Working with Nic was a ‘lifelong dream’
When Edgar Ramirez turned up to his first day of shooting opposite Nicole Kidman on the fantastic new HBO thriller, The Undoing, he thought he might be dreaming. Literally.
"It's been a lifelong dream of mine to work with Nicole," the actor says over Zoom from his home in Panama.
"Way before I even decided to become an actor, she had always been one of my favourite actors.
"I think she's one of the finest actors in cinema - not just contemporary cinema, but I'm talking in the history of cinema."
"She's so inspiring and generous, and to be given the opportunity to work with her on such a good story, and have such intense scenes together, has been a beautiful experience.
"It was a dream for me."
On screen, however, things are infinitely less chummy between the two.
In the nailbiting drama, Kidman's wealthy Upper East Side psychologist, Grace Fraser, and Ramirez's downtown Latino cop, Joe Mendoza, are at vastly different ends of Manhattan's professional and social spectrum.
They wind up in each other's orbit after the mother of a scholarship student at the fancy school Grace's son attends ends up brutally murdered.
Throw in a wonderfully rejuvenated Hugh Grant as Grace's oncologist husband, a towering Donald Sutherland as Grace's wealthy dad and a fantastic Lily Rabe as Grace's BFF and the show is so utterly compelling and bingeworthy, you'll be furious that HBO and Binge are only rolling out episodes weekly. It's that good.
Ramirez says he didn't have to look far for inspiration to play a cop. The 43-year-old, who grew up in Venezuela, was an investigative journalist before becoming an actor, and says there are many parallels between the two professions.
"The person who's always asking questions, who's always being suspicious of people, who's not taking anything for granted and is always eager to find out more and to somehow speculate about what people are telling him or trying to tell him … to get to whatever the truth is," he says.
Ramirez says he takes a similar approach when portraying real people, and it's paid off.
"There's definitely an inquisitive element that is common to journalists and actors; we always want to find out more and we aspire to get as close to the truth as possible."
His award-winning turn as the notorious Venezuelan terrorist Carlos Ramirez in the 2010 miniseries Carlos the Jackal won him a French Cesar Award, plus Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, placing him on Hollywood's radar.
But his stunning performance as murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story in 2018 was a revelation (he was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy).
"There's always something that's hidden (within people) and that doesn't mean that it's dark and bad-ugly necessarily; it just means that it's hidden and not revealed," Ramirez says. "It's your job to try and find an angle and that's what I try and do with my characters as well. I don't perceive my characters as good or bad - there's a mix and contradictions, and that's more human and interesting.
"I like portraying complicated people that are not easy to pin down."
Sometimes, though, he gets a bit close to the bone when portraying people who are still "alive and kicking, for better or worse".
Ramirez recalls when the real Carlos, from in his jail cell, had a French magazine publish a menacing letter directly addressing Ramirez, after becoming furious at the actor's portrayal of him.
"We share the same last name and he tried to make it look like we were related as family, saying that I was betraying the honour of the Ramirez name and legacy," the actor recalls. "It was a very manipulative letter. I was younger at the time so, of course, it was pretty impactful.
"The most infamous terrorist in the world at the time - before Osama bin Laden - addressed a public letter to me under my name accusing me of all this nonsense, so that was pretty challenging at the time. But really it was all about money; he wanted money."
What he is buoyed by is a growing Latino presence on film and TV.
"People ask me, 'Aren't you afraid you're going to be pigeonholed into playing Latino characters?'. And I'm like, 'Well, where do I come from … Ireland?'," Ramirez laughs.
"To see more and more Latino characters in our media beyond the stereotypes, that's what's important - to fight off the stereotypes.
"And we see this happening on screen now. It's a beautiful thing."
The Undoing is now streaming on Binge
Originally published as Working with Nic was a 'lifelong dream'