The Falcon and the Winter Soldier<\/em>‘s Danny Ramirez Has the Wings. Will Marvel Let Him Soar?

The tattoo is a heart rate line joined to the letters of his hometown—Chicago—and inked like a black band around his left wrist. Just below, there is another: an outline of baby Simba from The Lion King. The images embody birth and childhood, and Danny Ramirez once planned to continue the timeline, to run a mural of symbols up his arm, up his life, up until his final breath, when an artist would complete the sleeve with the letters of his last town and a black flatline encircling his shoulder: death.

For now, the 28-year-old’s arm is mostly negative space. Had he filled in the last 20 years, he may have added landmarks from Miami and then Atlanta and then New York and then L.A. There may have been a football or a soccer ball, his first dreams, and then a film camera, his latest dream. This past year, there would certainly be wings. With Top Gun: Maverick, due out in the fall, and The Falcon and the Winter Solider, now finished—at least for one season—Ramirez’s breakout year has been defined by flight. And, if Hollywood’s Hero Industrial Complex looks favorably upon Ramirez, he may not be coming down any time soon. Taking the wings from Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Ramirez may join the MCU permanently. If so, he will be Marvel’s fist Latinx superhero, flying vanguard in the company’s next cinematic phase. Just think: An Avengers tattoo before the elbow years.

Today, however, Ramirez is thinking about none of these things. He’s locked into his next character—he can’t yet discuss him—and filming in maybe the only Covid-free place on Earth, New Zealand, where Ramirez is adjusting slowly to strangers’ unmasked mouths and where, just the other day, he withdrew from a host who leaned in too close to his face. Then he realized something new. “I was like, Oh my god, this is amazing. This is beautiful. You’re not shying away from contact!” Ramirez says, laughing.

For Ramirez, the normalcy has helped quell the Marvel hype. His possible Falcon succession will no doubt elevate the actor’s already-soaring celebrity profile. It’s the result of years of hustle, and a mentality instilled in drama school: “[You’re now in] the fucking Olympics of acting, [so] train like an Olympian and throw the fuck down in every room you enter.”

But his superhero ascent is also the result of kindness. One of his first rooms, his first callback with a director, changed the tone. It was Greta Gerwig. “She was unbelievably nice, in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” Ramirez remembers of the now Oscar-nominated director (Lady Bird, Little Women). “Here I was nervous that all people [in the industry] are just gonna be dicks. The idea of a director being an awful person was debunked by Greta right off the bat.” Ramirez realized the power of “morale.” His mentality became something more like: throw the fuck down, but also be really nice about it. That attitude Marvel found immediately attractive. And they’re not letting Ramirez go just yet. “I can’t tell you where it’s going to go, but obviously he’s not in there for no reason,” Malcolm Spellman, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier writer, said recently. Elsewhere, Spellman continued: “He’s going to blow up… He is one of those people who feels inevitable.”

On the edge of the inevitable, Ramirez sat down with Men’s Health to discuss what everyone’s thinking about—but what, for now, he’s keeping from his mind—his future.

Men’s Health: I read that the origin story of Danny Ramirez begins with an ankle injury on a soccer field. What’s that tale?

Danny Ramirez: I was playing soccer as a freshman at Oglethorpe University. I’d injured my ankle, and so I was basically out of commission. It was my birthday, September 17 [2011]. We were practicing, and this PA from The Reluctant Fundamentalist—they were shooting the movie at our school—approached me. They were looking for soccer player extras. I was just sitting there with crutches, and I was broke. They’re like, “So it’s 120 bucks. And it’s basically just a couple hours.” And I was like, “Oh, fuck yeah, I’ll do that!” They gave me a brand-new pair of Puma cleats. And then I got to sit around and watch Riz Ahmed in action. He was the first actor of color I’d seen as a lead; I didn’t watch many movies as a kid. Seeing him, I was kind of like, “Oh, wait, I could do this too.” I bought my first acting books then.

And here you are now in this big Marvel week. How are you feeling?

It’s actually been chill, because New Zealand has no Covid. [I’ve been telling myself] Go out. It’s a luxury to be able to go out and eat. Don’t just order in. Go out there. Experience life.

