Lázaro Ramos, one of Brazil’s most accomplished performers, is an actor and novelist with roles in over 30 films and two dozen television series to his credit. He’s now stepping behind the camera for his directorial debut with Executive Order. Debuting at SXSW Online 2021, the film imagines a future, dystopian Brazil where the authoritarian government orders all individuals of African decent to return to Africa. The story that unfolds is a high stakes, emotional one following lawyer Antonio (Alfred Enoch), his wife Capitu (Taís Araujo), and his cousin Andre (Seu Jorge) as they fight against this new law. We were delighted to get the chance to (virtually) sit down and talk about the film with Ramos himself.
Nerds and Beyond: First, I wanted to start by saying congratulations on Executive Order. I was blown away when I saw it.
Lázaro Ramos: Thank you, thank you. You are my first audience because we didn’t show this movie here in Brazil. We start from film festivals, and this week is my first week talking about the movie, so I’m learning about my story now for your worlds.
Nerds and Beyond: You are no stranger to talking about this topic in your career, so where did the dystopian storyline for continuing the discussion on skin color come from for you and the writing team?
Ramos: From the theater. I directed this story in 2011, a play “Namíbia, Não!” and the writer is named Aldri Anunciação. He is from Bahia and he invited me to put this display on in the theater. When we started I felt his story had something different, the possibility to be a good movie, and we started to try to make a movie since 2012, and shot this story through 2019. It’s very strange and curious to me that many of the situations [in the film] happen now because we wrote this story to talk and to alert about things that we didn’t want to happen. The world’s woken up and many things happened. The characters are confined and we are confined and closed into our houses and apartments, the people walk with masks. We shot this story in 2019 and one year later George Floyd dies in the same way as one character. You know, that’s something to think [about] something very important to think [about]. Where the world’s going.
Nerds and Beyond: It was written 7 years ago, but feels almost more timely today. How does it feel to get this message and this story out into the world right now?
Ramos: Well, it’s not exactly happy. I’ve worked since I was 10 years old on many plays and movies that I wanted, and that I made, talk about prejudice and racism. And I really want to start to talk about the subject, I don’t feel happy and I feel I need to change the subject but unfortunately the racism exists and as an artist that’s my contribution to the world. This movie has something different, I can’t mix languages, this is a different feeling because I mixed comedy, drama, thriller and this is important to change the way to talk about the subject. But I’m not happy to talk about racism yet, already. I will feel happy when I change the subject because if I change the subject it’s because the world changed.
Nerds and Beyond: This is your first time stepping behind the camera. What was that transition like for you to take on the role of director?
Ramos: I don’t know, it’s something crazy. I didn’t want to direct this movie, I showed it to many friends, many directors, all of them had their own projects and I decided to direct. That’s not my dream, I love to be an actor, I love to make movies, I love to make plays, but I understand that I had something different to make this story. My actors experience [informed] many things for the director. How to speak with the actors, the decisions about the people in the scenario, those things are maybe the actor talking also. I didn’t want to make this movie as an actor, but the actor helps me when I need to decide some things to put this story on the screen.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you have any favorite elements that you’d consider your signature?
Ramos: I’m learning, I’m learning about it. I write, I have many books, I directed many plays, and I wrote many plays and all of them have a similar characteristic. I start all my stories talking about the [things] that all of the audience understands. About family, about love, about happiness, about identity. Later, I change the style to speak about subjects. This is some kind of characteristic that I love to work with. I must, and I want, and I will put it in practice with my new works and plays and movies.
Nerds and Beyond: Tell me a little about working on set with Alfred, Taís, and the rest of this amazing cast. They really blew me away with their performances.
Ramos: They are a really special cast. I wanted three heroes. One strong woman, one really charismatic protagonist, Alfie, and one charismatic and strong protagonist, Jorge. [It] was very difficult because they had difficult agendas, putting them together to shoot this movie was kind of a crazy scene but it was very important because I want to have the audience in love with them, that’s why. Because they want to be them. That’s my desire, and I think this happens in the movie because Taís is an amazing actress, she’s my wife also, but she’s an amazing actress and I am a fan of her. I watch her many movies, plays, and soap operas and I really love to work with her because she puts her soul in each character and in this movie also. Alfie, I love his way of being the life. I watched many interviews with him, I watched How to Get Away with Murder a lot, and he feels like he’s a good person and that’s important for this character. And Jorge, as an actor and singer, he’s a crazy and beautiful person and this character needed that. Some person who talks and don’t think, some person who just does this stuff, and Jorge has this characteristic and puts his soul into this person and this character.
Nerds and Beyond: I definitely think they all give their souls to their characters. Did you ever find yourself getting emotional during the more intense moments during filming?
Ramos: Many, many days I cried. Many days. The window scene with Alfred I cried a lot. When Taís talks, almost at the end of the movie, with the people in the Afro-bunker, I cried a lot. When I entered, the first time in the Afro-bunker and I looked at all the [scenery], the pictures, the colors, I cried a lot. And then the last scene on the march, when the people are walking was a huge day. We had just 200 extras in this scene, and we sent for many friends by WhatsApp, one message talking about “we’ll shoot the last scene for the movie, invite some [people].” And 500 people are on this scene because they wanted to be in this story, because they wanted to be in this movie. This scene has one of the most important writers from Brazil, her name is Conceição Evaristo. She decided to stay in the scene because she told me on this day, “I wanted to walk with you, with your story, with those people.” I cried a lot. This is a very sentimental movie for me. I made this movie with all my heart, all my soul, and I’m trying to contribute for important reflections to change the world. I know just one movie won’t change all of the world, but one movie can touch people. I feel so touched with this possibility to write this story.
Thank you to Lázaro Ramos for talking with us about Executive Order which will debut at SXSW Online 2021 on March 16. Ramos will be doing a public LiveChat on the Executive Order’s SXSW film page on Thursday, March 18th at 5 p.m. CT. Be sure to check out our coverage of the film as it debuts, as well as all our coverage for SXSW Online.