Efren Ramirez may not yet be a household name, but his visage is already etched in the minds of millions of moviegoers, thanks to one role. As Pedro, the diminutive, bumbling Latino sidekick who runs for student office in Jared Hess' quirky 2004 cult film Napoleon Dynamite, Ramirez does wonders with small-scale comic schtick. But Dynamite only marked the beginning; Ramirez refuses to be typed, continually testing his mettle and expanding his repertoire by branching out into a broad array of roles and character types. "Now I must tell you," he admitted to an interviewer, "[Dynamite] is only the beginning. Wait until you see my next films. I enjoy the exploration of characters...[and] I'm only getting started."
Born in Los Angeles to a slightly itinerant family of mixed Salvadorian and Mexican descent, Ramirez attended parochial schools as a youngster, while his working-class parents sustained two jobs apiece to fund their children's private education. Mrs. Ramirez inadvertently sent Efren and his brothers to after-school drama classes in an effort to keep them out of trouble, but in Efren's case, the casual pastime blossomed into a passion. Mentored in drama by the famed actress Diane Venora (F/X, Bird, Heat), as well as thespians Laura Henry and Gloria E. Gifford, Ramirez expended blood, sweat, and tears to hone his acting ability to a fine point; he frequently landed supporting roles in such TV series as Judging Amy, The District, ER, and Boston Public. His official big screen debut, however, arrived in the form of Tom Musca's little-seen 1998 sociopolitical satire Race (aka Melting Pot), about a Chicano housepainter from East L.A. (Paul Rodriguez) who runs for city council office. Tertiary roles in Carl Schenkel's 2000 Hallmark Hall of Fame effort Missing Pieces and Ron Krauss' 2001 Rave followed, but Ramirez went little noticed in either film.
Only in 2003, when director Jared Hess enlisted Ramirez to play Pedro in his debut feature Napoleon Dynamite did Ramirez's visibility shoot off like a rocket. He worked diligently to develop the Pedro characterization, and brushed up on his exposure to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, weaving influences from each screen comedian into his own voice and emerging with a thoroughly unique character. Dynamite, of course, became the success d'estime of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and a surprise runaway hit; it also made Ramirez' career.
Innumerable offers and projects followed, which saw Ramirez gradually ascend to higher and higher billing. The most immediate efforts included key contributions to four well-profiled 2006 productions. Crank, an urban thriller from Lionsgate with Jason Statham and Amy Smart, in which Ramirez portrays the transvestite Kaylo; the same year's comedy All You've Got, co-starring Faizon Love and Clara Harris; and the 2006 Dane Cook/Jessica Simpson vehicle Employee of the Month, wherein Ramirez appears as Jorge.
2006's Walk Out, from MTV Films, marked Ramirez's first lead performance. He starrred opposite Edward James Olmos, Michael Pena, and Alexa Vega, as Bobby Verdugo, an East L.A.-born Chicano student who fights for better educational conditions during the Chicano movement in 1968.