As part of Latino Lens in Focus, NALIP interviews 'Hands of Stone' lead actor Edgar Ramirez, where he highlights his preparation for the role of Roberto Duran, the challenges he's had to overcome as an actor and the importance of Latino films and filmmakers in the industry.
Q: How did you prepare to play not only a real life personality, but also someone who is still alive? How much input did Roberto Duran have in his character's portrayal?
A: [Roberto Duran] Influenced me in a great way. He trained me, he shared a lot of things with me. The thing is a lot of boxers in general are like magicians, they have their tricks and they have a certain things that they will never reveal. And by not revealing those tricks I learned so much about him. Roberto was very open, was very generous, he trained me, he helped and opened his home to me, opened his heart, and his life. Sometimes there were certain areas, certain questions that he didn’t answer in a straight way which actually informed me about the mystery that every boxer had and that was very important to me. Now when I look back at the process and I remember asking certain things and trying to not to let himself be pushed against the ropes I love that because it helped me to understand how his mind works. He trained me, he said “you need to become a boxer first, you need to feel that you’re a boxer and then when you’re ready I will teach you all the tricks, I will teach you the magic” and he did and I’m very grateful for that.
Q: Preparing for the role, where did the idea of training with Salsa come from?
A: It’s a cultural thing, when you look at Panamanian boxers you see especially in the lightweight side, you see that their light and super fast you see them jumping all over the ring, there’s a music element to that. There’s some sort of musicality when they box. That’s very salsa infused, when you go to Panama, especially to the areas where Roberto Duran grew up there’s music coming out of windows all the time it’s one of the most caribbean countries in the world, a very musical country, people are listening to music constantly and salsa is big and Roberto Duran is also a salsa singer, he’s recorded some songs and he plays his music, he has a bar and he plays there every weekend with his band. So that was a key element.
I remember when Roberto met me for the first time, he asked me, “do you dance?” and I said yeah and he goes, “well dance for me now” and I was at the bar and in front of everybody he had me dancing. He asked “do you sing?” and I said “well, I normally sing in the shower, do you want me to sing?” I said “let’s sing” and then we sang a song together and then he said “you’re ready man, boxing is the least of it”. It was super tough to learn the boxing, but at least I had the blessing, because for him it was very important. I think that his heart is infused with music and that’s why he said “if you have the music in your heart then the rest will follow.”
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of playing such a rich personality like Roberto Duran?
A: I have to very honest, I mean this process was so organic and it was so emotional that it didn’t really...I mean I tend to be very cerebral, and I tend to be very intellectual and I actually approach many of my characters from a very intellectual point of view, this time it was totally different I did not have to think about this character, I had to feel this character. One thing that comes to my mind is, I will share a story that I hope can answer this question. Roberto Duran was like a Cirque Du Soleil artist when it comes to rope jumping. I mean he jumps rope like a true artist and there are only two people in the world who can do that, Roberto Duran and Roberto ‘Robin’ Duran, his son. He was actually my stunt double during those scenes. I didn’t have doubles for any other scenes just for rope jumping, because it would have taken me probably another year for me to be able to jump rope in that way. I remember one day I’m training rope jumping with Robin and the I over trained myself that day. I remember the moment when I felt I might have messed up something in my leg, and Roberto was telling me “Edgar, take it easy, let’s stop for today” and I said “No, no, no let’s do it, let’s do it”. Then I realize that something happened later and the reality is that for the next few weeks I could barely walk. It was three weeks before the fight, well, before shooting the fighting scene. But as an actor I felt, in my mind that it was three weeks before the actual fight with Leonard, with Usher. Imagine how depressed I was, that after a whole year of training, training like a real boxer and then failing because of my ego, I was jeopardizing my opportunity to play Roberto Duran and actually jeopardizing the film. One of my trainers told me, [when] I was in a boxing depression because I could not believe that I am not at the top of my game three weeks before the fight after all these months, he told me, “Edgar, if I had to wait for each of my fighters to feel completely healthy and feel on top of their game, they would never fight.” I went into that fight with Usher, with my legs covered in medical tape and covered it with my sock and pushed through the pain in order to get into the ring. I feel like to get into that mind set only a boxer, only someone who has gone through the training would understand that. What I got from Roberto Duran as a great boxer, if you get knocked down even by yourself, [then] you get back up.
