Edgar Ramirez has a propensity for observation which cannot be contained. At any given point in time, the Venezuelan actor and quintessential humanist is teeming with a mélange of passion, enthusiasm, and curiosity. It’s a subtle and hypnotic intensity, as if he is on a constant quest for understanding something far greater than himself; an intrinsic philosopher masquerading as a big-screen star for the sake of art and genuine human exploration.
“Even now, while I’m talking to you, I’m looking closely at people all around me, which is something I do as often as possible,” Ramirez says, sitting in a bustling Caracas café in his home country. The image is, in many ways, a screenshot of his character, the man who never ceases to be fascinated by the pulsating world around him. “Observation is a very important process that you have to exercise constantly.”
As the star of the heavily-acclaimed biopic Carlos, the disturbing yet captivating five-hour-plus portrait of infamous terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (aka “Carlos the Jackal”) and boasting a filmography that includes notable films like The Bourne Ultimatum, Che, and the upcoming spring release Wrath of the Titans, Ramirez escapes any hint of predictability with his roles. And being that he’s still at a burgeoning stage in his career, the lack of algorithmic predispositions to certain genres and caricatures makes it an exciting journey to watch. “I never had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do, in terms of if I wanted to work in Hollywood, or in Europe, or in a specific type of cinema,” he explains. “For me, it’s more that I want to be able to be in movies as a career and have different experiences. And I would love to have the opportunity to have my movies shown in as many territories as possible.”
It’s a worldly sensibility that stems largely from his globetrotting upbringing. As the son of a military officer, Ramirez crossed continents often, living in countries such as Austria, Colombia, Canada, Italy and Mexico. Fluency in five languages and an elastic lifestyle adapted to constant motion ensued. “You develop the ability to adapt to a new set of rules and to a new playground,” he says of the experience, which he calls an amazing privilege. “Traveling changes my views on life and on the world we live in. Not that it gives me all the answers, but I think it encourages me to keep raising questions about who we are as human beings.”
That inherent interest in human nature was essentially the reason Ramirez studied communication and journalism at University in Venezuela, with a diplomatic or international peacekeeping vocation being his primary aspiration. Yet his trajectory shifted to acting after a chance meeting with famed Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, steward of movies like Babel and 21 Grams, who was invited to a short film festival Ramirez and friends were involved in at school. Ramirez’s talent for acting, playing in the ironically titled film, Iñárritu, was undeniable to audiences. Iñárritu immediately saw the potential and even offered him a role in what would become the award-winning film Amores Perros. “He came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know you were an actor.’ And I said to him, ‘I didn’t know either.’ It caught me by surprise, since I never expected to be an actor. I just got lucky.”
While Ramirez respectfully declined the offer due to obligations and constraints with his studies, when Amores Perros became an international sensation, he reconsidered his decision and finally decided to try his luck in front of the camera. “It was an opportunity to live through a different mind and body to try and understand the contradictions of the world we live in,” Ramirez explains. “It’s what I call the most buoyant way of trying to explore human nature and to see all the sides of the human condition.” And whether playing characters with dependency issues or multi-layered villains and guerillas, he delves into the guises and circumstances of his characters with unadulterated intentions: to observe their various realties with empathy and new eyes, and to stimulate audiences to do the same.
“For me there are no censors. When I dive into character, I don’t know any other way to do it than to connect very deeply with these personalities. And that involves risk,” he says, particularly recalling the intense immersion for his role in Carlos. Edgar was so “emotionally altered” when the seven-month shoot was complete that he even chose to undergo therapy to help disengage. “All of [my characters’] emotions have been in my mind and in my system. I’m the instrument for those emotions to manifest. And sometimes that has effects, that has consequences. And I don’t really know how to protect myself from it.”
It’s no surprise that the same commitment and discipline Ramirez applies to his acting translates just as effortlessly to his involvement with various charities. In what he calls a union of his two biggest interests in life, the world of the arts and humanitarian causes, Ramirez feels obliged to use the media attention he garners to support far greater causes. “Especially coming from Latin America, a part of the world where so many things need to be healed, aided and confronted, it was clear to use whatever notoriety that I have to give a voice to causes that need it,” he says. “Having access to media is a huge privilege in this world, and I think that it should be used in a way that could help others. Access to media implies social responsibility.” From involvement with Amnesty International, working to raise awareness about irresponsible gun use and preventable violence, to being a spokesperson for Senosalud (a breast cancer organization) and a Goodwill Ambassador advocating children’s rights, he takes that responsibility very seriously.
But it doesn’t stall there. The astute, hard-hitting journalist inside Ramirez will fire thoughtfully at everything from the state of journalism and objectivity to the alarming and ever-escalating social gap in the world. “The worst thing about poverty is not a lack of things, it’s a lack of hope. The inability to dream that you can become something; to be invisible,” he says, noting that there’s a sense that the entire planet is on its way to becoming a Third World country if the disparity between the rich and poor isn’t amended.
“Some people are making money out of speculation; making money out of nothing. That can’t be right. So of course we reached the point where we exploded,” Ramirez retorts when asked about movements like Occupy Wall Street. He is keen on noting that ultimately, the solution must start on a grassroots level. “No government has ever had all the answers. So not only the leaders of the world, but we all need to focus and see how we can, in our own niche and through our own activities, do something to make it better. Because that’s where the politics really start. It’s not the President, not the leaders; they start in your neighborhood, in your streets. You get together with your five, six neighbors and you think of something that is common to all of you, that’s a political act. And that’s the beauty of politics, the highest social science for me: politics understood as a debate amongst people who are trying to reach a solution for common problems.”
With his priorities in order and a humility that is matched by intellect, it’s no surprise Ramirez dismisses the notion of any legacy being left behind at this point in his career.
“I’m just trying to make it through the day and make the best I can of every day,” he says. “I try to keep my senses very open and keep learning. Every time you think you understand something, something new comes along. And that’s what I think life is: to try and grasp the most unattainable answers. But it’s worth the journey, it’s worth the search.”