This Is How You Train to Play a Boxing Legend

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We go behind the scenes with Édgar Ramírez to learn how he prepped for playing Roberto Durán in Hands of Stone in this exclusive featurette.

Actors—the good ones, anyway—develop a character by first psychologically spelunking, studying the words on the page to find a deeper meaning, a psychic truth. Once that skeletal structure is built, they begin layering on the muscle, veins, skin and flab of mannerisms, verbal tics, social skills, and affectations that make a character come alive on screen. Some call this Method acting, others just call it acting. And this is how Venezuelan-born actor Édgar Ramírez has approached every one of his roles. But not this time. Not for Hands of Stone, in which he plays Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Durán opposite Robert DeNiro. For that role, he had to undergo transform from the outside in.

“In order to understand the mindset of a boxer, I needed to become a boxer myself,” Ramírez says. “I couldn’t even start the process of understanding Durán without my own physical transformation.”

So before he spent any time crafting his portrayal of Durán, he relocated to Panama—a country of just under four million that has produced twenty-nine world-champion boxers—for more than five months to train at La Cuadra de los Rockeros (translation: The Block of the Rockers), a legendary gym in Panama City. Holed up, with nothing to do but push his body to limits he didn’t think possible, Ramírez altered his body so that he could then alter his mind.

ESQ: Before this film, how much experience did you have with boxing?

Édgar Ramírez: This was my first time. The whole process was completely new.

What about scuffles when you were a kid?

I always stood my ground with bullies. I would not take shit from anyone. My father was military so I traveled a lot, so I had 13 to 15 first days in new schools. Bullies transcend culture, unfortunately, and I had to deal with them wherever I went. I knew how to defend myself. But I didn’t know how to fight.

So when [director] Jonathan Jakbowicz offered me the role, he said, “It would be great if you could move to Panama and train with Panamanian trainers.” I was more than happy to do that.

Did you prep before heading down?

I waited. It was better to be a clean canvas. Panamanian boxing is unique—it’s very musical. It’s almost like a dance. It has a lot to do with being in the Caribbean, and with salsa. When you see a Panamanian boxer, there’s a style. There’s a playfulness in the way you throw the punches.

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