Marvel's New Face Danny Ramirez Has the Range
Danny Ramirez can talk to you at length about your choice of topics: Feminist writers of the 20th century? Yes. Brazilian fútbol? Also yes. But the one thing he cannot talk to you about is his role in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Or, for that matter, his role in Top Gun: Maverick — or, the way he puts it, "everything I'm involved in, basically." His induction into the Marvel universe and, by extension, the Marvel School of Secret-Keeping, means he won't even divulge his opinion on Captain America, "based on just what I could say that I shouldn't."
But because being in two of the most fan-fevered projects of the year is somehow not the most interesting thing about him, he can talk to about his early career playing college soccer; his cinematography work for Gucci; the pilot's license he's in the process of getting, courtesy of Top Gun co-star Tom Cruise, who bought courses for the cast.
If well-roundedness could be personified, it would look like Danny Ramirez's exceedingly kind matinée idol face.
Talk to him about books, and he will light up at the chance to discuss the "fucking cool" Joan Didion, who he was floored by when he recently read The Year of Magical Thinking, her memoir about the year following her husband's death. He also happens to be working on a screenplay he describes as a "Latinx family drama that deals with grief," and says reading Didion made him feel more prepared to cope with death.
"My biggest fear was losing my mom at a time where I thought I was least able to handle it," he says during a Zoom call from his Los Angeles home in late February. "And my mom's still alive — she's kicking it and doing great, but it would have absolutely thrown me to pieces, had I lost her when I was least able to process it, when I was being broken down in acting school, where I was a shell of myself."
Ramirez got into acting during those aforementioned tumultuous years, though his love of movies came much earlier. Born in Chicago to a Mexican mother and Colombian father, he relocated to Miami when he was seven ("I always rock Miami gear wherever I'm at," he says, tugging on a Miami Hurricanes cap) and recalls a childhood immersing himself in movies and TV, immediately wanting to become whatever he'd just seen. If it was a racecar movie, he'd want to become a racecar driver. After watching Boston Legal, he spent a few weeks wanting to be a lawyer. Even so, the entertainment industry felt inaccessible to him.
"Acting had always been this thing no one from where I was from did," he says. "It seemed like this specifically white-oriented thing. Every movie star I had seen was this classic Cary Grant-type, and I always had a distance with it."
Then, the following happened: a sprained ankle, and a chance encounter with Riz Ahmed — sort of. On Ramirez's birthday in 2011, Ahmed's movie The Reluctant Fundamentalist came to film at his school in Atlanta, and someone in production spotted him sitting on the sidelines of the soccer field and asked if he'd be an extra in the film for $120. By the end of the week, he bought a copy of The Great Acting Teachers and Their Methods, and began looking into how he might one day do what he saw Ahmed doing.
"Because I saw Riz, and Riz was not the traditional leading man I had seen to that point, I was like, 'Oh my God, if he could do it, I could do it. We could all do it. Why not?'" he recalls.
Within the next year, he transferred to New York University, where he had a brief stint in the Polytechnic School studying engineering and playing soccer while acting on the side (there's that well-roundedness again) before he applied to the Tisch School of the Arts for acting. He didn't have much in the way of screen credits at that point, so his resume listed his name, height, where he was from, and "just, like, 12 acting books I had read." In hindsight, he calls it a "ridiculous" move, but he must have done something right — apart from being admitted, in 2018, he was presented with the NYU Stonestreet studio's third annual Granite Award, given to those who've made significant contributions in the industry as well as their community (Ramirez's Top Gun co-star Miles Teller won the first award; Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan won the second).
Still, getting through acting school wasn't easy, nor was it cheap. It's a venture he describes as something he and his mother both took on — him, dutifully studying and attending class, and her, helping work out the finances for one of the most expensive universities in the world. Rarely will you find a movie star who can commiserate with you about how "fucked" student loans are, but Ramirez is that rare star, the kind who attributes his success not only to his own hard work, but also to the parent who invested in him.
"It's felt a victory for both of us through every step," he says. "Every single time we check in and a new project comes out, it's a little celebration of both of us taking that big risk."
That big risk has so far paid off in the form of a breakout performance in 2018's Assassination Nation (as a character perhaps presciently described as a "Latino Tom Cruise"), a hilarious turn on Netflix's On My Block, and now, a hand in the juggernaut that is Marvel in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a cinematic universe spin-off that sees Anthony Mackie taking on the mantle of Captain America from Chris Evans.
As per Marvel's airtight guidelines, little has been said publicly about Ramirez's role in the franchise, but words thrown around have included "pivotal" and "barrier-breaking." If Falcon follows in the viewership footsteps of its predecessor, Wandavision, it'll have an audience in the millions — something Ramirez is excited about, given what it could do for kids who don't often get to see themselves represented at all, let alone in one of the biggest franchises of all time.
