Directed by Alberto Arvelo and written by Timothy J. Sexton, The Liberator introduces us to Simon Bolivar, the military and political leader who played a key role in Latin America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire in the 1800s. Bolivar was said to have fought over 100 battles in South America and ridden over 70,000 miles on horseback. But while his military campaigns covered twice the territory of Alexander the Great, he and his army were liberators instead of conquerors.
Playing Simon Bolivar in The Liberator is Edgar Ramirez, who is best known for his roles in Carlos, Domino, The Bourne Ultimatum and Zero Dark Thirty. We watch as Ramirez takes Bolivar from being the son in a rich family to becoming a man who finds a renewed sense of purpose when he joins the growing colonial revolt against the Spanish crown.
Recently, I had the chance to sit down for an exclusive interview with Ramirez while he was in Los Angeles, California promoting the film. He spoke of how he came to know about Bolivar, the challenges he faced in portraying him, and much more.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
When was the first time that you became aware of who Simon Bolivar was?
Edgar Ramirez: Since I was a kid. I can’t remember exactly the moment. Bolivar’s legacy has always been a part of the Venezuelan/Latin American imagery, especially in the countries that he liberated or he helped to liberate. He’s been a very prominent figure. There are avenues with his name, schools which had a subject about his life, his picture has been in all schools and official offices, and there’s a square in every Venezuelan/Latin American town and villages with his name on it. The main square will be called Bolivar square or Plaza Bolivar. So yeah, he’s pretty much been around.
Every country has that one person that the people need to know about.
Edgar Ramirez: Yeah, it’s like (George) Washington here. He’s on the money, and Bolivar’s face is also on Venezuelan money. He’s a very present figure.
What was the biggest challenge for you in playing Simon Bolivar?
Edgar Ramirez: Well precisely, to deal with the omnipresence of Bolivar because the omnipresence normally has the consequence of the result of making characters become inter-dimensional in a way. That was the main challenge, to try to discover the human essence that might have assisted behind the myth and not let the historic weight, and my own personal expectations and my friends’ expectations and my country’s expectations to get in the way of pulling off a multilayered performance and trying to be a multilayered character.
You had talked about the weight of Bolivar and how you wanted to keep that from affecting your interpretation of the role. How did you manage to do that?
Edgar Ramirez: Just trying to walk into the movie with an open mind and being very conscious that we all are capable of… We all have light and darkness inside of us. We all have a luminous side and a dark side, and things are never black and white. That, for me, is an intellectual seed. It’s not possible to analyze social or human phenomena through completely aesthetic black and white lenses. That does not exist, and I tried to keep that attitude up every time I walk into a movie, especially when I’m portraying a historical figure.
Of course, I did my homework as well as I could, reading as many biographies as possible and as many documents that were available to me as possible, and I tried to especially understand the social and political context that preceded Bolivar and also the political and social context that the circumstances occurred and were taking place while Bolivar was shaping his world views and his philosophy and his political and social views.
It was very important to understand how the American Revolution and then the French Revolution and the consequence of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and all those world events had an influence on Bolivar’s time and on Bolivar himself. So to me it was very important, and then I just poured all that reading and analyzing into the fantastic multilayered character that Timothy Sexton had written. I was also very lucky to have such a sensitive writer who already understood and grabbed the complexity of this man.
You have played a number of real-life characters in movies like Carlos and Domino. How was it playing Bolivar compared to playing Carlos?
Ramirez: You can find similarities. One that comes to my mind is the fact that they are both very cerebral and very intellectual, but at the same time, they are military strategists with very different results and very different legacies in the world. They responded to different times, and then of course the stature of Bolivar is almost unmatchable. Very few human beings can compare to the size and the magnitude of his quest and what he accomplished and what he achieved for future generations.
I think that Bolivar was a perfect combination of the strong military strategist and a strong man with a world-class man of his state, and that is a very rare combination. Normally you have a brilliant military or you have a brilliant statesman and Bolivar was both, and that was very interesting for me to play. And again I walked into both of them with an open mind.
When I started to do Carlos I wanted to find… Carlos is a character that, at first glance, is considered a bad guy by most of the people, so I tried to find the light in Carlos. Bolivar is considered a saint and a good guy by most people, and I wanted to find also the contradiction within Bolivar. So that is the most simplistic way that I can say that the main difference is. You want to try to find the stain, and in the other you want to try to find the light.
You also had to change her physical appearance quite a bit to look more like Bolivar. How did that affect your performance?
Edgar Ramirez: Well there’s an iconic image of Bolivar that I don’t look at all like. And who knows really how Bolivar looks? Most of those portraits were painted 40 years after he died, so probably he looked more like the painter or like the prototype of beauty and power and of the time. So for us it was very important to try to capture the image.
Who really looked like Alexander the Great? Who really looked like Jesus? Did he really look like Jim Caviezel? Did he really look like Colin Farrell, Alexander the Great? It doesn’t matter. I think it’s about capturing the essence and trying to re-create a world that would allow people to travel back in time and experience a time that was different and where motivations were romantic. I think that’s the whole inspiration when you make movies; you want people to be removed and to go away for a while and get to know different places, different moments in time and different motivations and also try to learn something and look back at their lives in a different way.
- Felicitaciones @libertadorfilm Ganador por el público festival internacional de cine fine arts @festivalfineart
- Review: ‘The Liberator’ is a compelling primer on Simon Bolivar – LA Times
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