at customers’ tables at a Mexican restaurant.
  • Is named after the devil and the angel (with “demonio y angel” shortened to dem-y-an and thus Demián).
  • Has played two famous Latin American revolutionaries: Fidel Castro in Che: Part One and Che: Part Two and Emiliano Zapata in Zapata: Amor en Rebeldia.

Quotes by:

“I’m overwhelmed for having my name among those incredible actors. This could have never happened if Chris Weitz had not been the head of this film. He is my brother, and I thank him deeply.” (via Us Weekly)

“You know, when you encounter a character like this and a project like this, the first reaction is how lucky I am. Because this is my Hamlet. This is my King Lear. It’s a bigger-than-life character that any actor would fight for it, would die to do it.” (via USA Today)

“Hopefully more and more people will jump into iTunes and Netflix to see our film. That will be the biggest reward we could get. I dedicate this nomination to those 11 million human beings who make our lives easier and better in the U.S.” (via Us Weekly)

Quotes about:

“His performance [in A Better Life] was almost holy. It was beyond being just about depth. He made the film into a Greek tragedy. And he is one of the few actors I know who could make that part humane.” — Mary-Louise Parker, Bichir’s Weeds costar (via New York Times)

“It is extraordinary, Demián’s vitality in contrast to the performance he gives. All of the energy goes underground.” — Chris Weitz, director of A Better Life (via New York Times)