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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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