EDGAR RAMIREZ: VENEZUELA’S LEADING MAN, AND ASCENDING HOLLYWOOD HERO
“Edgar was in a car accident this afternoon.” The email read, “We will need to reschedule his interview this evening.”
The adventure that is life is profoundly unpredictable. You can be riding high, riding low, riding in the middle, or sitting next to your horse not even riding at all, and some tameless externality can run a stop sign and shatter your foregone conclusions into a million unforeseen events. It can also cancel your lunch plans.
When I received the email I was sitting in the sun-dappled courtyard of a West Hollywood hotel, ten minutes early for my meeting with Venezuela’s leading man, and ascending Hollywood hero, Edgar Ramirez. Two days later, in a different courtyard, at a gardened Hollywood brunch spot beneath a vivid citrus tree, Ramirez approached our table immaculately dressed in a black cotton V-neck, polished brown leather shoes, a broad smile, and Tom Ford shades.
“I was on Melrose heading to Paramount Studios,” he recounted, “and there was this lady who cut in front of us, she passed the stop sign, and we crashed into her. Our car was a total, my driver broke his hand, and his leg, and she got pretty messed up as well.’ Ramirez is calm, but clearly still in awe of the ordeal, ‘It puts things in perspective for you. It reminds you of the fragility of life. How suddenly you think you’re going one place, and then…”
Our drinks arrive, and we ask for another minute to peruse the menu. Ramirez has a coffee, while I opt for a pineapple cider to extract me from the cavernous hangover I’ve inflicted on myself like a consummate professional. The cider is delicious and Ramirez tries it when I offer it to him.
“In moments of emergency I’m very clear.” Ramirez continues after a savored sip, “I tend to be a bit distracted by minor things—I forget my keys—but it’s very interesting how in moments of real, black and white stress, I react very calmly and very clearly. Then I collapse afterwards, but in the moment—I called 911, I checked on my driver, I checked on the woman, I followed the instructions of the lady on 911…”
It’s little wonder that Ramirez can convincingly embody cool-headed rough-and-tumble types—the ice-veined assassin in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), the megalomaniacal idealist Carlos the Jackal in Carlos (2010), the zen adrenaline-fiend Bodhi in Point Break (2015), the great military general and political leader Simón Bolívar in The Liberator (2014). An interesting feature of Ramirez’ character roster is how often he plays men who are of both action and idealistic weight.
“There’s a secret dance between actors and characters,” Ramirez explains, “I’m not sure whether they find you or you find them. I do believe that politics is a great context to explore human nature. Through the exercise of power the true colors of an individual really shine through. It’s what I call ‘the club-bouncer syndrome,’” Ramirez says sardonically, “when you are in a decision-making position, then we’ll see. Politics for me is the perfect environment to test the extensions and contradictions of human nature.”
A political journalist in his home country, Ramirez began his career away from the lens and the stage, and worked for Urbe—a major alternative media group—while earning his degree in journalism and political communication. A diplomat’s son, the apple did not fall far from the tree, though it has rolled quite a long way into more glamorous pastures. After last year’s performance opposite Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, this year Ramirez has several high-profile roles, including starring alongside Matthew McConaughey in Gold—a film that explores an incidence of mining fraud in Indonesia, and Hands of Stonewhere Ramirez leads the stage as the World Champion boxer Roberto Durán, under the watchful eyes of no less than Robert De Niro and Latin musical megastar Rubén Blades, and opposite fellow Flaunt cover star Usher, while his romantic interest is played by the mesmerizing Ana de Armas.
The role was a journey for Ramirez, and had him move to Panama a year before shooting to immerse himself in the essence and the swagger of Durán—the iconic local legend. “I had never boxed before,” Ramirez tells me, “In order for me to emulate his style, and to learn his combinations, and to approximate his way of boxing I needed to become a fighter myself.” To do this Ramirez trained in the sweltering Panamanian humidity for four-and-a-half-to-five hours a day: “You know by the way a boxer moves and talks, you know already he’s a boxer. There’s a flow. Especially Panamanian—they’re almost dancing. Before I worked on his voice, and his mannerisms, it was very important to feel it in my body.”
