When I got the assignment to interview Édgar Ramírez for his small but key role in Zero Dark Thirty, I jumped at the chance. I respected this actor immensely for what he brought to the title character of Carlos the Jackal in the miniseries Carlos (2011). I caught that film as a marathon cinematic five-and-a-half-hour experience at the Bill Cosford Cinema on the University of Miami Coral Gables campus. I came for the filmmaking of Olivier Assayas but was blown away by the performance by Ramírez.
Though an hour late to start, the low-key but charming Ramírez made the resulting round table interview with a group of five other local journalists a pleasure. The resulting piece was published early yesterday morning for the “Miami New Times” Arts and Entertainment blog “Cultist.” I think the story I wrote up captures the subtle intelligence and charm of this talented man. Read it by jumping though the blog’s logo here:
Of course, plenty more information was covered, so allow this blog post to stand as a supplement to the above piece. I was interested in the working relationship between director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, as much has been about the writer’s constant presence on the set (here’s a great “Hollywood Reporter” article about it).
“He was always around,” Ramírez confirmed of Boal. “He’s very involved. It was a huge privilege to have the writer there, in case we needed to change something, in case a line was not working. Then, you could always discuss it with the writer, so it’s always very helpful, and you don’t get that privilege very often to have the writer on set. For me, it was very helpful also because it was a very fast-changing situation, and also because of the location we were at, the tension that was there because of the stakes, then we had to change and re-shape things as we were shooting, so it was great to have that.”
Ramírez also noted Boal’s producer credit, a rare thing for a writer to achieve in a Hollywood picture. However, Ramírez said, Bigelow had a firm hand on the visual elements and working with actors. “She’s directing. She’s directing the movie. She’s directing the actors, and Mark is there to support as a producer and to support as a writer when we needed him for something … There are certain things that look great on paper, then, for some reason, they don’t get to fully work on a scene, so it is great to have someone who understands, who has an overview of the whole script, who can tell you, ‘Well, this is what you should say because everything was related to something in other places of the script.’ Sometimes you can improvise things on movies, you get stuck, then you improvise, but in a movie like this, so accurate and based on firsthand accounts, you could not take the liberty of just changing one term for another.”
Another good question worth noting, which circled back to his role of playing Carlos the Jackal, is how the film handles history. He offered a very astute observation that too many take for granted while watching what is ultimately entertainment. In my review of the film (‘Zero Dark Thirty’ brings obsession with elusive truth to vivid light) I link to an interview with Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and editor of “The Torture Papers.” She argues that history remains unclear on how fruitful torture was for crucial information in the tracking of Osama bin Laden. Yet one of the reasons the film has received so much heat for the torture scenes is that they result in the first utterance of the name Abu Ahmed, bin Laden’s courier, who ultimately leads CIA operatives, including the character Ramírez plays, to bin Laden’s hideout.
Though, again, more information can be found in the “Cultist” piece on how he felt about the torture scenes of Zero Dark Thirty, Ramírez put the narrative into perspective: “We were recreating reality. It’s impossible to reconstruct reality. It happened once. What you do is re-interpret, you recreate, and that’s what you try to do. Even if you have the person who lived it, the person who did it next to you, that happens just once, and I know this. I’m familiar with this because of Carlos. We also had first account information, very accurate research and navigation of facts, and however, it was a work of fiction. There’s no way to imitate reality because it’s not about imitation, it’s about realization.”
So, ultimately, remember, it’s just a movie.