Edgar Ramirez talks Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow is back in a big way with Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Senators and the CIA have both issued statements claiming that Zero Dark Thirty is “grossly inaccurate,” and there has been opposition to the film’s depiction of torture-for-information. However, none of this controversy overshadows the fact that this film is a great story wonderfully told by Bigelow and screenplay writer Mark Boal.
Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA officer whose focus is solely on intelligence related to Osama bin Laden two years after his attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. For seven years, Maya tracks down America’s Most Wanted Fugitive throughout the Middle East.
Edgar Ramirez plays Larry, a CIA SAD Ground Branch Operator who helps Maya collect intelligence regarding one of bin Laden’s rumored couriers. Ramirez spoke to The Reel Story about the contentious response to the film, working with Bigelow, and the research he performed in preparation for the role.
AG: First of all, I loved this movie, but there is no denying that it was pretty heavy. I was exhausted when it was over, but I think that’s a good thing. It has also stirred up a lot of controversy. What are your thoughts on the critical response to this film?
ER: I think the reaction this movie has received was completely expected and somewhat normal. First of all, we’re talking about very current history. It’s streamlining historic events for the past 10 years. It’s living history. It’s also because of the very personal relationship that everybody on this planet has with the events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001 and after that. After Sept. 11, everybody’s lives on this planet were changed forever. Our lives will never be the same as they were before Osama bin Laden orchestrated the attacks on the Twin Towers. So it is completely normal that this movie has generated so much controversy, contradicting points of view, and speculation, because it is a movie that doesn’t, in my opinion, establish a unique point of view to the story. I think that this movie, in a very honest way, presents different points of view and different angles to the story for over a decade. It shows either one point of view or the other, but never both at the same time.
AG: I felt like Kathryn Bigelow did such an amazing job maneuvering through those points of view. So what was it like working with her?
ER: Yeah. It was incredible. She was so clever and so honest navigating through the facts in the most open and direct conscientious way that you could ever imagine. This movie in the wrong hands could have been a total disaster. It is so easy to take the risk when you tell stories where there are “good guys” and “bad guys.” It is so easy to just lean towards one or the other. This movie doesn’t try to set up an opinion but simply tells the audience, “This is what happened, and this is what you should think about what happened.” I think that the movie, why it’s so disturbing and difficult to watch for some people, is that it puts the ball in the audience’s court, for them to decide what to make of these events. That is a very smart but difficult thing to do.
AG: Obviously this movie is about a story that was shrouded in mystery for quite a while. What kind of preparation did you do for this role when you found out you were going to be a part of this movie?
ER: I tried to get acquainted with and tried to get as much information as possible about the events surrounding the tracking of Osama bin Laden, and all the different traits, routines, and layers of my character’s activity. My character’s a CIA Ground Branch Officer, in charge of ground surveillance and blending in in order to collect information and data from the locals in the field. Of course there is a lot I cannot disclose because of all of the legal restrictions and secrecy surrounding this movie, but it was definitely interesting to me to get as close as possible to the heart of this character. It’s based on a real character, but his name in the film is fictional. I tried to emphasize on the ability to disappear, to become invisible. That’s the main trait that the officers in this particular activity are requested to exercise.
AG: Looking at your body of work, there are a lot of politically-charged films and action films. Are these kinds of films something you look for?
ER: I haven’t really figured out how this secret dance between actors and their characters really works. I think it’s a secret dance. I don’t know if it’s us who look for them or if it’s them who find us. We can’t escape from our obsessions. What I do believe is that the mechanics of politics, exercise of politics, it is the perfect field for the true colors of human nature to be revealed. I think you really know who a person is once they are faced with power and the exercise of power. In the exercise of politics are where the true colors shine through and the real contradictions shine through. That’s what I look for in characters. I look for contradictions. In politics, there are so many good people who do horrible things and so many bad people who sometimes do good things. For me, it is very interesting as an actor to explore this type of character. The world of politics offers an amazing opportunity to find those characters.
AG: I read that you actually worked as a journalist in college, so if you had been a journalist here in the U.S. from 2001 to 2011, what questions would you have been asking? Do you think some of those questions were answered, or at least touched on, in this film?
ER: I mean, we could discuss this for hours, but one of the things that really caught my attention was reading the script. The fact that normally you would think about organizations like the CIA or the FBI or MI-6, etc, as very compact, united organizations, and what I realized in this film is how bureaucratic they are. You see how much dealing and negotiating people need to undertake in order to do their job. That really caught my attention. I would think they were all working together chasing one goal and being completely united towards one objective. In fact, they’re very defunct or dislocated in a way. That is what I found to be very interesting. That is the nature of us as human beings, always having contradicting goals. On the other hand, the fact that a woman was the main pusher for this entire operation was very revelatory to me. Normally, due to prejudices and stereotypes, the way they handle involvement of women in politics and the military, it was great to see how it was a woman who pursued the undertaking of this operation. That was, for me, very interesting.
AG: So what’s up next for you, and do you have anything else the readers should know about this movie that I haven’t mentioned?
ER: I just think it would be great for everyone to go and have their own experience with the film. In terms of my next project, this year, an epic based on Simon Bolivar, the Latin American independence hero, I have the privilege to portray him. It is the biggest Latin American production today, and the first project I did after Zero Dark Thirty. There are also several other movies that will be announced for me in the next month or so.