Demian Bechir in
By the Waters of Babylon
(© Michael Lamont)
Demian Bechir in
By the Waters of Babylon
(© Michael Lamont)
Demian Bechir is one of Mexico's most famous stage and screen actors, so it's interesting that Americans will see him play Cubans in his two newest projects: The Geffen Playhouse's current production of Robert Shenkkan's two-character play By the Waters of Babylon, in which he plays a simple gardener named Arturo opposite Shannon Cochran, and in Stephen Soderbergh's highly anticipated film Che, in which he portrays Fidel Castro alongside Oscar winner Benecio del Toro in the title role.

"I love the Cuban people and their culture, which may be part of what attracted me to these works," he says. "The play talks about so many things I'm interested in -- especially the idea of love as being healing -- and the Geffen has such a great reputation. And yes, I know that a two-character play can be very demanding and require a lot of concentration. Two years ago, in Mexico, my brother and I did an adaptation of Stones in My Pocket, where we each played seven characters. But it's a privilege to do this play."

As for the challenge of tackling a young Castro, Bechir was eager to jump at the opportunity. "It wasn't quite the project one jumps into lightly or superficially, and I'm the type of actor, that I once I say yes, I go overboard," he says. "I did a lot of research to play Castro; I read and watched and listened to whatever I could; I worked with a vocal coach; it was basically breakfast, lunch, and dinner for me. But I'm pleased. When I saw the film, I told my girlfriend that I didn't recognize me at all."

As it happens, Bechir is best known in this country for playing a Mexican: the corrupt mayor Esteban -- and the lover of Mary Louise Parker's Nancy -- on Showtime's Weeds. "To be honest, I never watched it before they offered me the role," he says. So then I watched the first three seasons in one sitting, and I thought how lucky I would be to land on a show with such amazing characters and a great cast. And it's fine that Esteban is a bad guy. Mexicans are not all terrible and not all fantastic; we have many aspects, like everyone else. And with a great and beautiful actress like Mary Louise in front of you, it's easy to do great work."