By Tricia Carr | July 9, 2015 | People
Power star J.R. Ramirez talks about being a Latino actor in Hollywood right now, what it's like to work with 50 Cent, and why filming in New York is tough for him.
Cuban actor J.R. Ramirez might play the sidekick to a powerful drug lord/nightclub owner on TV, but outside the high-stakes world of Starz's Power, the Miami-bred LA resident prefers to lay low in quiet Hallandale Beach and go fishing in the Keys when he's back home in South Florida—anything to escape wintertime in New York, where he films the show. "I don’t do well in the cold, but I get it: New York is so much a part of this show. It’s a huge thing that couldn’t be done in LA." He's even joked with producers that they should film in the summer, but he has yet to convince them.
Before the next episode of Power airs this Saturday at 9 pm, we talked to Ramirez about the mood on set, what it's like working with executive producer/star Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, why it's great to be a Latino in Hollywood right now, and more:
Power just got renewed for a third season. Congrats!
JR RAMIREZ: Yeah, we had a pretty good week. We broke some records and we got renewed. Couldn’t be more blessed and excited right now with everything.
As an actor, how does it feel to have a show renewed?
JR: It’s pretty amazing. I’ve been out here [in Hollywood] for about 10 years putting the work in and no matter what—you come in the middle of a show that’s successful, or you start in the beginning of a show and you create it—whatever it may be, to be able to have something that has substance and longevity is very… it’s hard. It’s like winning the lottery, because you never know what’s going to be a hit or what people are going to really like. The fact that this was something I was able to get into from the get-go, and we’re flushing out all these characters and building them, and people are really into it, and the show’s become a hit, it’s what every actor is striving for out here. It’s amazing.
Power is a pretty dark drama. What’s the mood like on set when you’re rehearsing and shooting?
JR: Well, it’s definitely not dark. [Laughs] We’re always trying to find any type of comedic undertone that we can find that we can give [the show]. It creates so much more, I feel, depth to the darkness that the show actually entails. We all go and put in hard work and really are passionate about what we do, but there are numerous—including 50 [Cent] more than anybody—jokesters on set all the time. There are a lot of jokes, and a lot of getting yelled at by our director to get focused. It’s pretty fun.
Who’s really the biggest jokester on set?
JR: I’d say 50, hands down, which is the biggest surprise. 50’s always cracking jokes and telling stories. The guy is a trip.
What’s it like to work with 50 Cent? First he had a production role and now he’s also starring in the show. Were you intimidated at all?
JR: I hung out with him a few times around the first season, but I never got the chance to work with him, and this last season, I did work with him numerous times. It was quite amazing to see him work because the guy—everything he touches turns to gold. The guy is such a brilliant mind, he’s such a big business man, and he understands that acting is not his number one—that he’s still growing. He shows up on set with this humble attitude of being like, 'Let’s work; let’s explore.' There’s no cockiness, there’s no ego; he just wants to get better, which is all we’re all trying to do, and it elevates everyone’s game. At the same time, he’s light and he’s always cracking jokes and telling stories. There’s a reason why he’s reached a level that he’s reached; because there’s a likeability to him. When I saw him I was intimidated as hell, because it’s 50 Cent, but he’s a teddy bear. He’s just super, super smart.
What initially attracted you to the role of Julio on Power?
JR: [When I auditioned], they gave me someone else’s character from some other script, so I didn’t know much. Then, when they got down to the wire, I got the role, and I started learning about what the story was and about the character. I started getting really excited because I felt like this was a huge opportunity for me. In the first season, I was just getting introduced and I had sat down with writers and realized that there was longevity to this role if I really put in the work. I really believed there was something dark and current about it—on top of the fact that it was full of ethnicity, which was something I was super proud of, being Cuban. There was so much ethnicity and I feel like it was something that was not on TV. I saw the potential of this being something really big, and here we are two years later.
Do you think that the diversity attracts people to the show? Do you think that’s why it’s so popular?