Ramirez’ portrayal is an honest one, and the unsavory aspects of Durán’s fiery personality are presented sympathetically but without gloss. There’s a scene from the film where Durán—shirtless by the pool in a red two-piece suit brimming with early ‘80s flair—lambasts his family, friends, and entourage as “parasites” after getting splashed with water. “I think he was overwhelmed.” Ramirez tells me of the scene, “Too many good things at the same time after having nothing can be very overwhelming and stressful. There’s a reason why our hands wrinkle after we’re in water—all the acidity from the environment is too much for the cells, and they need to liberate—it’s osmosis. It’s funny,” Ramirez grins, “it’s one fact I remember from biology. I always come back to it. It’s called plasmolysis. The cell can’t absorb any more from its environment and when it gets overwhelmed it completely empties out because it needs balance. I think that it was too much for one person, and that’s the struggle of success. Rubén Blades actually says that success is like a cake that when you bite it, it’s filled with glass.”
While both a character study, and historical boxing epic, Hands of Stone is told through a political lens, with the nationhood of Panama and geo-political machinations over the Panama Canal painting the backdrop in which it throws its punches. This is consistent with Ramirez’ body of work: “I’m interested in political phenomenon, because every collective decision that we do in our life is a political act,” Ramirez tells me, his words measured, but his tone light, “If you get together with friends—five friends—and decide where to have dinner, that’s a political act right there. Because it’s making decisions in order to push society forwards. In that regard I’m very politically aware. I never would have run for any type of office I don’t think, because at the same time politics is the exercise of power.”
For a major cultural figure from Venezuela, the political discussion is pertinent. Venezuela is in the depths of a political crisis, “It would take an entire interview just to talk about the Venezuelan situation.” Ramriez tells me, before diving headlong into a brief but nuanced description of the social and macroeconomic factors that are tearing his country apart: a dysfunctional, static government, wide-spread corruption, an over-reliance on oil revenue, rampant inflation (close to 500%), an energy crisis, chronic shortages of food, and dire shortages of medicine, which has lead to (amongst other problems) a drastic increase in the prevalence of AIDS.
I ask Ramirez if he feels obliged to use his voice in political debate given his high-profile: “Oh yeah. I’m engaged. I published this two days ago—“ he flicks to his Instagram on his cell phone and shows me an image he posted depicting himself stern-faced and holding a placard on which he has hand-written multiple political statements in the contemporary language of hashtags. It has received over 108,000 likes. Translating the Spanish for me (after a gentle laugh when I confess to my woeful mono-linguality—Ramirez speaks five languages): “That says: ‘I revoke.’” He tells me, “We’re going for a recall, we’re going for a referendum.”
After explaining the constitutional subtleties of the early election he’s advocating, Ramirez exhales forcefully: “I’ve always kept myself very far from the political discussion. In a country with such a severe polarization I never wanted to side with any ideology or political party. I can have my own opinions, and I vote and exercise my political rights, but publically I don’t endorse any politician, probably because I come from a political household, and I know…” He breaks off with a shrug and a wry smile on his geometrically square jaw, “I don’t want to be frustrated.”
For this issue that explores adventures and their repercussions, I ask Ramirez if any of his adventures have led him to adverse consequences. He thinks about the question carefully before answering: “If you see a character as an adventure in itself—by building into the mind, and the psyche, and the universe of somebody else, you might also encounter things about yourself that you didn’t know were there, and that can be a frightening process. Life is tough for everyone. It’s not the amount of conflicts, or the type, it’s how skilled you are in dealing with it. There’s an inherent pain,” Ramirez says earnestly, “I’m very grateful for the experiences I have had as an actor because it has allowed me to better deal with the incongruities of life. That for me is a great repercussion of my adventures.”
Our conversation weaves an erratic path through politics, sports, science, history, acting, geography, and back to politics again. Ramirez is clearly one who feels the weight of obligation for being educated and having a voice—something akin to what Noam Chomsky describes as “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”—we don’t discuss Chomsky’s thesis, but irrespective of whether he’s familiar with it, Ramirez seems to feel it in his bones: “When it comes down to human rights, to values—the thing is that they’re structural, they’re not temporary and contextual. They will live on in time. Honesty, compassion, empathy, legality, justice,”—as he names each principle his hand lifts and falls up and down upon the table—“they transcend time.”
Ramirez lingers for our time together, and the interview lasts well beyond a second course of food and a second pineapple cider (“Why not? I won’t tell,” he promises me). When we shake hands and I bid him farewell I catch myself before offering my usual salutation: drive safe. “Nice to meet you, take it easy,” I say instead. Ramirez grins and climbs back into his car.
Written by Gus Donohoo