Edgar Ramirez doesn’t take every movie offer that comes along. “I choose them very carefully, so I can be happy,” the actor tells us. The 38-year-old Venezuelan actor — of “Domino,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and the epic miniseries “Carlos” — is in two movies out on Christmas Day: the remake of “Point Break” and a key supporting role in David O. Russell’s “Joy.” We’re talking to him about “Joy,” in which he plays Tony, the ex-husband of Jennifer Lawrence’s titular single mom, who’s stayed in her life — in fact, in her basement, which he shares with her father (Robert De Niro) — post-divorce and who winds up helping her as she invents and sells the Miracle Mop.
You’ve often spoken of needing something that connects to you deeply to take on a project. What was it with “Joy”?
It was the possibility of playing such a romantic character who is, at the same time, so passionate and so flawed. And it was about making a film about a strong woman, which we don’t get to see very often in society, let alone in cinema. With no hesitation or reservation or shame or fear of compromising his manhood or masculinity, this guy is ready and willing to stand by and support and celebrate the strength of the woman he loves. That requires a lot of courage in this macho-normative society — to feel completely comfortable standing behind a strong woman. I’m a feminist myself, and I think real feminism has nothing to do with hating men. It’s all about equality. Equality benefits each one of us. Even men benefit from feminism. It releases us from a lot of the stigmas that are imposed on us by macho culture.
It’s also unusual to see a film in which exes manage to stay friends. To stay by someone after a break-up requires a very deep kind of love.
That was the other aspect for me: They’re no longer a romantic couple; they’re friends. The movie suggests that unconditional love can last forever. It just takes different forms. That gives us a lot of hope, because if the romantic part of a relationship doesn’t work it doesn’t mean the relationship has to end. True love can take on different forms. Heartbreak is hard and divorce is hard, so it’s beautiful that he was able to stay in her life. It’s about putting everything you have at the services of the person you love, so that person can become the best version of themselves. I can’t recall another contemporary film that explores a relationship between and ex-wife and an ex-husband in this manner.
David O. Russell is famous for films that boast contained chaos. What is that like as an actor to be in the middle of that?
It felt like chaos to us, but in his head everything makes complete sense. That’s part of his genius. He doesn’t think linearly. It’s incredible the amount of information he can process. Everything ends up making sense. He asks you to trust him, and he trusts you. It’s a dance. It’s like everything’s floating around him and he grabs whatever he needs at a specific moment. That is a beautiful process to be a part of. But it also makes you feel relaxed, that you don’t need to be in your head. You’re just open. It’s like life itself. When you’re walking down the street you’re not thinking about walking. You’re just doing it. It’s beautiful when a director gives you the opportunity to be outside of your head.
This isn’t strictly a comedy but it is more comedic than anything you’ve done before.
It’s a departure from these cerebral characters I’ve played. There’s a tenderness to this character that I haven’t had the opportunity to explore before. I love that, to be completely emotional. He gets criticized by Bob [De Niro’s] character, but it always slides right off of him. Nothing gets in his head. Everything comes from the heart.
I’m a huge admirer of “Carlos” and of director Olivier Assayas, whose “Clouds of Sils Maria” is one of this year’s best films. He also works with a controlled form of chaos that must be challenging for actors.
Olivier operates in some aspects similarly to David — things can feel, at first, too asymmetric. He asks you to do thing and you say, “Really?” He would say, “It’s working, man. Don’t worry.” You watch the film and it truly worked. You’ve got to trust those guys. They’re geniuses.