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'Deliver us From Evil' exorcist Edgar Ramirez talks horror

By BY JOE FRIAR - SPECIAL TO THE ADVOCATE
June 25, 2014 at 1:25 a.m.

Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) holds off a possessed Jimmy (Chris Coy) with the power of the crucifix, prayer and holy water in Screen Gems' "Deliver Us From Evil."

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The full interview with Edgar Ramirez will air Friday morning on 104.7 KVIC, and the film opens July 2.

I sat down with Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez, who plays the exorcist in Scott Derrickson's newest thriller, "Deliver us From Evil." Ramirez plays Father Mendoza in the film. It was clear that he is very passionate about the film.

Are you a fan of horror films?

I'm a fan of Scott, the director. "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose" is the first movie that managed to scare me since "The Exorcist," the only horror film that really messed with my head. I literally spent a week sleeping with my lights on after seeing the film and, of course, I went back to sleeping with the lights on and TV set on while shooting this movie. The only way I think for me as an actor to fully commit to a character is to totally embrace it and open up, and once you do that, anything can come in. I was playing the exorcist, and these are very intense subject matters, so it was tough, but it was interesting, very liberating. And right now, I'm pretty much fearless. I'm not afraid of anything after dealing with this.

I understand that Scott did not want you to research the role, and he gave you a book to read prior to shooting.

When we decided to do the movie together, of course, I was thirsty for information, and I wanted to delve as deeply as possible into this, and I remember Scott telling me "No, you're gonna read this and read that, and that's it." He gave me this book about contemporary demonic possessions in America, talking about from the '60s and on, and it had five cases, and I only could read two cases, and then I understood. My conclusion was whether these stories come from a very prolific imagination or the mind of a deranged person, or if they come from a supernatural force - an evil force from hell - it doesn't matter; they're horrifying. Then, we watched the tapes of actual exorcisms, and the level of pain people who claim to be possessed go through is just moving; it's really touching; it's too much. I had to stop reading that book because it was really traumatizing.

With such dark subject matter, did you find yourself falling back on your own spirituality to help you get through this movie, and what attracted you to the role?

I've been very spiritual all my life. I'm a man of faith, but I'm not religious, but I do believe in something bigger, greater, wiser - you can call it God if you will - and I'm very spiritual in terms that I absorb any spiritual tools around me to help me move on and become a better person. What really caught my attention in this story was what I was describing before, and it's the importance of moving on, and moving on is only possible through forgiveness. So regardless of any religious aspects involved with the word forgiveness, it's about coming clean, make amends with yourself and with others and move on. So moving on is very important, and that's what I really rescue from this experience and this movie. The importance of coming clean, waking up and smelling the coffee and saying, this is what you've done, and you cannot undo it, but you can amend it; you can ask for forgiveness, you can forgive yourself and move on. Guilt is a very heavy burden. When it comes down to playing a priest, how can you speak about forgiveness and the importance of forgiveness if you're not ready to forgive yourself? That's why I was so drawn to this character because it raises all these issues and these questions in an entertaining, thrilling and frightening package as this movie.

The chemistry between you and co-star Eric Bana is very good. What was it like working with Eric?

It was fantastic. He's a very generous guy and very open and very nice, very relaxed. And it's always great to work with people like that. The same day we met, we went out to dinner and discussed the movie, and the next day, it seemed that we had known each other for years. I had admired his work, his career for years. He's always been one of my favorite actors since "Chopper" and "Black Hawk Down," and of course, I was super happy when I heard he was doing the movie.

Where was the movie filmed?

We shot the entire movie in the Bronx, and actually, we are the first movie that's ever been allowed to shoot at the Bronx Zoo, and I think the Bronx is actually the third main character in the movie because we were really able to integrate and to let the movie be impregnated by the energy of the Bronx. The syncretic energy, all the multicultural feeling of the Bronx and also multireligious feeling of the Bronx was fantastic, the texture of the place. It plays an amazing role in the movie, and Scott fought really hard to shoot the movie there because that's where all the events took place in the book.

Your character, Father Mendoza, is based on an actual person who is still alive. Do you handle going into a role that's based on a real person differently than one that is fictional?

In my career, I've had the experience of doing quite a few characters based on real people who are actually still alive. In this case, Father Mendoza is a mixture of three characters - two priests and one bishop who worked very closely with Ralph Sarchie during the time that he was actively helping people with cases of possession. There are certain conventions that you respect when playing a real character, but in the end, you are re-creating a life - you cannot imitate life. The work of an actor is not impersonating a character; it's to understand a character, to re-create that life. So it's not about imitation. It's more about our reinterpretation of that life.

The movie reminded me of David Fincher's "Seven," more of a thriller with a horror angle than a straight horror film.

If that's what you think, then I believe we nailed it. We wanted to combine two genres - the cop detective genre with horror genre in an organic way because that's how it's described in the book.

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