The first thing I tell him is that I've watched his interviews on Youtube, and he seems like a very serious person—no extraneous quirks or obliging chuckles. So I offer an opportunity at rebuttal by having him recite a good joke. He mulls over it conscientiously, one half of his brain maniacally tearing open mental compartments and the other hemisphere trying to retrace the unwise decisions that led him here. At least that's what I imagine.
All I can hear over the phone is Ramirez's baritone 'umm' that lasts a good amount of time. In the end he decides to come back to it later and affably asks for the second question. All throughout our lengthy chat, I though it was very gracious that he never once implied impatience or tried to hurry things along. Instead he carefully measured every response and made sure to namedrop the entire supporting cast of writers, directors and fellow thespians that have enabled his journey thus far as mentors and inspiration.
And he's played important parts—not always huge roles—but nonetheless crucial to every film he's done since the great shorties he shot in college. Tearing up puerile Hollywoodian depictions of Latino characters, he's been a single-minded assassin (The Bourne Ultimatum), Aries the Greek God of War (Clash of the Titans), a CIA operative (Zero Dark Thirty), and most recently made Patrick Swayze's part in the Point Break remake, thoroughly his own. His leading roles are as heavy as they come. He's donned Simon Bolivar, notorious terrorist Carlos the Jackal and the legendary Roberto Duran, a boxer who debuted at 16 and finally hung up his gloves at 50.
But you won't be surprised when you find out Ramirez travelled the world tucked between his military attache father and attorney mother. His childhood was an adventure that today sees him speak Spanish, German, English, French and Italian fluently. Talented, multi-cultural and always reciting his love for the simple pleasures of strong family bonds and remembering one's roots, here's how the phoner went.
I've seen a couple of your interviews on Youtube, and you seem like a really serious guy. Are you? Tell us the funniest joke you know.
*Gotta take a raincheck on this one. We never did get around to it.
You seem very authentic in all your roles. What are the top 3 or 4 things on your routine to get yourself into character?
How do I get into character (ponders seriously...) Firstly, I do a lot of research. For me it's very important to understand and to fully grasp the context in which a specific character operates and lives in. I need to recreate those particular circumstances, to get as close as possible whether in a physical personal space, or in my mind, to situations my character would be facing. But as part of the bigger picture of things, I also try to get as close as possible to the circumstances that surround the life of my character in order to understand the way he deals with them. So I continuously do research, if I have the opportunity to go for training, then I will do it. If I have the chance to explore a geological site, I will do that. This is important because we are the result of our environment, that's what we are at the end of the say. I mean, whatever circumstances surround us, either from childhood or adult life it instructs how we behave and the choices we make. One thing for me, concerning research, I'm a journalist you see, so I'm very used to digging up background stories, that's what I studied. I never went to drama school, I went to study journalism. If I'm playing a biographical character, I'll try and look for the people who were around my character when he was alive. I try to talk to them, to interview them, because we're also the result of what we think that we are, and also the result of what other people think about us. And for me that's also very important, to explore that dichotomy. Once I do that, if at all it's possible for me to do that, I put everything I've gathered into the back of my head, and I just try to feel it when I'm on set, try to pour all that into the script, into the circumstances that I'm facing and just try to walk through them. That's what comes to the top of my head, that's pretty much my process.
What was the last movie to move or impact you?
Let me see... I can name two, I really love Clouds of Sils Maria, the last Olivier Assayas movie, he's the director I worked with from Carlos. The movie stars with Juliet Binoche and Kristin Stewart. It's a really raw film about the fame and managing the expectations of people, and also about chasing fame versus art when you become very succesful, and also how the pattern of time affects all that. And I also love Spectre, the last James Bond movie. So elegant and so well shot and it was entertaining at the same time. And so moving; you can really feel for the character. I think it's incredible what Daniel Craig does with that role, it's incredible the amount of humanity and reality that he's about to bring to a character that has such restrictive parameters, you know? He really turned Jame Bond into a living person for whom you care, he takes you through this entire journey. And he's a James Bond who feels, I mean he's cool and he's dapper but he's also very emotional and full of contradictions. You can feel his moral and emotional struggle and that's great in an action film. So I was very impacted by that. He's one of the best actors in the world.
