Usher Raymond and Edgar Ramirez star as Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran in 'Hands of Stone.' (Credit: Rico Torres/The Weinstein Company)
The Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor, Edgar Ramirez, is one of those actors who pops up in some of the biggest movies by some of the biggest directors, yet seems to fly under the radar at the same time. Among others, he’s worked with Tony Scott in Domino; Paul Greengrass in The Bourne Ultimatum; Steven Soderbergh in Che; Kathryn Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty; Ridley Scott in The Counselor; and David O. Russell in Joy. In his latest film, he stars as boxing legend, Roberto Duran, in Hands of Stone.
Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, this biopic follows Duran’s rise from a two-fisted street urchin in Panama to a gifted amateur known for Round 1 knockouts. Along the way, he gains fame, riches and the love of Felicidad (Ana de Armas), before a chance meeting with boxing coach Ray Arcel (Robert De Niro). At age 72, legendary trainer Arcel comes out of retirement to coach the world-class boxer.
Arcel becomes a mentor to the ferocious fighter, convincing him that winning ultimately comes down to strategy. takes his fighting skills to a level where he can defeat American champion Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond). The lessons Arcel teaches his protégé about psychological cleverness in and out of the ring carries Duran through the darkest part of his career, when the notorious “No más” rematch against Leonard threatens to derail his entire legacy. There was no way that Ramirez was going to say “no más” to the part.
“When Jonathan called me up and showed me the script, I was very excited. When I read how relevant his life beyond boxing was, for an entire country, therefore, an entire region, I was even more excited. I don’t believe in absolute evil. I don’t believe in absolute goodness. Duran is full of contradictions, but he gravitates towards light. He’s tough, but he’s tender at the same time. He can be very vulnerable, but very brutal. I found that very interesting.”
Though Duran could be brutal, Ramirez’s training regimen was even more brutal.
“I trained and trained and trained and trained until I almost broke. I trained many hours a day for seven or eight months before the shoot. It was very important for me to be a boxer on my own and to learn how to fight before I even tried to learn Duran’s technique and movement. Without me living my life as a boxer, it would have been impossible for me to step into his shoes. It’s like wanting to be a mountain climber and going to Everest right away. You can’t do it. You have to take it step by step. It was important for me to feel the struggle and the hardship of being a boxer being trying to imitate and emulate his style.”
Along with genius, icon is a word that’s thrown around excessively. Robert De Niro is truly one of cinema’s icons and he’s not stranger to boxing movies having won an Oscar for his immersive portrayal of boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.
“One of the biggest honors and privileges of my life was to work with Robert De Niro. He’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. He has such a gravitas, such a credibility. He’s strong, but at the same time, he’s so approachable and has such a warmth. It was so inspiring to work with him and is one of the best things to ever happen to me.”
Ramirez was thrilled to work with Usher and found a kinship with his director.
“Working with him was fantastic. He’s a dancer. Sugar Ray Leonard had a style that was very kinetic. He was very fast. He would dance around and it drove Duran crazy. Jonathan was very smart to offer that part to a dancer. He could really click with the nature of the character. In Jonathan, I found a true creative partner. Someone who really understands me. Someone, who, as an actor, gave me all the space and, at the same time, all the protection to explore things to the fullest. I have rarely felt this level of freedom in a film.”
Not only was Ramirez happy to breathe new life into Duran’s legacy, he was happy to shine a positive light on Latin America in general.
“Many films that have been about this region have been about drugs, drug traffickers, the bad guys. Very seldom do we see stories about the good guys of Latin America. In Duran, though he’s not perfect and he’s flawed, he’s a positive figure. When Duran became this superstar boxer, his impact went well beyond just national pride. He became the identity of Panama. When he beat Sugar Ray Leonard in that first fight, it was way more than just a boxing match.”
Boxing movies are always about more than just boxing and Ramirez echoes that sentiment.
“It’s also a movie about fatherhood and the importance of a father figure in a man’s life. Duran is subconsciously looking for a father. He also has some accounts to settle as a father. [Duran and Arcel] meet each other and find each other to, in a way, heal each other’s wounds. It’s another layer to the film that’s very moving and it’s one of the most important parts of the film.”
Duran’s relationship with his wife is also a key emotional undercurrent of the film.
“Felicidad is the core of Duran’s emotional life. Without her, he would have been lost in many moments. Even when he was lost, it was Felicidad who pulled him back and got him on the right track. It’s about the importance of love and healthy relationships in your life.”
Blu-ray special features include the featurette, Roberto Durán: A Boxing Legend, A Nation’s Pride; deleted scenes; and two video versions of the film’s title song – Champions lyric video featuring Usher and Champions lyric video featuring co-star Ruben Blades.