Efren Ramirez – Napoleon Dynamite (TV series)

January 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It’s been 7½ years since “Napoleon Dynamite” became a cult classic when it hit theaters in August 2004. Now, Napoleon, Pedro, Kip, Uncle Rico and the rest of the original characters are back for a brand new adventure in small-town Idaho– and this time they’re cartoons!

The new animated series “Napoleon Dynamite” joined Fox’s Sunday night lineup for the first time last weekend. During an interview with me, actor Efren Ramirez, best know for his role as Napoleon Dynamite’s sidekick Pedro Sanchez, talked about reprising his role as the sweet-hearted transfer student from Mexico and how revisiting a character like Pedro will be good for him.

“Napoleon Dynamite” airs Sundays on Fox at 7:30 p.m.

“Napoleon Dynamite” has returned but in animated form? What’s going on?

(Laughs) Yeah, Jared [Hess], who directed “Napoleon Dynamite,” always wanted to do something else with the film. The studio thought of doing a sequel or a prequel. I think Jared also had the idea to make it into a cartoon. They definitely wanted to create something that was as great as the first. You want to do something bigger and better without destroying the characters or the story. There are so many fans out there that are so excited that “Napoleon Dynamite” is coming back.

Not only that, but the entire original cast is back to voice their characters, right?

Yeah, I’m really excited they got the original cast. The ensemble cast in “Napoleon Dynamite” really got close to each other. We all became good friends, so to be able to be on set with them again is like working with family. It really gives us the opportunity to participate even more in the creative process.

What did you think of Pedro when you saw him in animated form for the first time?

(Laughs) Well, my head doesn’t look like a football and it does look kind of goofy, but that’s fine. I just kept thinking, “This is really sweet!” Seeing Pedro in cartoon form is still really surreal. I’m really excited about the show and can’t wait to do more episodes.

“Napoleon Dynamite” is joining heavy hitters like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” on Fox’s Sunday night lineup. Is there any pressure?

(Laughs) Well, on a grand scale, I think each show is really different even though they are all animations. They each are in their own genre. To be a part of that is just amazing. I hope we can dominate like those show have done – for at least 50 years or as long as I’m alive!

The last time I interviewed you, you said it was important for you to distance yourself from your role as Pedro so directors wouldn’t automatically think of you as “that guy from ‘Napoleon Dynamite.'” Do you think reprising your role might take you in the wrong direction as an actor?

There is a great divide when you get into this business. You can work on things that are artsy and build on story and character or you can do things that are popular and just keep playing the same thing. But let’s look at this with perspective: Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin played one specific character in all their films and they were very funny. When I get roles like Pedro I think about the premise of the story and where can I take the character. If it’s heartfelt, then people are going to want to know the story and the character. I still want to be an actor that can do lots of different things. I’ve been doing that ever since “Napoleon Dynamite” came out.

What can we anticipate from an animated version of Pedro?

Well, we get to see more and explore more with Pedro and the rest of the characters. You also get to see more of the world they live in. In an animated series things can blow up and people can die, but they’ll be back the next week.

Have you ever played tetherball against Jon Heder? Who won?

(Laughs) No, I haven’t, but I’m sure he’d probably win because I’ve heard he has some mad skills.

What is the coolest piece of “Napoleon Dynamite” memorabilia you own?

I have this “Napoleon Dynamite” poster from the U.K. that is very different. I also have the two original “Vote for Pedro” t-shirts from the movie. I hope to give them to my kids one day if that day ever comes.

Crank: High Voltage

April 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakum
Directed by: Mark Neveldine (“Crank”) and Brian Taylor (“Brian”)
Written by: Mark Neveldine (“Crank”) and Brian Taylor (“Brian”)

In the final scene of the high-impact sequel “Crank: High Voltage,” action star Jason Statham – all bloodied and bruised and flaking away from the fire that has engulfed his broken-down body – looks straight into the camera and shoots his middle finger up in the air to reinforce his badass-ness.

It’s almost like an “f-you” to the audience, actually. “F-you” for sitting through the cinematic equivalent to someone with a neuropsychiatric disorder dropping acid, and “f-you” to anyone walking out of this thing not thinking it’s his best work to date.

Reprising his role as Chev Chelios, Statham, who has made a career out of dingy action flicks with the exception of the more intelligent “Bank Job” last year, starts where he left off from the original 2006 movie. If you don’t recall, at the end of the first one, Chev falls to his presumable death from a helicopter. Before the credits start rolling, however, you hear a faint heartbeat letting you know that a second “Crank” was probably on the horizon all along. Chev, of course, is not dead. He is whisked away into a van by surviving members of the Chinese mob and undergoes underground open heart surgery.

