Select Page

Tribeca ’24 Exclusive Interview: Demián Bichir and Julia Goldani Telles Talk Shipwrecks and Psychological Terror in “BEACON”

Sunday, June 9, 2024 | Exclusive, Featured Post (Second), Interview

By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS

Premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is the tense shipwreck film BEACON. Set at a remote and barely habitable lighthouse near the southernmost tip of Chile, the film carefully watches the changing relationship between marooned young sailor Emily (Julia Goldani Telles) and lone lighthouse keeper Ismael (Demián Bichir). Though their similarities might outweigh their differences, the power dynamics and trustworthiness ebb and flow much like the unkind sea that brought them together. We sat down to talk to the two actors to talk about building characters, genre, and a bit about spiders.

Have you had a chance to watch the film yet with a crowd?

DEMIÁN BICHIR: We were talking about it. [Tribeca] will be our first screening of the finished film with the crowd.

Demián, you came onto the project early and helped shape some of the character.

BICHIR: I’ve been very lucky throughout my career because I’ve had this same chance to do it in different projects, whether it’s theater or film or TV, anywhere on the planet. And even with heavyweights like Ridley Scott or Quentin Tarantino or Chris White or Steven Soderberg, they always open that room for you to come in and collaborate and make the whole thing better, bigger, more solid.

And yes, this script came to me and we exchanged notes many times. That’s all I do. Sometimes I don’t end up making the film, but some friends of mine send me the material or someone sends me a script and then we begin discussing and sending back and forth notes and this and that. Then that grows. “Yes, let’s do it.” It was a really cool process with the whole team, our producers and Roxy [Shih], my director. And then Julia came in.

And so when that happens, it gives everyone the sense of ownership, the sense of belonging and the sense of responsibility. A sense of “Yeah, this is our ship. Let’s all push forward to take it to a happy ending.” And then the rest of the team began forming, including our DP [Daphne Qin Wu]; that’s such a key element, in my opinion. It was crucial to finish telling the story. You know, Daphne is not only a phenomenal beautiful girl but her spirit and her will to do things in a certain way, because this is an extremely low-budget film. And that alone brought the usual challenges, plus weather conditions and many different things, and the short period of time when we shot it. And so everything needed to be adjusted to that. And it’s only if you have a platoon that is bulletproof, that can pretty much go in to any type of terrain, that a film like this is possible.

Julia, did you find the film to be collaborative too? What did you get to bring to Emily?

JULIA GOLDANI TELLES: Yeah, I found it super-collaborative. I joined probably two weeks beforehand, so I just didn’t have a ton of time to prepare, which I think is great for something like this. Because in many ways, Emily is unprepared. I watched some sailing videos on TikTok [laughs].

Looks like she did too, so…

TELLES: Yeah. I was so excited to meet Demián and Roxy, and they seemed lovely. I’d never been to Newfoundland or really even heard of it, and I was so pleasantly surprised at what an amazing and devastating place it is. It was a lovely experience.

What did I bring to Emily? This is a character who’s grieving the death of her father. She’s fiercely independent, she’s stubborn. She’s got some, you know, probably hidden mental illness, as do we all. And so this was a great opportunity to explore a very messy, complicated, not necessarily totally likable or palatable young woman who goes on an adventure and gets put to the test in every single way.

BICHIR: I have to say, she’s very humble about her own work and her own assets she represents in the film. We needed a brave actor to play this role. We needed a fearless actor to be able to handle its weight. And we certainly needed someone who could play this duality and the different layers that the character has. It is such a difficult character, who goes through so much throughout the film. And it seems like Julia understood that from the beginning, ever since she read it for the first time, and then being on set. An actor can only be great if they’re open to ask whenever they feel lost, if they’re open to hold onto everyone around them. That’s exactly what a team like this is about. We covered each other’s backs, but if our leading female was not brave enough to just jump off the cliff with no safety net and hope to land on her feet, then this could not have been made.

TELLES: Thank you.

How did you two approach working together and creating this universe on a rock together?

TELLES: Well, I have to say, we got stranded in our own way on the way to Newfoundland for four days in Toronto and then Halifax, because the winds were too powerful for us to actually land in Newfoundland. I wouldn’t say detained at immigration, but there was a reason that I got pulled out of line. Apparently there was some gold heist, I don’t remember. But Demián could have just boarded. This was in Toronto; I got detained, I missed the connecting flight and Demián could have just gotten on the next flight, but he waited for me with our producer and his best friend and writing partner, which made me feel very taken care of and welcomed. Then we had these four days in isolation, and I really felt like Demián was a leader, but he was very collaborative. Both in terms of when we started working on the script, and also in terms of us being stranded in Canada. So I think that created chemistry that we wouldn’t have necessarily have had right off the bat, just because we did endure something together.

BICHIR: Totally. I think everything that happened to us from the beginning was meant to happen for us to help us tell the story. That created a very interesting bond. And it made the whole thing very easy, you know? But again, the only way you can achieve these types of challenges with two characters, whether it’s theater, film or whatever, you can’t do it if it’s an ego contest. You have to find the right partner to get into this type of adventure. I’m talking not only about Julia, but Daphne, our DP, and Roxy. Roxy was our captain. She was very clear. But at the same time, with great spirit and a phenomenal sense of humor. You need that type of thing in order not to be lost in the heaviness of the story.

Speaking of the heaviness of the story, I don’t consider this a straight horror film. Do you have any use for genre when approaching these roles?

TELLES: Curious, what would you categorize it as?

That’s a good question. I don’t use the word “thriller,” but this would be close for me. It’s more of a survival drama.

BICHIR: Yeah. I would say it’s a psychological thriller.

What would you say, Julia?

TELLES: I would say psychological thriller too.

BICHIR: That’s what I think, because you’re absolutely right. There are different types of horrors that we humans experience in our lives, you know? And it all depends on where you are, what time and place in your own life; that’s how you absorb whatever is happening to you. Just taking a look at what these characters are living, when we begin the story, they’re living their own horror. They’re living their own drama and their own uncertainty. Yes, there’s a lot of horror. There’s a big type of horror when you’re encapsulated in a place. It’s difficult for you to trust the other person who is there because you don’t know that person at all. And to me, it’s a beautiful representation of what will live in the pandemic. That the enclosure changes forever.

What scares you?

BICHIR: Ignorance, stupidity. Donald Trump.

Pretty much the same thing.

BICHIR: It’s the same thing. Ignorance and stupidity. And how can that be contagious? That’s scary.

Sometimes people say, “spiders” and sometimes they say, “failure.” Either one is totally fine.

BICHIR: No, that’s easy. I’m a spider saver.

TELLES: Demián, every time I see a spider, I think about you, because you taught me that you should never kill an insect.

BICHIR: No, never.

TELLES: So now, if I don’t feel like taking it outside, I let it hang out in my house.

Is that environmental or superstitious?

BICHIR: No, they’re here for a reason, and most of the time where you find spiders or any type of a weird animal in your house, it’s because they’re lost. So what I do is help them find the way out.

Deirdre is a Chicago-based film critic and life-long horror fan. In addition to writing for RUE MORGUE, she also contributes to C-Ville Weekly, ThatShelf.com, and belongs to the Chicago Film Critics Association. She's got two black cats and wrote her Master's thesis on George Romero.