A few months ago, the name Edgar Ramírez may not have instantly rung a bell, but if you perused the super-handsome Venezuelan-born actor’s résumé, you’d soon realize you had, in fact, seen him before. Multiple times.
Perhaps you first noticed Ramírez, the brown-haired, hazel-eyed hunk, when he made his American debut playing a bounty hunter opposite Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke in Tony Scott’s 2005 thriller Domino. Or maybe you recall he played an assassin in The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, a sharpshooter in Vantage Point in 2008, the notorious Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (aka “Carlos the Jackal”) in the 2010 TV miniseries Carlos, the Greek god Ares in Wrath of the Titans in 2011, a CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty in 2012 and Venezuelan political leader Simón Bolívar in The Liberator in 2013. Then again, maybe he made the biggest impression on you last Christmas Day, when he battled himself at the box office as the headliner of the Point Break remake and in Joy as Jennifer Lawrence’s husband.
By now, you’re certainly familiar with him from Hands of Stone, the late-summer release in which he stars as beloved Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán. But this month, Ramírez will become a household name when he appears in The Girl on the Train (opening Oct. 7), one of fall’s most anticipated films, based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins. All predictions are for it to be a blockbuster hit, yet Ramírez, a serious actor, insists he didn’t choose the role for its box office potential. “You can’t choose movies for the wrong reasons, like will it be a box office hit or [will it] garner awards or nominations; those are beyond any actor’s control,” he says over lunch in Los Angeles. “It’s all about the emotional connection and commitment to the material regardless of the results because that, in the end, [is] what allows you to sleep at night.”
In the mystery thriller, Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, an alcoholic divorcee who becomes obsessed with a seemingly happy couple she sees from the train on her daily commute to New York City. When the wife suddenly goes missing, Rachel tries to find out what happened to her and, in the process, becomes a suspect in the case. Ramírez plays Dr. Kamal Abdic, the missing woman’s charismatic therapist. “My character is all mystery,” he says. “It was challenging because the movie oscillates between light and shadow constantly. There’s traps everywhere. So the movie keeps you on your toes. I think that everybody’s a suspect in the film and that’s why I love, love this project.”
Ramírez admits he hasn’t read the book, but he was hooked by the story as soon as he read the script sent to him by director Tate Taylor. “The script is great. Tate is an amazing director, and the cast is great,” he explains. “It reminds me of all those great movies from the ’80s that our parents didn’t allow us to watch. I play a psychiatrist that might or might not get involved with his patients. Might or might not be a killer. So, of course, it reminds me of Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction—those kind of thrillers that were sexy and interesting, and kept you guessing constantly.”
Sexy, interesting and keeping you guessing also happen to be true of Ramírez, 39, whose acting career came as a surprise even to himself. The son of a military attache, he grew up in various countries around the world and studied mass communications at a Venezuelan university in preparation for a career in journalism or diplomacy. In the meantime, he dabbled in acting and appeared in a friend’s short film, which was eventually entered into a film festival. The film won an award, and Ramírez’s performance caught the attention of Mexican writer Guillermo Arriaga, who was collaborating with director Alejandro González Iñárritu. “He said, ‘Edgar, I didn’t know that you are an actor.’ And I said, ‘I didn’t know either.’” Ramírez was offered an audition for a role in what would become Amores Perros, which he turned down in favor of writing his thesis. “I wasn’t an actor [then],” he explains. “And actually, I see it as a good thing because it woke me up to this possibility. And here I am, giving acting a shot.”
He arrived in Hollywood for the first time in 2004 to promote his first film, Punto y Raya (A Dot and a Line) and, over the next few years, landed roles in the previously mentioned action-packed flicks Domino, The Bourne Ultimatum and Vantage Point. But it was his portrayal of Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal in Carlos that really showcased Ramírez's versatility. During the production, he gained 35 pounds, representing the character’s evolution while running from the law. “In the beginning of the film, it’s the middle of the ’60s, and ideologically, everybody’s very excited about the revolution and changing the world. So he’s pretty athletic and he’s very fresh,” says Ramírez. “They didn’t perceive themselves as terrorists—that word or even the concept wasn’t common at the time. They thought of themselves as freedom fighters, militants. Then he faces betrayal, the world changes and the political allegiances change, the iron curtain falls. [He’s] left alone and [he becomes his] own ideology, everything starts to get dark, and [he gets] old, fat, physically destroyed. The body transformation was a metaphor of the ideological decay of the character during a 25-year run from the law.”
The physical transformation, which earned Ramírez accolades including the César Award for Most Promising Actor (France’s equivalent of an Oscar), is just one of many impressive feats he’s achieved in the name of his art. He learned to surf for Point Break, bulked up for Wrath of the Titans and immediately slimmed down for The Liberator. His ability to change his body shape was most recently on display in Hands of Stone, the biopic in which Ramírez stars as boxer Roberto Durán, who famously defeated Sugar Ray Leonard (played by Usher) but surrendered in the rematch, saying, “No más.” To achieve Durán’s physique and boxing skills, Ramírez trained for six months in Panama. “I do believe in physical transformation as a means to really understand the state of mind of a character,” he says. “Feeling that strength changes you. It changes the way you carry yourself. I mean, everything changes. Once you acquire a certain ability, you cannot behave in the same way you used to.”
Ramírez is as committed to his craft as he is to his humanitarian efforts. He works as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF in Latin America to promote gender equality and raise awareness in schools. “I love [acting], and it actually has given me the opportunity to also advance certain causes, things that need to be voiced, in a way that, as a diplomat, would have been more difficult,” he says. “I think that feminism is nothing but equality. It has to do with equal rights and equal access to opportunities. That’s all.”
After our meeting, Ramírez later sends me an email reiterating his position on equal rights for women. “I want to work for a world in which my little niece is afforded the same opportunities and the same rights as her male siblings. A world where she can make her own decisions, where she owns her own life, her own body and her own sexuality... where she deserves, values and enjoys any care or show of affection from her partner, but without needing it, nor requiring it, nor depending on it for her emotional well-being.”
As for his own personal relationships, Ramírez doesn’t rule out some day landing the role of caring husband and protective father, but marriage and family are definitely not part of his short-term plan. “I don’t know,” he says thoughtfully. “I could say, yes, eventually. It’s not in the cards right now, no. I’m really enjoying what is going on. But you can’t decide anything. In a week probably, it will change. You never know.”
One thing is certain: Fans will never have trouble linking that riveting actor to the name Edgar Ramírez again.
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