His own heart, which is to be implanted into an old Chinese mobster, is replaced with an artificial one fit with a battery pack to keep him alive. When Chev escapes his medical lair, a makeshift hospital where doctors are to harvest the rest of his organs, he sets off to find his real heart before he flatlines.

If you’re anticipating brainlessness for a quick 96 minutes of empty fun, you’ll be satisfied with the way the first 20 minutes play out as Chev goes ballistic on everyone he sees. This includes a scene where he sticks a shotgun barrel up the butt of a cholo. He also has time to reconnects with his girl Eve (Amy Smart) at a local strip club, meets Venus (Efren Ramirez), the twin brother of now-deceased Kaylo (also played by Ramirez) from the original, and keeps his buddy Doc (Dwight Yoakum) updated on his heart condition via cell phone.

“If you can get a hold of your heart,” Doc tells him, “I’m reasonably sure I can put it back in for you.” Is there any better reason to continue with this charade?

There’s no room for reality in “Crank: High Voltage,” and that’s what keeps it pumping for the first few scenes. However, the film turns into a check list of ways Chev can keep his heart pumping  (i.e. sex on a horseracing track, jumper cables on his nipples) before the bad guys enter in for another beat down. If you’re down with Statham’s previous line of work, you’ll more than likely be pleased with “High Voltage.” Everyone else probably would get more of a jolt sticking any appendage in a wall socket.

Efren Ramirez – Crank: High Voltage

March 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Best known for his role as the Mexican, wig-wearing, cake-building, class-president nominee Pedro Sanchez from the surprise 2004 comedy hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” actor Efren Ramirez has slowly but surely made it a point to stray away from being typecast as a loveable albeit dorky minority sidekick.

In “Crank: High Voltage,” Ramirez, 35, plays Venus, the twin brother of the cross-dressing Kaylo, his character in the original “Crank,” who is killed off before the credits roll. During my interview, Ramirez, who ironically has a twin brother in real life, talked about bulking up for his role and explained why he didn’t end up running around with gangs while growing up in East L.A.

Did you ever think after dying in “Crank” you would be getting a call to do the sequel?

I was really surprised that I was offered the script to do the second one. I didn’t think it was going to be as intense as it was when I started reading it. I was like, “Oh my God! They’ve taken it to the next level!”

So, in “Crank: High Voltage” you play Venus, the twin brother of your character in the original. I’m guessing Venus isn’t a drag queen like Kaylo.

(Laughs) Nah, Venus is very aggressive and dark. Once I got the script, I had three months to learn everything I needed for this character. I started studying kung fu, gymnastics, weapons, and I learned how to ride a motorcycle. I started doing 1,000 push-ups and sit-ups every single day. Ironically enough, I have a twin brother in real life.

What did your twin brother say when you told him about this role?

He was like, “Hey, so if he’s a twin and I’m your twin…” (Laughs). My brother is working towards being an actor as well, which is great. But as an actor you have to work hard to create characters and take chances. My brother is barely starting his career so I tell him to do a lot more theater and stay in school and keep studying and his time will come. There are a couple of scenes we do together in [“Crank: High Voltage”]. It’s going to shock the audience.

I saw that the Mara Salvatrucha gang is represented in the film. Did you ever run into any of those gang members since you’re originally from East L.A.?

(Laughs) Are you kidding? I’ve bumped into MS [Mara Salvatrucha]. I’ve bumped into V13 [Venice 13], HLP [Highland Park gang], Lincoln Heights. It’s inevitable. If you’re Latino, you’re going to be bumping into a lot of homies. But my mom put my brothers and me into theater so that she could keep us away from the gangs. It was the theater that drove me to acting. I would take the bus for two hours from East L.A. to Beverly Hills to study.

Post-“Napoleon Dynamite,” what kind of roles do you seek out?

I want to play memorable characters. I want to take on roles that are challenging. It always depends on how deep the character is. The characters are what make the story happen. I had a film come out a couple of years ago called “Ratko” and I played a Russian character in that. People are going, “He’s Latino, but he can also play this? Oh my god!” Actors like Ricardo Montalban, Edward James Olmos, and Raul Julia, they were the pioneers who broke these rules and played different roles. I take on these roles that are different because they are different. They’re different worlds that I would never enter in real life. I would never assassinate somebody. Maybe I’d build a cake.

Speaking of Pedro, I read you chose to play that character instead of taking a smaller role in “The Alamo.” How do you think Pedro Sanchez would have fared fighting at the Alamo?

(Laughs) I think we would have won the war. [As Pedro Sanchez] Hello. I’m going to blow you away or something.