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Edgar Ramírez barely recognized himself in recent roles as an Elven government agent and fashion mogul Gianni Versace

Sunday conversation with Edgar Ramírez for "Bright."


Actor Edgar Ramirez Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Edgar Ramírez spent much of the last year staring at someone else in the mirror.

The Venezuelan actor transformed himself into an elf working as a government agent in David Ayer’s contemporary fantasy thriller “Bright,” which opened in theaters and on Netflx on Friday. He also plays fashion icon Gianni Versace in the Ryan Murphy-produced limited series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” which premieres on FX in January.

Over the course of his career, the 40-year-old Ramirez has played everything from a Greek god to legendary boxer Roberto Durán, but these two roles required something else entirely.

For “Bright,” which costars Will Smith, Ramirez asked the Italian sartorial house Kiton to craft his character Kandomere’s suits, while makeup artists gave him prosthetic ears, special teeth and a wig that was purposefully stranded together to look intentionally unnatural. Portraying Versace was actually more intense. Ramírez wore not only prosthetics but also a wig cap that made him nervous.

Ramirez recalls, “The first day, I told Ryan, ‘I'm ready to take this off and shave my head and put the wig on my shaved head.’ He said, ‘Edgar, trust me. You don't need to do it. It looks great already.’ I had a little freaking out moment with the prosthetic, but I think that every actor using it for the first time can relate.”

During our conversation, Ramírez discussed the unique world building his character is a part of in “Bright,” and what he thinks viewers will learn about Versace.

Your character Kandomere is an elf in “Bright.” How do elves function in this world?

Elves are the ruling class. There's as much separation between tribes and clans and social strata and race as there is in the world we live in. Basically, in the most general terms, the movie is a metaphor of the times that we live in, with all the intolerance and all the lack of empathy that we deal with every day. Kandomere, being an elf, shouldn't be working for the FBI or shouldn't be working for a salary. He should be hiring employees and being on top of the food chain. Kandomere is the character that understands the danger of the abuse of power.

Am I wrong in picking up that you’re playing him with a slight amount of contempt for the humans he’s working with?

I mean, he's still an elf. Elves always have the upper hand, because they have supernatural powers. They have a heightened sensitivity. They can read minds. They can guess what people are coming from. So definitely, there's an arrogance that is inherited through the elves. This is an elf that is trying to somehow balance out all that privilege.

Of course, there's a little bit of condescendence in the way Kandomere deals with his sidekick, with Montehugh [played by Happy Anderson]. There's a common trust between them. But at the same time, they're working together. Elves don't necessarily need to be your friend or to be tender or nice to you, but Kandomere acknowledges the importance of respecting others.

You shot “Versace” after this? What made you want to do it?

I was very excited about the team, and, of course, I've admired Ryan's work for many years. You never know, but honestly, I knew that journey was going to be interesting. It was going to be something that would inform me with a lot of things.

Actor Edgar Ramirez Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Most of the public knows of Versace only as a brand. Others might remember him just from photos in fashion magazines and the circumstances of his death. What do you feel viewers will learn about him from your portrayal?

He was, above all, a family guy. In the most Greek way, in the most Roman way, I mean, he was an emperor. But very, very, very, very, very concerned for his family and for his legacy, family wise. This was surprising, because I was around when Versace exploded as a brand. I remember all the revolution in the ’90s, how Gianni mixed sexuality with glamour, something that had never been done before. I mean, the ’70s were run down and sexy, the ’80s were opulent and conservative and then Gianni married the two and everybody went crazy.

And the supermodels too.

Exactly. He created all that culture. I wouldn't be invited to the first row of any fashion house now if it weren't for Versace, who created this culture.

I know that Versace’s family was not involved in the project. Did that make you nervous going forward?

Cautious, but not nervous, because in the end, this is an approximation to what the life of this designer could have been like and, of course, our reconstruction or re-creation of the events that led to his assassination. Even when you're doing characters or based on real people, again, it's only impersonation. It's not a photograph. It's a painting. It's not exact. If it was my family, of course, I would have reservations. First of all, it's your life. They were a family that went through one of the most horrible tragedies that was witnessed in the world of celebrity and fashion in the last 50 years. It was horrible what happened. I wouldn't want anything to do with it. I totally understand that.

So, two roles in a row where your makeup and costume were integral to your character.

No, it's true. I've never thought about it. That it was one or the other where I completely transformed my body. Yeah, but with Versace, it was different, because it was a prosthetic, and the transformation was somehow deeper. To feel a bald cap and to see your head shape change? It was kind of scary at the beginning, because I thought that it might look fake but also because it always takes you some time to get used to see yourself like that. It feels very foreign.

Did you have any input into your character’s look in “Bright”?

Yep. David is very specific, and he knows exactly what he wants, which is so nice. At the same time, he's very open to new ideas. I talked to Kiton, the legendary Italian sartorial house. They were more than happy to design the clothes for me.

That’s impressive.

Yeah, those suits are real. I mean, they do exist. They were made for me.

Do you get to keep them?

Yeah. I'm not wearing them, but I have them.

There's a vest that’s pretty sweet on its own.

The vest is great. I can wear it in pieces. (Laughs.)

_________________

Overtime:

What TV show are you bingeing or watching these days? “The Crown”

What song or artist is on repeat on your phone or car? Peter Schilling, “Major Tom”

What was the last movie you saw you really loved? “Mother!”

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