The LRM Interview with EDGAR RAMIREZ on GOLD

– by Edward Douglas

Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez had been working quite steadily with small roles in films like Steven Soderbergh’s Che and Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Ultimatum.  Things really took off for Ramirez when he was cast in Olivier Assayas’ television mini-series Carlos, playing a ruthless kingpin. The five-hour film allowed Ramirez to show a wide range of what he could do as an character, earning him Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.

Since then, Ramirez has worked with David O. Russell (Joy), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and starred as boxing great Roberto Duran in last year’s Hands of Stone.

Now, Ramirez appears opposite Matthew McConaughey in Gold, the Stephen Gaghan-directed film, in which he plays geologist Michael Acosta, who is pulled into the schemes of McConaughey’s Kenny Wells in trying to find gold in Indonesia. The plan almost kills them as they spend days in the hot, tropical jungle finding any signs of gold, which eventually pays off… sort of.

The following interview was conducted at the New York junket for the film.

LRM: I know Matthew was already attached, and that’s probably a good reason for any actor to sign on, but were there other reasons that grabbed you?

Edgar Ramirez:
Yeah, well, I read the script, this story, like six years ago, so I’ve been circling this movie as well for a long time in other incarnations. I think that Michael Mann was attached to direct by the first time I read the script, and then I think it was Spike Lee and then there were other actors involved, and then in the end, it was perfect. It was Matthew. 

LRM: Because Matthew was attached before Stephen Gaghan was as a director…

Ramirez: Yeah, exactly, but that’s the thing, but I had been checking on this script forever. I would shoot other movies and I would check in with my agent: “What’s going on with this project Gold? What’s going on with this project? Who is attached now?”  

LRM:  So the producers knew of your interest.

Ramirez: Yeah, I wanted to keep a very close track of this project, and when they told me that Matthew was attached and that Stephen was going to direct, I thought, “Oh my God, this is the perfect combination,” and then Stephen sat down with me here in New York around the time that I was doing Joy, and then we decided to do the movie.

LRM: I don’t know much about the actual Bre-X scandal on which this movie was based, but was Michael Acosta based on anyone in particular?

Ramirez: Both characters are based on real people. The real geologist was a Filipino guy named Guzman, but he was from the Philippines, and Kenny was this Canadian guy, but yeah, they’re based on real people. 

LRM: Did you do a lot of reading beyond the script?

Ramirez: Not really, because in the end, the approach was completely different. Also, the movie is almost complete focused on the characters and the characters were completely different, their motivations and the aspirations of the characters were completely different. I read a little bit, but I didn’t really get hung up too much on the real story, because I knew that it was not going to be a reconstruction of real events. It was going to be inspired by real events, but not a reconstruction.  It was not a biopic. 

LRM: The fact you’re playing a geologist, I assume you at least need to know something about the subject…

Ramirez: No, of course. I always do my homework, and for me, it’s very important to master as much as I can the universe of my character, so I need to feel comfortable in the language of the character, so to speak. Yeah, I did my research. I needed to understand the geology of gold mining on how to find gold and that each word I said, when I was talking about drilling, I needed to understand what drilling was about. What I discovered through my research is that in the end, regardless of all the science behind gold mining as a geologist, it’s a very instinctive process. There’s no way to know for sure where the vein is going to be. You never know for sure where the gold is going to be. You have some indicators and there are some methods that can suggest that maybe in this area there must be, but there’s a very epic element to it. When you walk with a stick and throw it through the ground, that’s pretty much how geologists do it, so it is a huge gamble to assemble all the money and put together the entire operation, because you can spend months and months and years and years and drill everywhere and not find anything. You can do all the tests and you can run all the tests, but where to drill and how to set-up the pattern of drilling is something really instinctive. So it’s incredible that something with so much science behind it, with so much technique and technology behind it, in the end, it’s like a chef… let’s put a little more or less salt.  

LRM: I’m always fascinated when I talk to actors about different roles, and what they do to research and prepare, because I feel you learn so much about a subject that you may only use for one movie or role but the knowledge is still in there.

Ramirez: Yeah, it stays with you. It’s great, and it’s one of the things I love the most about being an actor and doing what I do is that you live so many different lives in just one lifetime because of the experiences that you collect through your career. Now I know things about gold and mining that otherwise, I would never have known and it’s fascinating. 

LRM: One of the things I spoke to Stephen about was filming in Thailand, because shooting in the jungle seemed to be the dealbreaker for a lot of directors and actors over the years. You’re from Venezuela which I’m sure is pretty tropical so what was it like shooting there?

Ramirez: I’m used to that environment, and I’ve shot before in very remote and complicated locations, and I love it. I love it because when you shoot on location, it makes everything easier. It’s not easy for the production and it’s not easy for you physically, but performance-wise, it’s so much easier because you don’t have to imagine anything. You’re right in the thing and you just have to react to the environment. That really adds authenticity to the story and to your performance and that fascinates me, because it puts you right in the mindset that you need to pull the character through. I really like it.

LRM: You guys definitely looked hot and that you were sweating. That wasn’t acting.