Q: What do you think is the importance of telling this character’s story to our current generation? And why is this the time to tell Roberto’s story?
A: Well, because it’s a big movie that tells the story not only of one of the greatest athletes in the history of the world and one of the greatest athlete coming from our community, it’s a story of a good man, a story of a good guy, a story of a good role model of the Latino Community and that’s important. It is important for the younger generation to stop thinking that being Latino is a debilitating thing. I don’t see it as being a disadvantage, I think there's a lot that we can contribute, a lot that we can do through our community by being Latino, by having the heritage that we have and by having the cultural richness that we have. A movie like this can contribute, can inspire all Latinos out there not only to go and try and get their story told when it comes down to filmmakers but for the entire community to keep on doing the best they can in their own fields so that one day their stories can be told. I want people to watch this film and feel proud, about our heritage and go out there and do the best we can and feel the virtue of a cultural heritage. We are an active part of this society and that there is nothing debilitating about being Latino, there is nothing diminishing about it we are actually in great advantage, because we have the privilege to resort to an amazing cultural heritage and richness. To be a part of a welcoming culture, we welcome everyone, as we are not a race, we are not a religion, we’re composed of people from all religions from all races and from all ethnic groups we are a culture and a welcoming culture. That’s one of the biggest advantages that we have of being Latino, we welcome everyone in the world with open arms. Jonathan for example is actually Jewish but he’s Latino, [shows] we are not a race we are a culture and we can be Venezuelan raised Catholic, Venezuelan and black but we’re Latinos. All of us from the film you put us together and [look] different but we’re all Latino.
Q: How important do you think are organizations like NALIP who advocate for Latino filmmakers and films is helping to put a spotlight on Latino voices and narratives?
A: We only move forward united. We all need to work together in team and these organizations like NALIP help. When we get organized it helps, in exchange of views and energy. Evolution has everything to do with doing things together. It is a transfer of energy and expertise that gets us inspire and to help us move forward.
Q: As an international actor, what was the biggest challenge breaking into acting in the United States and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for our NALIP members who are trying to break into the industry?
A: I think the stage for an actor to work, is the world. We cannot put limits on ourselves and at the same time you cannot let the stereotype, external stereotype and internal stereotype, get in the way of our achievement. I say internal because i’ve been asked this question so often from Latino reporters asking me, “Aren’t you afraid of being given only Latin roles and Latino roles in Hollywood?” and I think, “What am I? Where do I come from? What’s my heritage?” Being a Latino in film is not a stereotype for myself, being Latino, being Jewish, being African American being Asian that’s not a stereotype. Stereotype are one dimensional, flat characters, caricature characters, those are the stereotypes not ethnicity, or cultural background of a character. For example in Zero Dark Thirty I played an American, an American citizen and I had to do an American accent and all of that. I felt very proud to prepare for that role, do not let whatever politics aside of what’s important determine the direction of your career. For actors and filmmakers in general, the most important thing is to play good characters and to tell good stories. For example Roberto Duran, he’s a hero, but he’s a flawed hero but he’s interesting, he’s three dimensional, he’s complicated. To tell the story of Roberto Duran in a perfect way, that would be a stereotype. A stereotypical hero, that makes no mistakes, that is perfect, that is boring, that would not have been interesting for me. It’s the complexity, that attracts me as an actor and that defines whether a character is a stereotype or not.
You can catch Hands of Stone in theaters Friday August 26, 2016
*Photo Credits: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company