In The Liberator, Edgar Ramirez plays Simon Bolivar, the legendary Latin American political and military leader who helped lift the yoke of Spanish Colonialism in South America. Directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Alberto Arvelo, The Liberator is one of the most expensive Latin American films to date, and that price tag shows in the film’s enormous scope. It follows Bolivar’s transition from spoiled rich kid to revolutionary hero across decades and continents; featuring epic battles, magnificent aerial shots, and a magnetic performance from Ramirez.
Back in June I sat down for an exclusive interview with Ramirez while he was in town for the Los Angeles Film Festival. He talked about the challenge of taking on such an iconic character, balancing the line between historical accuracy and performance, and what it was like shooting a film with such a broad scope. He also talked about what to expect from the Point Break remake, the status of Errol Morris’s Holland, Michigan, and working with Robert De Niro on Hands of Stone. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: As an actor signing on to play such a legendary man and having such an abundant wealth of historical resources available to you, what was your research process like and how do you balance the line between honoring that history and creating a character?
EDGAR RAMIREZ: Yeah, it’s a very thin line. I tried, as with any other historic figure, I tried to collect as much information as possible and to read as much as I could, as many biographies as I could, and as many documents as I could in order to especially understand and political context of his time – the circumstances that preceded Bolivar, and also the circumstances that were taking place when he was becoming a man of his own, when he was creating his political, social, and philosophical views on the world in his time. For me it was very important to understand how the legacy of the Enlightenment, and also the repercussions of the American Revolution and then the French Revolution, that ultimately helped the Latin American Revolution to take place. It was very important to me to understand what was going on here, what was going on in Europe, how the Napoleonic Wars also had a major influence in the debilitation of the Spanish Empire and how that reflected on the Latin American continent, especially all the men and the generations of brilliant men all the way from Washington to Jefferson and all these guys leading up to Bolivar’s generation.
So it was very important for me to understand that background, because as you said, there can be many things said and written about Bolivar; how he was, how he behaved, the hobbies he had, everything, but in the end we’re doing a recreation of his life, so there’s no way – especially for a character where we don’t have any physical evidence, recordings of his voice or the way he moved, mannerisms. Even if we had we would not be imitating those, we would be recreating those. So yes, you take poetic and creative licenses, which is always the risk that you need to take when you make these kinds of movies. For me what was very important was to try to capture the essence that might have existed behind the myth, the human essence of the character.
RAMIREZ: It was a road movie. We had to go to many places. We mainly shot the movie in Venezuela and Spain, because many of the Latin American colonial capitols were made after some Spanish town that still exists. So In Spain we had it all. Instead of going to Quito, Bogota and Caracas, we just went to Spain and we found Quito, and Caracas, and all these capitols there, because they were colonies. For a movie this size, we only built two stages, the rest was on location and that was a great, great, great advantage because we could integrate the patina of time that you see on the walls, and the atmosphere, and the humidity. That all helps. That all helps to put you in that state of mind, to make you feel that you’re really in the past, that you’re traveling in time, and that was very important because we wanted to make an epic movie, but a Latin American epic movie. We wanted it to have the passion, and the color, and the poetry, and the magic realism that is one of the most important traits of our culture, especially in literature, and one of our most important aesthetic contributions to the world. We tried to reflect that on the movie.
While I have you here, I have to touch on a couple other things. I have to ask about the Point Break remake.
RAMIREZ: Of course.
RAMIREZ: Always. I cannot believe that I’m making that movie. It’s almost magic, the whole thing. I remember I would always joke among my friends about a remake of Point Break. I would say, “You know what? Whenever there’s a remake of Point Break, I’m going to do it.” But since it’s such a California movie, and especially the role of Bodhi was such a California rooted character, I thought I would not be the first choice for it. Then the fact that the movie was offered to me, because it’s taking on a world scale, and it’s precisely Bodhi, the character that I always wanted to play. I remember when I first met Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty—actually we met for another movie and that never got made, and then she called me and invited me to Zero Dark Thirty. I remember when we first met the first thing I said was, “You have no idea the magnitude of the influence that Point Break has had on me and my friends and my generation,” and I went on about how much I love it, and what I know, and all that. Then suddenly making that movie now, it’s pure magic.
I’m very, very happy. I’m very happy, because we’re not going to copy the movie, it’s a different story, but it keeps the subversive aspect—the subversion, the anti-system, the breaking out, the breaking free spirit of the first one; that’s what we’re going to try to definitely be faithful to that spirit—that you can take charge, that you can be in control, that you can think out of the box and you can reject the system and try to live on the grid, but on your own terms. So that’s pretty much the spirit, but it’s definitely not going to be—it is a remake in the terms that you have Utah and you have Bodhi and you have that spirit, but it goes beyond surfing and it’s a story that happens in today’s time. So I’m the first huge fan of Point Break and of course I will make sure that I protect its legacy.
RAMIREZ: Three weeks.
Oh my goodness, it’s right upon you.
RAMIREZ: Yeah, right upon me.
I can’t wait to see some footage.
RAMIREZ: Oh my God, I’m so excited. I just came back from Germany where we’re doing all the rehearsals and preparation, and I love the group of guys put together; people from all over the world, from Sweden, from Germany, from Norway, from Australia, it’s fantastic, from Venezuela – me. I’m very happy.
What’s the status on Holland, Michigan? Is that something that’s still happening?
RAMIREZ: Yeah, it is happening. It is happening sometime next year, I guess. That is also something that keeps me very, very excited. Errol Morris is one of my favorite directors and the fact that he is willing to do a second feature film I’m very, very excited about it.
He’s such a renowned documentarian, has he talked to you about why he’s excited to make this feature?
RAMIREZ: Because it is a great story, and also aesthetically has a lot of possibilities. And he’s a true artist, he’s a visual artist. His documentaries are amazing beyond how well written they are and the type of subjects that obsess him; it’s how he visually tells those stories. It’s very different from the conventional documentary that you watch out there. And that is great. If you can translate that into a feature, that visual imagery that he has, it’s very exciting.
Just beyond working with him, what was it about the script that you liked?
I also wanted to ask about Hands of Stone, and I mean dude, working with De Niro…
What’s that like?
RAMIREZ: What can I tell you? Exactly what you feel [laughs]. Imagine having Raging Bull on your corner as your trainer, this legendary American boxing trainer Ray Arcel. It was fantastic. It was such a humbling and transformative experience. It was revelatory. I mean, to work with him, such a nice, generous guy – curious, avid. He’s going to live forever just out of his career, his sensitivity and his interest in exploring the human condition. And such a generous person, both as a person and as an actor. And of course to be with him in a boxing movie – I mean, he starred in one of the most legendary boxing movies in history and playing one of the most legendary boxers of all time as Roberto Duran, it was really a project that means a lot to me on so many levels.
Do you have any idea when we might see a trailer or some footage?
RAMIREZ: I think next year, probably.