Director Alberto Arvelo’s The Liberator hits select theaters this Friday, delivering the true story of Simon Bolivar who, at the turn of the 19th Century, overcame tremendous loss, rising to become one of the most influential political leaders in history, dedicating his life to Latin America’s fight for independence from the Spanish Empire.
ComingSoon.net caught up with leading man Edgar Ramirez to discuss his multi-faceted approach to realizing Bolivar for the film (on which Ramirez also serves as executive producer). What’s more, Ramirez updates us on the upcoming Point Break, explaining his surprisingly long history with the role of Bodhi (played by Patrick Swayze in the original) and how he felt it was important before signing on to get the blessing of Kathryn Bigelow (who he worked with on Zero Dark Thirty).
CS: You’re more involved in this one than just being an actor. You executive produced “The Liberator” as well. Where did the whole process start for you?
Edgar Ramirez: Well, it began with the dream of a very dear friend of mine, Alberto Arvelo. He set out to put this movie together. He’s the motor and the heart of this project. I got actively involved in it about four years ago when he first brought to me the possibility of playing Simon Bolivar. He invited me to help and I was helping him, which is how I became executive producer. I wanted to put any ability I had into service for the movie.
CS: What was the biggest surprise to learn about Bolivar that you didn’t know about him before signing on?
Ramirez: Well, there many suprises! All the way from discovering that Bolivar was a great dancer–He enjoyed music very, very much, both just listening to it and dancing to it–to the fact that he suffered an amazing personal loss in his life. His father died when he was two. His mother died when he was nine. Then he went to live with an uncle, who also died. His older brother died. Then, finally, when he got married at the early age of 18, less than a year later, his wife died. This was a guy who had to go through a lot of personal loss. He probably suffered from deep abandonment issues, which ultimately had a huge influence on his entire life and the cost of liberty. I always wondered throughout the process what would have happened if, for example, his wife never died. Would Bolivar have still dedicated his entire life to the fight for independence or would he have just stayed a wealthy man with his wife and children. That’s something that always comes up in my mind. What we might call minor or random event often have major influence over the course of history.
CS: There’s also a big part of “The Liberator” that explores tragedy as being one of the ultimate defining moments.
Ramirez: Tragedy, exactly. There’s nothing more random than death by an illness or death by an accident. It’s truly random. Bolivar was surrounded for 30 years with all sorts of random death in his life. It definitely shaped his emotional theme and, combined with the turbulent world events that were taking place at the time. The Napoleonic Wars and the influences of the French and American Revolutions in the Spanish colonies all made for an explosive combination for Bolivar.
CS: How much research is required just in stepping back in time to play a character whose everyday life, even under the best of circumstances, is so very different from people’s lives today?
Ramirez: It’s definitely an act of creation, speculation and imagination. You have to have respect for the human condition, which is filled with contradictions and grey areas. We tried to keep that in mind throughout the entire process. That was something that Tim Sexton tried to keep in mind while writing the script. Bolivar is a character with a lot of complexities and a lot of contradictions, which is precisely what makes us human. Important figures like Bolivar or George Washington or Ghandi — any historical figure of influence — we have the tendency to turn them into these unattainable characters. These men of unattainable stature. Our goal was to look at and explore the human actions that might have been behind all those men. The study of history helps us to dismantle myth. To melt it down and to try and touch the humanity behind the paintings and the statues. I tried, with this movie, to do my homework as thoroughly as possible. I tried to read as many biographies as possible and rented many, many documentaries, especially to understand the zeitgeist and the spirit of the time. I wanted to understand the popular world views of the time so I could roll them into the character and my performance. I try to not let that historic weight and pressure get in the way of the performance.
CS: With “The Liberator” under your belt, what’s next for you?
Ramirez: Honestly, I just try to stay open. I have a feeling about what I want to do, but I try not to make it too specific. I want to be specific enough that I have some sort of direction, but I also want to stay as general as I can so that I can be surprised with whatever comes along. Right now I’m finishing “Hands of Stone,” based on the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran. I was privileged to work with Robert De Niro as my trainer. It’s helpful to have “Raging Bull” in your corner. That was an amazing privilege, receiving such generosity, both professionally and personally from Robert De Niro. He’s an amazing person. Then I’m doing the remake of “Point Break,” which is something completely different, but also explores the extremes of the human condition.
CS: Is “Point Break” a very physically demanding role? I know the studio has been touting the stunt sequences.
Ramirez: Yeah! I’m finishing becoming a boxer so that I may begin the process of becoming a surfer and climber. It’s great! It’s just fantastic. It’s the privilege of this craft that I have the honor of exercising. You do what you love and you make a living out of it.
CS: Is there a particular character or type of character that you’ve always wanted to play? A dream project that you hope to tackle one day?
Ramirez: You know? I always wanted to play Bodhi! It was really a teenage fantasy of mine. It’s not random at all. I always dreamed of doing a remake of “Point Break.” I never expected it to actually happen, though! “Point Break” is such a Californian story and the characters were so rooted in California. I never thought it would come my way. I would always joke with my friends, who were also all fans of the first movie. With the first movie, we’d always play and joke around about doing a remake and playing Bodhi. When I sat down with Kathryn Bigelow before signing on for “Zero Dark Thirty,” the first thing I told her was, “I love you and you have no idea how influential ‘Point Break’ was on me and my friends. My admiration for you goes way, way back.” Then we went on and on talking about “Point Break.” The first thing I did when I got the offer was to call Kathryn. “What do you think?” I asked. “I want your blessing.” She said, “Do it! Come on, you’re going to be great!” I need the permission of the Godmother. So I called the Godmother and she said, “You’ve got my blessing!”
CS: Recently you’ve been all over the map as far as genre. Is having a mixture of projects important for you?
Ramirez: It is, but not out of a checklist. I’m not going, “I played a terrorist, so now I’ve got to play a bureaucrat.” Not at all. It’s just a mixture of curiosity. It’s how the material speaks to me. The first movie that really traumatized me as a kid and messed with my mind was “The Exorcist.” When I did “Deliver Us From Evil,” I was, at one point, going, “Why did I put myself through this! I’m sleeping with my lights on and my TV on because I’m afraid. I’m completely scared.” Then I realized that’s exactly why I picked that movie. To confront some childhood fears I had. You’ll find that really great horror movies aren’t actually about what they seem to be about. “Deliver Us From Evil” is about forgiveness and compassion and the role they play in our lives. It’s all about how the material speaks to me.
The Liberator arrives in theaters in a limited release October 3.
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