Graduating from Montclair State University with a degree in communication arts, Dania Ramirez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, had no aspirations to become a news reporter or public relations officer. Instead, she set her sights on acting. So far, it has been a wise choice.
“My road was already picked for me because I was really passionate about acting,” Ramirez, 25, said. “I just had to make sure that I worked really hard so I could be successful.”
After roles in feature films such as “Fat Albert” and Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” and “She Hate Me,” Ramirez now enters the biggest role of her career thus far as she portrays the Marvel Comic character Callisto in the new film “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
During an interview with me, Ramirez talked about getting cast for the film without knowing which character she would actually be playing, preparing for the role of Callisto once she received word and kicking Halle Berry’s butt on the big screen.
What was it about the Callisto role that made you want to take it on?
The fact that it is “X-Men” to tell you the truth. How could you say no? This is my biggest movie so far. I was excited to be a part of the movie. I knew that “X-Men” and “X-Men 2” had huge success. It was an international phenomenon. Also, the fact I was going to be having scenes with Halle Berry and Ian McKellen – actors of this caliber. I would have never imagined I would have met them let alone act with them in movie.
Were you familiar with the comic book growing up?
I was actually a tomboy growing up, but at that time I wasn’t reading comic books.
So, when did you get familiar with the history of the X-Men.
Before I got the role, I already started doing research. The only thing is, I didn’t know what character I was going to end up playing. The character I originally went in for was not the character I ended up with.
What character was that?
I originally went in to audition for Stacy X (a mutant prostitute who was briefly affiliated with Marvel Comics). They were looking for the right girl to play her. They looked all over the world and couldn’t find one. They had me come in at the last minute for an audition. I did a good job. I left thinking there was no way I am going to play this girl. Everybody else [auditioning] was white with blonde hair and blue eyes. They called me a week later and said the director (Brett Ratner) really liked my performance and he wanted me to go back in. I went back in and auditioned a scene from the comic book. A week later they called me and said they really liked me and were going to look for the right role for me. They found Callisto, whose background was unknown. They just adapted the character for me. I am really lucky. It just came out of the blue.
A lot of your fight scenes in the film are with Halle Berry, which goes along with the storyline from the comic book. What was it like to duke it out against an Oscar winner?
Yeah, they really tried to stay true to the comic books in that area. The fights are great because they are really aggressive. We’re not pulling hair or scratching. We are really going at it. I’m punching her. I’m throwing her up against the walls. I am really beating her up badly. The hardest part for me was trying not to hit her in the face before her close-up. This is Halle Berry!
Well, I know you’ve worked on the TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which was a pretty physical role as well. How much did you have to be in shape this time around for this role?
I had to be in extremely good shape. Brett saw me before I got the movie. Halle and I are pretty similar in frame. So, Brett wanted me to have a bigger presence because I’m the villain. So, I had to do a lot of training. I did everything from kickboxing to hiking to biking to weights just to get really toned up. I did that for about a month and a half. Then there were two weeks of choreographing the fight. It was pretty hard work, but it paid off.
Are comic-book movies a genre that you enjoy? If so, what have been your favorites so far?
I actually really enjoy “Spider-Man.” But it’s not something where I wake up every day and I’m like, ‘Oh my god! I am a huge fan of this comic book. I have to go see the movie!’ It’s a summer movie where you get entertained. That’s what it should be. You want something that is fast-paced, with explosions and fights and special effects. But you also want something that is interesting so when you walk out of the theater you can talk about it. I think that is one of the things that makes “X-Men” such a successful franchise. It’s about issues. It is a parallel to the real world and the issues that we face everyday about feeling like an outcast. I feel a lot of people can identify with that.
You’re early in your career, so at this point, what are you looking for? What kinds of roles are you going for and are you picky about accepting certain things?
I am picky, but it is early in my career. As an actress you want to work. For me, as an actress, I want to work, but I also want to make sure I am a part of good projects and that I pick my roles right and try to do my best to pick different roles so that when people see me they don’t pigeonhole me and put me in a box; like this is the only thing I can do. I just try to pick good material. That is the only strategy I have.
Your character Callisto is pretty fast on her feet. Are you the same way in human form?
I wish I was as fast as Callisto, but I am not that fast. But I am pretty fast. I used to play volleyball. I played for four years. I’ve always been in shape.
So, if you could pick any superpower to have, would you stick with Callisto’s or would you want to be able to do something else like walk through walls or create ice from your hands?
I like my superpowers. I think Callisto is cool. She is a leader. She is cool, calm, and collected. But if I could pick somebody else’s powers, I think I’d like a combination of Wolverine’s powers and Dark Phoenix. I think she is a goddess.