The star of Jungle Cruise and The Undoing on the co-stars that helped him find his voice
Interview by MARTHA HAYES
Photography by KURT ISWARIENKO
Fashion Direction by MARYAM MALAKPOUR
I’d be lying if I said I grew up dreaming of being in the movies, but it did cross my mind when I saw Empire of the Sun (1987) at the cinema when I was 11 years old. Watching Christian Bale as this kid coming back from the war and hugging his mom — the camera pulls in and you can just see the pain and maturity in his eyes. I remember thinking, “Wow, that would be amazing to have gone through that experience.”
SALVATORE FERRAGAMO hoodie, $2,300.
I was studying journalism at university [Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas, Venezuela] when a friend asked me to be in his short film. It was about virtual sex and very weird. It was in the time of The Chemical Brothers and Trainspotting (1996), I have bleached hair and I’m wearing a latex suit. One day that film will bite me in the ass! It won an award at a festival where the screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga was on the jury. He offered me a part in a film and I turned it down. Two years later, that film — Amores Perros (2000) — won a prize at Critics’ Week at Cannes.
I never went to drama school, so everything I’ve learned has been from the people I’ve worked with, from Nicole Kidman [The Undoing] to Cate Blanchett [Borderlands]. You admire them and then they’re in your life, and that is very special. Penélope Cruz is one of my closest friends. I remember watching her first film, Jamón Jamón (1992), at the beginning of my career as a journalist, when it never even crossed my mind that I would be an actor.
“Robert De Niro is like my godfather for real — but a good one, not a monster”
DIOR MEN trench coat, $3,100, pants, $1,550, and shoes, $1,050. PRADA shirt, $805.
My co-star on Vantage Point (2008), William Hurt, told me that in order to focus, you need to pull back. You cannot be focused the whole time, because there is nowhere else to focus more. That is a great metaphor for life. We need to learn to give ourselves the space to decompress and to pull back. I think COVID has forced us all to pull back and admire the background that we’re unable to see when so focused on one thing.
My biggest transformation was for Hands of Stone (2016) alongside the wonderful Robert De Niro, who is like my godfather for real — but a good one, not a monster! I had to transform my body completely to become a boxer and make it look like second nature in order to replicate [Panamanian professional boxer] Roberto Durán’s style. In real life, I’m very far from that character. When you’re playing a role based on a person who exists, it’s not about imitation. It’s a painting, not a photograph.
There used to be a separation between the world of television and film, but now there is a very healthy relationship. I think it’s more about long form and short form. Both Carlos (2010) and The Undoing (2020) feel like long films cut into pieces rather than TV series. As a result, there are more opportunities for people — and minorities — on both sides of the camera to shine. There’s still work to be done, but it’s way more inclusive than it was at the beginning of my career, and I really welcome those changes.
Julianne Moore wears LOEWE coat and BULGARI and CARTIER jewelry.
Stylist assistants SARAH NEARIS and ELLIOT SORIANO.
Makeup for Ruth Negga by MELANIE INGLESSIS at FORWARD ARTISTS using ARMANI BEAUTY.
Hair for Andie MacDowell by JOHN D at FORWARD ARTISTS using ORIBE.
Makeup for MacDowell by PATI DUBROFF at FORWARD ARTISTS.
Nails for Negga and MacDowell by MARLA BOLDEN at OPUS BEAUTY using CHANEL Le VERNIS.
Hair for Édgar Ramírez by SASCHA BREUER at THE WALL GROUP using WELLA.
Feature image: BRUNELLO CUCINELLI tuxedo jacket, $3,995, shirt, $995, pants, $1,150, bow tie, $275, and pocket square, $145.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of C Magazine.