Before he was cast in Top Gun: Maverick, the forthcoming sequel to a film famous for its aerial stunts, Danny Ramirez was afraid of flying. “I didn’t know we were gonna be on jets,” says the 29-year-old over Zoom from outside the Ponce City Market in sunny Atlanta. “I had to sign a waiver saying I’m not afraid. I obviously lied.” By the end of the 10-month shoot, however, he was an amateur pilot. “I understood the physics of flight; I was comfortable in the air; I was addicted to Gs,” he says. But Ramirez’s can-you-believe-it attitude about his own success belies a wholehearted dedication to the craft of acting — and an origin story worthy of its own screenplay.
Ramirez’s foray into acting began back in 2011; after he sprained his ankle playing soccer at college in Atlanta, he became an extra on a movie called the The Reluctant Fundamentalist. “I got to see Riz Ahmed play soccer for this movie, and it was just a small part of the montage,” he recalls. “[What was supposed to take] two hours took eight hours, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding? I could have done that in 30 minutes. Easy.’” The next day he bought his first book on acting. And the following semester, he transferred to NYU.
Finding success as a professional actor (let alone becoming a leading man) isn’t exactly an easy journey, but Ramirez had the temerity to try. While at NYU, Ramirez auditioned for Tisch, the college’s prestigious and notoriously selective performing arts school, at the suggestion of a friend. He didn’t even know what Tisch was — a blasphemous admission for an aspiring actor — and moments before his audition, his confidence evaporated. He surveyed the room of 20 or so Broadway hopefuls and Brando impersonators and felt self-conscious, ill-prepared, and naive, like an imposter. “They belong here because they’ve been practising at this,” he remembers. “It was the first time that I thought, like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve put all my eggs in one basket; I have a bunch of student loans; what am I doing here? Holy shit, what have I done?’” Overwhelmed, he burst into tears. “I did my comedic monologue while crying, and then I did my second monologue while coming down from the cry,” recalls Ramirez. But something clicked onstage, and he dazzled the panel. “That might have been, like, the best audition I’ve ever had,” he says with a laugh. Today, Ramirez is a notable alumnus of Tisch, alongside the likes of Benicio del Toro, Mark Ruffalo, and his Top Gun co-star Miles Teller.
After he graduated, Ramirez’s natural chops and charisma earned him roles in 2018’s Assassination Nation (the pitch-black revenge comedy from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson) and HBO’s The Affair, and, last year, in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But up until a few years ago, Ramirez found there were few roles with complexity for Latino performers. Even today, he says, he can sense when he’s a diversity hire. But Hollywood has made strides toward genuine inclusivity, especially for Hispanic actors who are egregiously under-represented. “Starting off, it was all about just finding a way in. And then shortly after, it was like, ‘Wait, all our self-worth is more than just getting scraps.’” he says. “[In recent years], I think there have just been amazing opportunities and stories being shared, and it’s given us more agency over our stories and made [the industry] more dynamic. I’m glad [how] much has changed, but there’s still a long way to go.”
This is set to be a banner year for the young actor, who takes top billing in Claire Denis’s upcoming A24 film, The Stars at Noon, alongside Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn, firmly positioning him at the forefront of Hollywood’s next generation. Yet it’s his role in a rebooted ’80s icon — Top Gun: Maverick — that is almost certain to be Ramirez’s breakout. In the role of pilot trainee Fanboy, Ramirez worked closely on set with one of Hollywood’s most illustrious talents: Tom Cruise. So, what was it like working with the biggest action star in the world? “What transferred [to me] was the responsibility as a storyteller to not just do the bare minimum,” he says. “[Viewers] are taking two hours of their life to be entertained by you, [so] there is this responsibility to go all out. There’s a sanctity about going into a movie theatre and being absolutely blown away — about suspending disbelief and being taken to a different world. [And that] I found beautiful.”
Photography: Aaron Sinclair
Styling: Parker Harwood (The Wall Group)
Grooming: Kristen Shaw (The Wall Group)
Styling Assistant: Kaaria Love