Before he landed the role of beloved Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán in the new biopic Hands of Stone, 37-year-old actor Edgar Ramírez (The Bourne Ultimatum, Wrath of the Titans) had never boxed a day in his life. But that didn’t stop him from fully embracing the bloody rigors of the sport that earned his real-life counterpart world titles in four weight classes during his storied career. Ramírez sparred daily on set and even trained with Durán’s sons. Here he reveals why he’ll never hang up the gloves.
How do people in Panama View Duran?
Panama is a country with only 30 million people, and it has had 29 world boxing champions. Boxing here is like football (soccer) in Brazil. It’s part of everyday life. Roberto Durán brought so much glory to this country. He’s more than a national hero—he’s like the soul of Panama. Everyone has a story with Roberto. Everyone has an anecdote with him at a bar or a park or a restaurant. He embodies the soul of the country. It’s really amazing.
Was there a moment when you really felt like you were Duran?
The first time I shot in El Chorrillo, in character, I was pretty nervous. I was supposed to be the young Durán, 19 or 20 years old. I got to the set and suddenly this old guy turns around and shouts, “Oh, my God, that’s Durán!” He was looking at me, and he said, “That’s Durán at 146 pounds!” And the guy mentioned one of the gyms where [Durán] used to train, and I almost cried.
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What’s it like learning a new sport on a film set under a tight deadline?
I had the training in six months that would normally take years, so I needed to crank everything up. There were moments when I was doing the speed bag, just trying to learn how to move my shoulders, and I said, “Fuck, I’m never going to learn this!” But eventually, with practice, it clicks. Listen, it doesn’t matter if it’s a movie: If you have 600 people booing you or clapping for you, it really affects you. We shot in the Olympic stadium in Panama, with real people from Panama. They couldn’t give a shit who I was. You had to win these people over like any fighter does in the ring.
What did playing Duran teach you about yourself?
When you feel secure, you think your body is a machine—but it’s not. You can be broken; if you don’t take it easy, you can get injured. And I got injured. I got depressed, thinking, “How could I get injured before the fight?” It really changed me as a man. But it’s not about limiting yourself. It’s about pacing yourself. As my trainer told me: “You’re going to get through this, and you’re going to do it, because if I waited for any of my real fighters to be completely healthy, they would never fight, because you’re always going to have injuries.” So I went through the whole motivational speech—it was really dramatic. It was like a movie behind a movie.