Ramirez: No, no, we just changed the lines but we were there in the mud, we were there in the water, we were wrestling the elements. We were at the mercy of weather conditions of the complications and the difficulties of locations. We’re dealing with people whose language we didn’t understand. All the translations cut our time in half. It was great. I love that. That’s one of the things I love. When they tell me you’re going to shoot a movie in Paris, well that’s very nice but after two weeks, Paris is still beautiful, just like New York is amazing but I dunno…

LRM: You’re still going from the hotel to the set and back. 

Ramirez: Exactly, exactly! I prefer to be in far-flung locations.

LRM: What was it like working with Matthew on this? Does he stay in character once he gets into that mode?

Ramirez:  No, I think we all get into a very particular state of mind when we’re playing characters. I think there’s something definitely that gets attached to us, through the process, but I wouldn’t say that he stayed in Kenny when we weren’t shooting. I’m sure there were some things that stayed with him but not in an obvious manner. He goes very deep. He’s an amazing actor and he’s very courageous, and he knows no boundaries when it comes down to delving into his character’s world and that’s fascinating and very inspiring to see. I saw the whole process.

LRM: But he’s having a great second act. To go from some of the cheesy action movies and rom-coms he used to make to doing more serious roles

Ramirez: I think nothing happens in an isolated way. I think everything is somehow interconnected, and he’s always been a great actor, always, from the very beginning. I’ve always been a huge fan of Matthew, and of course, I’m very happy to see that many of the movie he’s doing right now, but he had a plan. I think that everything is playing out in a way he planned it.

LRM: So what’s your plan? You’ve been doing interesting roles like “Hands of Stone,” the Roberto Duran movie—I wish more people saw it…but also “Girl on the Train,” just really interesting movies….

Ramirez: Thank you.

LRM: Do you have that kind of plan where you know or is it a little more unknown? 

Ramirez: I don’t have a very specific plan, but I just want to make movies that I feel proud of, for whatever reason. I love to talk about my movies, because I’m proud of my movies, so I want to enjoy this process. Every time I do junkets and I do press, during the process of promoting a film is the most palpable proof that you made the right decision, when you enjoy it. I enjoy talking about my movies, because I love my movies. I’m proud of them, for very personal reasons. I mean, sometimes, there’s a very intimate, emotional connection, and sometimes it’s just out of curiosity. You want to delve into that world. You want to understand what the world is, but you need to do movies for the right reasons, so my plan is to try to work with amazing directors. I’m very old school, and the director is very important to me. I’m at the service of my director’s vision—I sign on to that. Of course, with great actors, regardless where in the world, so that’s pretty much my plan. 

LRM: You’re also doing a movie with David Ayer, is that next?

Ramirez: Yeah, shooting that now, it’s great. It’s called Bright.

LRM: Yeah, I’ve heard about this movie for some time that Will Smith was going to do. What can you tell me about it and who are you playing?

Ramirez: I think that it revolves around David’s all-time obsessions of police corruption and social tension and racial tension in Los Angeles, a city with a lot of contrasts, but in a parallel universe where you have elves and orcs and Ords and lizards.

LRM: That is definitely a bit of a departure for him.  Going back to this movie, your character Michael Acosta is an interesting counterpart to Kenny, who is a little shady. You feel that Michael is the good guy, so it’s surprising when there’s that last act turn and you find out the truth.

Ramirez: I know my truth and so does Matthew, but we decided not to share it. We know about what happened, but I think it’s part of the fun of the film not to hand everything over to the audience and for the audience to make conclusions. I think that it’s a beautiful story about friendship, and Michael Acosta and Kenny Wells are the most loyal friends that you can ever wish for. But of course, I totally agree with you that it was interesting to me as an actor to play a character that plays that very thin line. I’m never really revealing anything, so he’s a mystery in the adventure. You will never know if he was the mastermind or not of the entire operation, because actually, if you notice, Michael Acosta only exists in the reconstruction of events that Kenny tells the FBI, so you never know whether Michael Acosta in the real world or not. 

LRM: That goes way deeper than I ever imagined. How are you looking for roles and picking roles? Like I said, you’ve done a lot of interesting things. After “Carlos” are you trying to avoid being cast in those drug kingpin roles?

Ramirez: It’s not that I avoid them, ‘cause I don’t see my career as a checklist, like I played the terrorist, now I need to play the bureaucrat and then tomorrow I need to play the accountant. It’s just that there are certain colors that you respond to in certain moments in your life. I think that with Carlos, emotionally I cover a lot from that color, from that side of the spectrum. I don’t know. Probably in a couple of years, I’ll do another character in that side of the spectrum, when I’m ready to experience new things. Also, I was 31 and turned 32 when I shot Carlos. I’m going to be 40 this year, so I’m a new guy now, so I don’t know. Probably something like that might come my way or not, but the thing is that Carlos was such an amazing opportunity to explore darkness in such an extensive way that I think I squeezed all of that out of me and I don’t want to repeat myself. I don’t feel the urge to step into that world for now, but I don’t know. Probably I will in the future.

Gold opens nationwide on Friday, January 27.

LRM Interview with Director Stephen Gaghan

LRM Exclusives, Interviews, Featured, Film Edgar Ramirez, Gold, Matthew McConaughey