"When I was a kid, I just didn't see someone like me on screen," he says. "Except maybe 2 Fast 2 Furious — remember that? There was a Puerto Rican character [Orange Julius, played by Amaury Nolasco], and that's the only person in my mind that, as a kid, I'm like, 'Oh, he's a Latino movie star.' Being associated with something like Marvel, it's just tenfold the outreach, and kids can look up and be like, 'I could do this too. If he could do that, I could do anything.'"
In essence, he could give kids the same moment he had with Riz Ahmed. The more you talk to Ramirez, the more it's clear why he was literally given an award for his contributions to the community.
"My first agents that I had, I was like, 'Hey, no matter what it says on the description, let me try to go in for it even if they don't want a Hispanic guy, let me go in and throw it down,'" he says. "It's always been this thing of trying to shake labels, but also accepting who I am and bringing that to the table."
If Captain America is just a kid from Brooklyn who became a superhero, Ramirez is a kid from Miami who's throwing it down for the ones that come after him.
Read on for his favorite movie villains, his hypothetical presidential platform, and his controversial bagel of choice.
Who is your celebrity crush?
Jorja Smith, for sure. I am obsessed with musicians, I think. I can't sing, so whenever I hear someone who has pipes, I'm just like... She's been my quarantine medicine.
What's the last thing you do before you fall asleep?
Recently, I've been trying to jot down the thoughts of the day in one journal and then in another one, just write really bad poetry. I don't even know poetry structure, but I'm just like, "This is poetry."
I love that.
It's so awful. [Laughs]
Who is your favorite villain?
I saw that everyone [who's done this interview] replied The Joker, and when you asked that, that's the first thing that pops up. But then I was like, "All right, let's take a breather, who's my favorite villain?" It came down to three, it's Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest — the OG — and I'd say Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, although I guess they're both kind of villains in that movie.
Can you describe a memorable dream?
Well, I sometimes have dreams that I live a whole love life, and then I wake up either happy or crying. But I've never seen the person's face. I guess that and lucid dreaming — the first time that I was aware that I was lucid dreaming, I was like, "Oh, red car," and it popped up and I was like, "Okay, we can get used to this." So I just pop up different things when I'm aware of it, which is once in a blue moon.
What is the first album you owned?
Do you still listen to it?
Occasionally I start singing it, but I don't listen to it. I don't have a CD player, so I don't know where I would listen to it. My sister had a copy herself, and everyone was listening to it at that time. I was like, "I want my own, I want to listen to 'U Got It Bad' when I want to listen to it." But yeah, it was so good.
If you were required to spend $1,000 today, what would you buy and why?
Bitcoin. I'd buy more Bitcoin, a croissant and a coffee.
Why those things?
Well, I started using Robinhood in September, so I was just tinkering with it and I have buddies that really believe in Bitcoin, so I just followed what they said. And I'm like, "All right, sure." I believe that Bitcoin will do this thing. If I had to spend $1,000 bucks.... I could donate it, but I'd also have the croissant and the coffee and orange juice, because any day that I know is going to be important, I just have a freshly made croissant, OJ, and coffee.
Did you have that today?
I only had the coffee. They didn't have croissants. They had these very sugary... I don't even know what they're called. I'm sorry that I didn't. [Laughs]
I forgive you. If you ran for office, what would your slogan be?
"No more student loans."
Ok, I would vote for you. Who would your running mate be?
Oh, my running mate? My running mate, that's tough... Bernie Sanders.
Name one place you've never been but have always wanted to go.
Rio de Janeiro. My stepdad is Brazilian, and he's always talked of Brazil as this magical slice of heaven. And specifically within soccer culture, just the mentality of Joga bonito and Samba and Brazilian culture is beautiful. So if I went, I probably would never come back; I imagine landing and then I just step out onto the beach.
What's the most uncomfortable outfit you've ever worn?
So I've broken both of my collarbones. This left one was in football, the right one in soccer, so [it was] sophomore year and senior year. I had this figure eight brace that I had to wear that would straighten it out, so I wouldn't become disfigured. I had to wear that for months, so no matter what I'd wear, I'd have to put this thing under. And I still have it. But yeah, I guess that's what ended up being the most uncomfortable, that brace with anything.
Describe your first kiss.
Sixth grade. It was my girlfriend, and I had said, "Oh, I've kissed before." She was a foot taller than me — I was 4'8", and she was 5'8" — and so outside of our middle school, she leaned down and we pop kissed.
When was the last time you cried?
I just saw Mangrove — it's a masterpiece.
What is your favorite bagel?
I'd say pizza bagels. [Laughs] Pizza bagels or an everything bagel with bacon, egg and cheese. But pizza bagels are the first thing I thought of. That is timeless.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier begins streaming on Disney+ on March 19. Top Gun: Maverick hits theaters July 2nd.
Photographs by Carmen Chan. Styled by Wayman & Micah. Clothing by Zegna. Grooming by Stephanie Hobgood. Polaroid Photos by Danny Ramirez. Special thanks to Polaroid. Production by Kelly Chiello.