Who are the most influential writers, directors or producers at the moment?
There are so many, it would be hard to name them all, but I can speak for the ones I've worked with who are amazing. Matthew McConaughey, Robert DeNiro who keeps pushing it and adding new layers to his craft, to our art and profession. There's the amazing Wong Kar Wai and I love directors like Zhang Yimou, another Chinese director who's great. Also Xavier Dolan, the French Canadian writer and director. There's so many people that I respect. Michel Franco from Mexico is also a great writer and director. They're all great people and I have the privelege of knowing them, and many of them are my friends.
Who or what inspired you to get into cinema?
Guillermo Arriaga, who's also a writer and director. I haven't worked with him but he is my mentor. He was the writer of Babel and 21 Grams and Amores Perros, the director of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Just an amazing director and writer, and he was the one who somehow got me into acting. I met him many years ago, when I was in college, when he was writing and producing Amores Perros and he was the one who offered me an opportunity to be in that movie but I didn't take it because I was doing my thesis and I was finishing my university years. I didn't foresee the opportunity because I wasn't an actor. I was just doing little short films here and there just for fun. And he was the one who presented the opportunity to me. So after everything that happened to the film, then I decided to become an actor and he's been my mentor every since.
How did you get discovered?
Definitely he (Guillermo Arriaga) was the one who discovered me. And he discovered Jennifer Lawrence in The Burning Plain too, that was her first dramatic role in a film. He's got unbelievable foresight.
What are some of the best and worst comments critics have paid you?
I'm not sure about that, but the most touching one, one that I remember, is when Todd McCarthy said that I reminded him of Marlon Brando in his prime, after he saw Carlos. Yeah, it was a beautiful thing, he said that after he saw Carlos in Cannes. I think that the worst one was when somebody, a critic I can't remember his name, said about my performance in The Liberator, that I wasn't as brilliant as I was in Carlos. So I don't know what that really means (laughs). I believe there that's no progress in art, so to speak. You can't be expected to be better than your last work, be it a film or whatever. You cannot expect the creator, you know as a writer, actor, director, to be better than their last performance. You can only be the artist that you are. You cannot be better because there's no progress in a sense. And I find it interesting that someone would review or in a way, give a value or an opinion on your character based on how you perform another character. I think in the end it would be better to say I didn't like this character for this or that reason, but not based on another comparison to another character. It's very weird to me. I prefer if people tell me I was horrible or something, but not based on a character from a separate movie. There's no progress in Art in that sense. It circles back to why I love Cloud of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas' film. Because you cannot expect progress in art, it's impossible. It's not like sports, when you're in a league and you get better the more you train. It's not a muscle.
Are there other creative fields you'd like to pursue, but haven't yet?
Dancing, it's the most primal form of artistic expression. I dont know exactly how, but I would like to explore it.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Honestly, I try to sleep as much as possible. I try to catch up with great TV series, try to watch movies, as many as possible and try to go to the cinemas as much as I can. Because I love going to the movies. That's pretty much it. I don't do any super-extraordinary things with my free time. It's very simple and classic. I get together friends, have beers and we play board games or Pictionary, things like that. I'm not very extravagant. But at this moment, I try to get as much rest as I can.
What's one thing you're proud of, but no one knows about?
I'm an expert horseback rider, I ride horses very well. And I don't think many people know that about me. I grew up surrounded by horses. So I can proud of that, I guess, because I love horses.
If you could have lunch with any three people, real or fictitious, who would they be?
Wow... so many. I'd say Simon Bolivar, The Pope—to ask him a couple of questions and Muhammad Yunus—Grameen Bank founder who won a Nobel Prize. One of the most influential people in the world. Very serious people I know, very serious lunches! (laughs)
What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
Shooting Point Break, standing at the top of Enders Falls. I've jumped from the highest waterfall in the world, and that's pretty wild for sure. Had I fallen, they wouldn't be able to recover my body.
Photographer Assistant: Alex Kikis
Fashion Assistant: Emily Suarez
Casting by Matchbook Company
Shot at location The Lodge at Gallow Green, The McKittrick Hotel New York