'Jungle Cruise' Star Edgar Ramirez On What It's Like To Play A Man Made Entirely Out Of Snakes [Interview]

Edgar Ramirez plays a man made entirely out of snakes in Jungle Cruise. Literally. Other than a thin layer of flesh for his face, his toro and limbs are comprised of coiling, hissing snakes, the result of a disturbing jungle curse that has left him immortal and...forever made of snakes.

But Ramirez, whose other credits include Carlos, American Crime Story, and The Undoing, is a pro. If he's going to play a man made entirely out of snakes, he's going to give him some soul. The villainous Aguirre isn't just a man made entirely out of snakes – he's a man made entirely out of snakes with a tragic backstory and motivation that makes sense.

I spoke with Ramirez via Zoom ahead of the release of Jungle Cruise, and we chatted about the film's sense of romantic adventure, director Jaume Collett-Serra, and yes, how you prepare to play a man made entirely out of snakes.

One thing I did not realize going into this movie is that you play a man made entirely out of snakes. Can you talk about playing a man made entirely out of snakes?

Never in my wildest nightmare would I have ever imagined that it will come to a point where I'll be on the big screen or just, as you said, playing a man made out of snakes because I'm terrified of snakes. Since I was a kid, I've had the most incredible and terrifying experiences with snakes. I've never been bitten by one, but I grew up in different environments where snakes were part of the daily life. So I'm a little bit traumatized. I'm sure they're more afraid of me than I'm afraid of them, but nonetheless, I grew up being very respectful of snakes.

And I only know one person who's more afraid of snakes than me and that's my mom. And she attended the premiere. I didn't tell her anything. And then she was, of course, not very pleased at the end. At the end of the premiere she said, "Why didn't you tell me? I mean, I have to close my eyes through half of your performance. It was so impressive." So, that was fun. It did the trick. I wanted my mom to be scared.

I told some people that Edgar Ramirez plays a man made out of snakes in this movie, and they chuckled at first. And I said, "No, he takes it seriously. Aguirre's an angry guy." He's a villain who makes a lot of sense, he just happens to be a man made entirely out of snakes.

Yeah, without spoiling, because I don't want to reveal too much, but you've seen the movie and his intentions were in the right place. He came to the jungle looking for something that was important to save someone who was very close to him and who was very loved. Someone that was very important to him. Things didn't work out and unfortunately he crossed over to the dark side, or to the darkest side of his nature.

So, even though the context of the film is it's a big adventure with so much humor and so much action, the humanity of the characters and especially the humanity of Aguirre is very palpable. I don't justify his actions, but I understand where he's coming from so I can relate to that and I feel for him. That allowed me to commit to him in a way that was very easy for me to do.

There's a counter-balance of the two villains in the movie. There's you, who's playing this soulful villain, and then there's Jesse Plemons, who is chewing on the scenery.

It was incredible to watch him and, unfortunately, we didn't share any scenes. We referenced each other throughout the movie, but our storylines don't collide or... I don't want to spoil any way but, yeah, there's a moment where we all kind of clash, but I would have loved to have a one-on-one with Jesse because he was so incredible. I think that he did an amazing performance and I'm so proud of everyone in the movie, but definitely he did something very special with Joachim. With Prince Joachim, his character.

Can you talk about the logistics of playing a person made entirely out of snakes? How do you decide how to move, how to speak, how to fight? 

Yeah, we had countless conversations. Our amazing director, Jaume Collet-Serra, and the special effects department, we were all together on set. So, actually, the special effects department, they worked with us along the way. And I even had the opportunity, which I feel so grateful for, to interact with them and to even suggest effects that I wanted to experience as Aguirre. Like the snake coming out of the face and things like that. To kind of pre-imagine what would it look like at the end. Once we get to the part where Aguirre is turning into this fantastical creature/monster, then we'd want it to work.

There were some effects that we did some of my voice, so that we can have kind of like a serpentous, a snaky quality to it. The armor was very restricted because it was an amazing, beautiful armor, but the movement was very restricted. But we definitely talked about moving in a way, not too much, but kind of like giving a hint of a flexibility that would transcend the humanity of Aguirre and be closer to a snake monster.

Director Jaume Collett-Serra has made a lot of horror movies. At any point in your conversations with him, could you feel his horror background feeding what Aguirre was?

Well, that definitely helped. At the end, we are the accumulation of all of our experiences, and that always ends up adding up different layers in helping you in whatever challenge you have next. I think what horror has given Jaume is a very acute sense of timing, and he understands timing and emotion very well.

And, personally, Jaume is a very romantic person, and this movie has a lot of romance to it. So I think that he understands very well all the elements that are put to play into this movie. The sense of timing, the acute sense of action, the romantic quality that he brings, and also his imagination because he's a world builder. He's a world-builder.

And, of course, he has an amazing sense of humor and he's very witty. He has a very self-deprecating humor, which I think is fantastic for a movie like this.

You used romantic there. I like that this movie isn't just romantic in the American sense of the word, but in the more traditional sense of what that means.

Yeah, I think that this movie pays tribute to the genre, to the adventure genre. And I think that the reason why we needed a movie like this is because we've always going to need adventure movies, because the need for adventure is very rooted in our very nature as human beings. We need adventure in our lives. And even if we cannot afford adventure in our daily life, if for any personal or material limitations we cannot grant adventure in our lives, we need windows of escape.

That's why literature, since the beginning of history, as human beings, as a civilization, we've had great stories of adventure. It started in the cave around the fire telling stories, how we survived trying to hunt mammoths, or just trying to escape from the tiger that was going to eat us. We need that sense of being removed, of being put into a journey to fantastical lands.

We need to feel that there is a world larger than ourselves out there to maybe explain and interpret the randomness of life. And especially right now, after this year and a half that has been so challenging for everyone in the world. I think that we needed a movie like Jungle Cruise. A movie that can allow us to have a small, a little window, some healthy minutes of escape from the reality that has been so oppressing and challenging for everyone around the world.


Jungle Cruise hits theaters and Disney+ Premier Access on July 30, 2021.