Is your family trying to tease answers out of you?

I’ve been on the phone with my mom. She knows less about the [Marvel] history. So, she’s like, “Oh, what does that mean??” I’m like: “Hmm, I don’t know. I can’t tell you.” My sister doesn’t want ANY spoilers. She’s the only one. She’s like, “Don’t say anything!”

[The Falcon and the Winter Soldier showrunner] Malcolm Spellman said they originally had a much bigger arc for your character. Were there any deleted moments you wish audiences got to see?

There were a couple moments that were kind of fun. In [the penultimate] episode, when I joined [Bucky and Sam] again, I [was going to say], “I wish we were more like BTS.” And then Sam says, “BTS? Who’s BTS?” And I’m like, “Dude, they’re the biggest band in the world!” That would have been really fun. But they shifted his character [tonally] a little bit, and that moment didn’t fit.

BTS Army is gonna be bummed their band missed an MCU reference.

I know, man! I know! I was excited to hype them up and bring them into that world.

Thirty years from now, when you think of this time in your career, what moment do you think will stay with you?

When I finished Top Gun: Maverick. My last shot of that day. I landed in the F-18 and then went to the viewing room where we review the footage. We did our own camera operating [while flying], because we didn’t have connections with directors. [The cockpits were not big enough to fit a camera operator.] We recorded ourselves. I saw what I did. It was sick! Then Tom was flying back to L.A. that day, and he said, “You want a lift?” So I was flown back to L.A. by Tom Cruise himself, and then had a car take me home. It was insane. What a day.

Wait, did Tom literally fly you? Or his pilot gave you a lift?

Yeah, so he had this new plane he had just bought that week, I think. He was piloting me.

You got an Uber from Tom Cruise.

I got an Uber plane from Tom Cruise.

Going back to the bench and the crutches for a second. Riz Ahmed has spoken a lot about the different stages of representation in film. The first when you play a caricature or a stereotype. The second where you play an explicit subversion of that stereotype. And the third where you just get to “be a guy”—where your ethnic identity doesn’t define your character. Did you face a similar road as he did?

Well, it’s beautiful, and thank God that [Ahmed] was the person I first saw and who shepherded me—by accident—into this world. I think because I saw him as the lead, I thought, automatically: Okay, we could do this at that level. I didn’t have the language to articulate that then. I just knew the moment I saw [Ahmed]: This is something that doesn’t have a ceiling. Or: It does [have a ceiling], but it’s at least accessible in some way.

From the beginning, I told my first agents and managers, “Look, if it’s a stereotype of something, I won’t go in and do it.” It was for sure the right thing to do. But I don’t know if everyone thought it was the right thing to do right away. I just knew I didn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes. What I wanted to do was to fight against them. And even the idea, as [Ahmed] said, to subvert the stereotypes, is still acknowledging the stereotype. I don’t know—unless done absolutely right—that doesn’t inherently break down the stereotype. It’s just a nod to yourself. Like, “Oh, look what we did. Because it’s this thing, we’ve now subverted it and it’s no longer the thing.” But it [still] makes it the thing. Luckily, everyone who is understanding knows that Hollywood is changing, knows that representation is not just about the archetype of representation, but a fully living, functioning human being.

If Torres/Falcon does become a staple MCU character, do you hope his Latinx identity plays an explicit role? Or would you rather it be something that’s just a given, an incidental fact?

I think we’re now afforded the ability to find nuance. Especially the way that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has set off the conversation. It’s taken you on this adventure, but also put at the forefront the current social political climate and the division through the internal struggle of Sam. I think it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t get to dive into what that means for Joaquin. Even the moment you put on the uniform, when you represent the armed forces in any capacity. And if you’re an immigrant or you’re first generation, there’s a conversation somewhere to be had about that and what that means. We’re here to tell stories that matter. And I think that’s what makes me so confident in having joined the MCU family in any capacity. Like: They care. We care about moving the needle forward and having these conversations. It won’t be incidental that [Falcon] is Hispanic. I think we would be able to touch on subjects, about what it means to be Brown and a superhero.

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