You know Efren Ramirez as Pedro, the kid everyone wanted to vote for back when Napoleon Dynamite hit it big, and if you saw Crank (which you should have, since it’s an absolutely insane and brilliantly cartoonish action thriller starring Jason Statham as Chev Chelios, a man who has to keep his heart pumping as hard as he can to keep the poison in his body from killing him before he can hunt down his killers), you’ll remember him as Kaylo, Chev’s transvestite informant who represented quite a stretch from the quiet and shy Pedro. Now, Chev is miraculously back for Crank: High Voltage, the improbably sequel that is highly anticipated by people who love fun, and I spoke to him about his new role in the flick and his life as a huggable icon.
Q: So, holy crap, Crank 2! How is this even possible? What was your reaction when you heard they were doing this?
Efren Ramirez: It’s always scary when you’re doing a sequel to a film, because you don’t want to just repeat the first film in a different location like most sequels. You want to do something totally different, and something that actually expands the world of the main character. So when I read the script, I thought “oh my god, these guys actually went deeper into Chev Chelios’ world,” which is good to know. As an actor, as an artist, you really want to be able to get the richness and fullness of character, and this is that.
Q: Jason Statham said this was the most outrageous and offensive script he’d ever read. Was that your opinion, too?
ER: [laughs] That’s funny. You’d think it was a playwright like David Mamet, and how many swear words does he have in his plays. But these guys, Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine, actually take it further and explore that. When you’re living in a dark world, you’re going to deal with a lot of chaos happening. When I read that script, I thought “wow, all right, this is gonna be a nice ride. Let’s see what happens.” I just saw a screening of it recently, and it’s great to know that when you walk out of the movie theater, all you can do is think about the actual film and all the incidents that occurred. That’s where you want to be instead of going “yeah, it was all right.” It’s such a different film. When I worked on it, there was a lot of physical and emotional demand, and the work is there.
Q: What can you tell us about your character?
ER: When I got the script, I knew I had to do months of training. For three months I was studying kung-fu and martial-arts weapons and motorcycles with several trainers, about five hours a day. The work paid off. My character’s name is Venus, the twin brother to the character I played in the first Crank, Kaylo. For any actor, when you’re playing twin brothers, you have to be able to find the similarities between them as well as creating a difference between the two characters. If they just looked the same, what would the point of that be?
Q: Does Venus have the same sort of thing going on as Kaylo did?
ER: He’s a lot different, actually. In the first Crank, Kaylo is much more the informant and he has his own agenda. He’s very light opposed to Venus, who is out to avenge his brother’s death. When he realizes Chev Chelios is still alive, he hopes that with his help, he’ll be able to find his brother’s assassin. It was always fun, because you get to say “wow, this is something that I would never go through in my real life, but to actually jump into a world like that – what would really happen?” Things change, man.
Q: Do you know if they’d always planned a sequel, or was this just “hey, we can do this!” so they did?
ER: I don’t know if there was a plan about sequels, but part of it is that, after he hits the ground after falling out of the helicopter – you read stories on the internet about how one in a million people who fall like that actually do survive. So what if that was the scenario for Chev Chelios? They played off of that and it actually worked really well. I believe fans of Crank are really going to be excited about Crank: High Voltage, because it goes deeper into the world and you get to see the surreal life. It’s 90 minutes of pure adrenaline rush.
Q: This is the obligatory question I have to ask you. How often do you still get called Pedro, and are you sick of it yet?
ER: No, I’m not sick of it. Napoleon Dynamite blew up my career. I drive all over the country, all over the world, and people see me and get shocked and surprised and they want to give me a hug. [laughs] As an artist, I’m able to embrace that. You do the work, you do the best you can and people can relate to that. If I can move the public in any way with all the characters I’ve played, then I’ve done my job as an actor. I will tell you that, after Napoleon Dynamite, I was offered a lot of scripts that were quite the same as Pedro Sanchez, and I really didn’t want to do that. What’s the point? Where’s the creative exercise in that? So when I did a role like Crank, where I played a transvestite, it was totally different. People were surprised and shocked. I’ve even got a film this year where I play a Russian character, and people are like “Really? Are they doing that?” I look at actors like Johnny Depp, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro and they play all these different characters. I’m hoping that, in my lifetime, I’ll be able to look back and say “you know what? I did all these different characters and I enjoyed every single film I did.”
Q: Which is the film where you’re playing a Russian?
ER: It’s called Ratko: The Dictator’s Son, and Adam West is actually playing my father in the film. What a nice guy. To be able to work with the original Batman – how can you say no to that? He has his own comedic elements and quirkiness to it. It reminded me of when Johnny Depp worked with Jerry Lewis in Arizona Dream. He had that opportunity, and I thought “let me see if I can work with Adam West, because he’s really out there.” What a great guy. I said “wow, this is so cool. He’s my dad!”
Q: What can you tell us about Game [which is a tentative title], due out this year, too, also from Neveldine and Taylor?
ER: It’s a film with Gerry Butler from 300. I looked at it as the next Logan’s Run. It takes place in the future, and again, with the minds of Brian and Mark, who wrote it and directed it – they’re very innovative with their writing and very creative with their work. They know what they’re doing, and this is something that I don’t think has been done, or they’re entering a territory where it’s all new because of the type of cameras that they work with. The colors and the way they’re putting it together, it’s incredible. It’s such a crazy, crazy world and I’m hoping it’ll be the next Blade Runner, you know? You actually enter the world of a video game. How can I put this without revealing too much? You put Tron and Logan’s Run together, and then you’ve got Game.
Q: I’ve talked to Gerry Butler, and he’s kind of insane.
ER: [laughs] Yeah, he is. I did Game prior to Crank, and I said “I’ve gotta do Crank and I’ve gotta work out. Any recommendations?” and he said “Well, here’s what you gotta do! You’ve gotta do all this!” and I just said “Oh my god.” What I didn’t want to do was look like the Incredible Hulk, you know? Because of him, I was putting in five hours a day for the physical training for Crank. Half of the film, I’m walking around in just a pair of pants. I’m half-naked, so I want people to look at the film and go “yeah! Damn, he’s ripped!”
Q: Statham seems like he’d be a lot of fun to work with, too.
ER: Yeah, he is. I remember working in the first Crank, and my first scene was with Jason, and I thought “you know, Kaylo would smoke in these scenes.” So there I was, smoking and smoking, and when you’re working in films you’ve got to do several different takes. So right in the middle of the scene, I wind up puking all over the place. Jason said “whoa, man, you’re really in character, mate!” No, dude! [laughs] But Jason – again, these guys are such giving people, and that’s who you want to be working with. I enjoy working with actors who have been doing it for so long. They get it. They get that it’s more about the work and seeing how far we can go with the scene.