JR: I don’t know if that’s why it’s so popular, but I will say it’s a very huge thing to be able to do, and it’s happening with all of Hollywood right now. There are Latinos all over. This Power season was full of ethnicities, whereas normally there’ll be four or five white guys and maybe one or two Latinos. Now, it’s flipped. All of my blonde-haired friends that work all the time, they’re like, 'Dude, this is all going to black and Latinos.' It’s beautiful to see because it’s nice for a Latino to not just be a gang member. For a Latino to be a businessman and have complex circumstances or whatever it may be, there’s more juice and proper writing for ethnic roles. It’s really cool to be able to be part of a show that definitely has a little bit of everything. We have so much flavor on our show.
Your character, Julio—what is he up to this season?
JR: Omari [Hardwick], who plays Ghost, his world starts falling apart. The stakes are raised to a point where he finds himself not knowing what to do, and a lot of responsibility falls on myself. I feel like my story really starts getting flushed out this year, so much so that you’re going to start really understanding why they trust Julio as much as they trust him. There’s a sense of loyalty that he has. That’s one of the elements that I love so much about his character. You never know what may happen—if he may go with Ghost, if he may turn on Ghost and go with Tommy. You never know, but you feel a sense of loyalty that he has. I love that so much about this character, because it can go anywhere for now. The responsibility and workload just rises and gets placed on his shoulders this year, and you’re going to start to see him taking on a lot more responsibility.
If you were in the same industry as your character in real life, which role would you play?
JR: You really stumped me on this one. There are a lot of qualities that I feel like I have as a person that I bring to the character of Julio. I love everything that he does, but I would say probably Ghost if I had a chance to step into someone’s shoes in real life, because my family got to this country with nothing, and by the time I was 12, we had what people would consider the American Dream. We had the beautiful house and everything. My dad’s one of the hardest working men I’ve ever met in my life; he’s 72 and still works seven days a week. I have that determination and grind behind me, so I really actually relate a lot to Ghost and wanting to better himself. Yeah, I would say Ghost. The only reason I didn’t say Ghost was because it’s tricky with this whole love triangle he’s got going on.
You’re in Power, and you’re also in the show Arrow. Do you watch both shows live? Or do you binge watch once a bunch of episodes are out?
JR: I am the kind of person—my manager had to force me to go see myself. I can’t hear myself, I hate seeing myself, I’m such a hard critic. I sit there and don’t enjoy it. I watch Power now because it’s become something we’re all very proud of, and it’s cool to watch it because I honestly love the show. As an audience member, I would watch it if I wasn’t in it, but if it wasn’t for the viewing parties with the whole cast, I would definitely fast forward my part.
The series takes place in Manhattan, and you’re based in LA. Do you film most of it in New York?
JR: We film all of it in New York. I was born in Cuba, raised in Florida, raised in Tampa, lived in Miami for a long time, and then came out here [to LA], so all I know is, I need the sun, ya know? I don’t do well in the cold, but I get it: New York is so much a part of this show. It’s a huge thing that couldn’t be done in LA. There’s so much texture and flavor and color; it needs to be there and I get it. I do make an ongoing joke with all the creators and stuff, and I’m just like, ‘You guys understand there are four seasons, right? You guys don’t wanna try the fall? Maybe the spring? No? Winter?” They just keep going back to [filming during the] winter.
How does it feel to film on the streets of New York? Do you always feel like you have an audience? I’m sure there’s constantly people walking by, noticing what you’re doing.
JR: Yeah, I mean, it’s New York. Especially if you’re working with 50, it’s just, it’s crazy, and he just eats it up. He loves the crowd, he’s so good with people. But definitely, especially this season, I feel like New York and Florida [...] are just backing our show so much; [they're] showing so much love and are so passionate about Power. It was tricky this year because everywhere [we] went, there was an audience—but again, that adds the flavor to it.
Do you have any favorite restaurants in New York?
JR: I’m a foodie; I love to cook and I love to eat, so I will say New York has the best cuisine of any city. And I’ve worked in San Fran for like two years, doing a project, and I thought San Fran was the best of the best when it comes to food. Nuh-uh, New York’s just, any corner you go, you could find something. It’s so good, the food in New York is amazing. I’d just say it’s my favorite city when it comes to food—hands down. I can’t even name one restaurant, there were so many good ones.
Photography courtesy of Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Starz