DID YOU READ

Edgar Ramírez Gets To Know “Carlos”

Edgar Ramírez Gets To Know “Carlos” (photo)

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Edgar Ramírez surprised me. At the beginning of our interview, I asked him what the most challenging aspect was of playing Ilich Ramírez Sánchez — a.k.a. the infamous terrorist Carlos the Jackal — in director Olivier Assayas new three-part, five-and-a-half hour mini-series “Carlos.” Given the massive scale of this project, I figured he would have no shortage of logistical problems to choose from: speaking in five different languages for the role, shooting in half a dozen countries, recreating massive terrorist operations including bombings and airplane hijackings on a less-than-blockbuster budget, or gaining a De Niro-esque amount of weight to portray the Carlos of his later years.

Ramírez mentioned none of those things. Instead, the most difficult part for him was wrapping his head around the character’s morality: his masochism, misogyny, and especially, his willingness to kill people for a political cause. “For me,” he said, “no ideological or political conviction would justify the sacrifice of a human life.  For me, the value of life is absolute, with no concessions.  It’s not negotiable.  But for this character, and a lot of the characters in this movie, it’s different.  You can negotiate with life.  And there’s sort of a taxonomy of the value of life: some lives are worth less and some lives are worth more.  And I had to struggle with that idea.”

Ramírez’s answer speaks to his approach to the character and to Assayas’ approach to the film as a whole, which is not to valorize or criminalize Carlos, but to try to understand what motivates a person like him to take the actions he took. Their success at getting under the man’s skin, unlocking his secrets, is what makes “Carlos” such a fascinating movie (or miniseries; though Ramírez calls them both “movies”). After talking about those challenges, I asked Ramírez about the trend toward longer biopics, why putting on weight for a role is less fun than it sounds, and what it felt like to get a letter from the real Carlos.

How did you get involved in the project?

The script was sent to me. The first thing I thought was “A script about Carlos the Jackal?  Oh my God.”  Although I didn’t know much about him, I know that this type of character in the wrong hands could be a disaster, a caricature about “The Jackal,” especially with the prior presence of this character in movies.  And then when I found out it was Olivier Assayas behind it, I read the script and I loved it.

I saw the five and a half hour mini-series version of “Carlos.” But there’s also a two and a half hour “theatrical version.” Do you have a preference between the two?

No, I think they’re just two different movies.  And both are interesting and I think that both stand on their own.  After seven months of work and all of energy invested in the movie, I hope that people, if they have the chance, look at the whole tryptic. But the movie version’s great!  I mean, both are movies.  But one is super-long and the other is just long.  [laughs]

The most common complaint about biopics is that they take the entire scope of a life and cram “the greatest hits” into 100 minutes. But between “Carlos,” and “Mesrine” and “Che,” which you also appeared in, there seems to be this trend emerging of longer, more thorough biographical films. Do you think it’s a coincidence or is it a reaction to that sort of criticism?

I’m not really sure.  One the one hand, I think it is a bit of a coincidence.  On the other hand, to talk about a character like Che or a character like Carlos, you have to talk about a time in history.  You can’t just talk about the character, you need to somehow go deeper into the historical and political context these characters lived in.  And that requires time. 

The thing that particularly interested me about Carlos was the fact that this terrorist’s life, and the journey he went on, was like the journey of a great artist, or director, or actor–

Or rock star.

Or rock star, exactly. He begins as this man who’s doing these things out of passion and a need to express himself, and at a certain point it becomes about the money and the power.

I think that’s why the movie speaks so directly to so many people. It’s a very universal story about the struggle between idealism and individualism, between the will to change the world and the obsession for fame, recognition and a place in history. And all of that laced with power, fear, money, drugs, alcohol, sex, love, which are all elements that speak to all of us.

So I was reading a story about the real Carlos writing a letter about the film. Did he write it to you or to Olivier?

He wrote a letter to me. 

Did you receive it personally?

It was published in one of the most widely read newspapers in France on the day of the premiere at Cannes.

What was that like?  In the movie, we see Carlos writing letters, making phone calls.  Typically, these are not communications you want to be on the receiving end of.

It didn’t catch us by surprise.  We knew that he would react.  And he did it in the most narcissistic and spectacular way possible. And after portraying this character, I thought “That is something that this character would have done.” Which I respect! We’re telling a story that is based on the events of his life.  But it was never intended to be a biography.  Some of these events are proven, some of these events are loosely proven, and so forth.  And of course, for a guy with such strong opinions, you had to expect him to come out and say something.

You undergo such an amazing physical transformation to portray Carlos aging and gaining weight. And I’m sure you get a lot of questions about how you did it. But isn’t that obvious? You eat a lot of crap and stop exercising. It seems easy.

Yeah, it is very easy.  But it’s not as fun as you would think. Because when you’re forced to do things, it’s not fun anymore.  You have to eat all the time.  And sometimes you just really pray for a light salad.  And I couldn’t have a salad.

So perversely, this is like a great dieting secret.  Force feed yourself until you hate food.

Of course.  And that’s why the extra weight I put on for the film, I lost really quickly.  It didn’t last as long as I thought it would.  Up until the last like six kilos [about 13 pounds], which were harder to lose.

I guess you can’t wear a beret out in public anymore.

Actually, we took a charter plane back from the Telluride Film Festival. And I was one of the last people to get on the plane. And when I was walking to my seat, everyone looked really scared. It was a funny moment. So I said, “Okay, we’re about land in Algiers, you all need to lower your window shades!”

“Carlos” premieres tonight at 9pm on Sundance Channel, and opens in both five-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hour versions in theaters on Friday.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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