Q&A with Edgar Ramirez

The 'Hands of Stone' star on how to train like a legendary boxer.

Before the cameras even started rolling on Hands of Stone (in theaters August 26), Edgar Ramirez had a lot of work to do. The Venezuelan-born actor plays Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, so not only was he tasked to learn the quirks and mannerisms of a real person, but he also had to become a boxer. “It was my first time boxing,” Ramirez says. “Everything was new to me.” When you watch the film, especially during the boxing scenes with Usher (who plays Sugar Ray Leonard; Robert De Niro rounds out the cast as Duran's trainer), you’ll see that Ramirez’s hard work paid off. Here, the actor talks about his life-changing training process.

What was that training process like?

It was amazing! It was a full immersion into a whole different world. I had never trained so hard in my life. And I never had so much fun training. It’s fascinating because boxing combines strength, endurance and speed in equal proportions. It’s such a well-rounded training process, and it changed my life. I could never go back to the way I used to work out.

How has that training affected other aspects of your life?

There’s an unspoken confidence that you have once you know that you can give those good punches, you know? I know how to defend myself now. But at the same time, the training is so intense that it makes your mind clearer and more sharp. Yes, you’re training your body but you’re also training your mind because as a boxer, you have to assess things very quickly in the ring.

What was it like the first time you stepped into the ring?

It was intimidating because I had never done it before. But it was very gradual—you don’t step into the ring right away. I started with the feet, which was a huge process, just needing to know where and how to stand. So much of boxing relies on the legwork. If your legs and feet aren’t in the right position, nothing else is going to work.

It seems like every year or so there’s a big boxing movie. Why do you think this sport resonates with audiences?

I think people are interested in the psychological aspects of boxing, and this film explores that. It shows you how much it really is about strategy and tactics. Your body, again, is a medium to put the sharpness of your mind into play. If your mind isn’t in the right place, then nothing is going to happen. Your body can only take you so far. If you take things personally, then most likely you’re going to lose. If you lose control of your clear head, then you’re going to lose the fight.

And how did you approach the process of becoming Duran, the person?

Well, it would’ve been impossible for me to even try to attempt building this character without having gone through the boxing training first. As Edgar, I needed to become a fighter.

Did you get any advice from Duran or his family?

Yes, of course. His sons were my first trainers for the film. And then I moved to another gym that was located in the slums of Panama. I wanted to get closer to the reality of the way Duran had grown up.

You really followed in his footsteps.

Yeah, you have to live it in order to connect to it. And I’m sure your readers are very knowledgeable about training and exercising, but there are certain movements in every sport, even if you have the best teachers, that you cannot do if you don’t attempt them in a gradual way. It’s a progression. You keep adding movements until you have the full sequence. Once I got to set, I couldn’t worry about whether or not my feet were in the right position. By that time, it was already there. By the time Usher, who did an amazing job, and I got to the set, all we had to focus on was being the characters. Boxing was second nature by that point.