Anthony Ramos is the very definition of multi-talented. He’s starred in “Hamilton” on Broadway, blockbuster hits like Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” “A Star Is Born” and the upcoming “In The Heights” movie. Not one for sitting on his laurels, his debut album, The Good and the Bad was just released Oct. 25 and his recently launched tour stopped Philadelphia this past week.
Philadelphia Tribune staff writer Jamyra Perry had an exclusive interview with the actor/singer during his tour’s Philadelphia stop at The Foundry. Here’s the interview, edited for clarity and brevity:
Q: Welcome to Philly. From singing at family events to the bright lights of Broadway, working on blockbuster films, TV and now an album. That’s a lot. How did we get here?
A: Jesus, that’s how I got here. Yeah. And working hard. It’s been a long journey. It didn’t just happen overnight. People are like “Yo, you’ve had so much overnight success’. They’re like, ‘you’ve done so much in so little time’. It doesn’t feel like a little bit of time. I started when I was 19. I’m 28 now. That’s almost nine years of working hard and standing outside of you know, studios to do open auditions for musicals, and I had no agent and stuff like that. I was just really trying to get seen. It’s awesome that I’ve done all this stuff but it didn’t happen fast. Now that it has happened it’s been nice because it seems like each thing has prepared me for the next thing. I’m like the whole Broadway thing has prepared me for being on tour. Broadway also prepared me for TV. I think Broadway is like boot camp for anybody, any artist that knows or has done theater knows that theater is like the ultimate form of artistic creative boot camp. They can kind of get you ready for almost anything. So I’m grateful that I started there and those are my roots and that’s where I come from.
Q: Speaking of boot camp, you’re from Brooklyn. Philly and Brooklyn are full of spirited people. We tend to be very opinionated. A lot of times when you talk to actors, musicians or even sportspeople that have spent time here, they say a part of their toughness comes from living in places like where we are from. You’re not scared to go to audition because your cousin will have no problem telling you if your singing is terrible. Do you find that to be true?
A: Sure. Sure. Sometimes we grow up hard. At least in certain parts of Brooklyn, like where I grew up, right. This album that I wrote was like, a lot about going against the grain going against that spirit that so many of us grew up in. These people can relate to me coming from a tough area where you had to be hard to look hard or be a comedian to stay out of trouble, right. You know, and it was just kind of like you grew up that way and you just can’t be vulnerable. You’re afraid to sing because you’re afraid of what people are going to say. You’re afraid to tell jokes if you’re a comedian or pursue that. You wonder how people will react because it’s so far from what your peers have done. Some of them have never seen anybody achieve something like that, to become a professional comedian become like a musician or whatever. So you tell them that and they act like you’re crazy.
Q: Growing up without seeing those people doing the things that you wanted to do, here did you look to for inspiration?
A: It was teachers, to be honest. My mom was awesome and has always been so supportive. But I’m also grateful for these teachers. Sarah Stein was one of my top teachers. She was the theatre director at my high school and I played baseball. My junior year actually, I thought I was auditioning for a talent show but it turned out to be a musical. I sang my song. Then she asked me to read some lines and I was like, ‘Naw, I don’t do that’. She insisted. I read the lines. A couple days later I found out that I got the part. It was crazy. When I got on stage, that was the first time I felt anything that felt as special to me as when I was playing baseball and baseball was my life. And that’s what I knew, right? Sometimes we tend to turn to the things that we know and the things that make us comfortable. We go to the same food spots. We don’t want to try that food or that restaurant because I don’t know that place. I’m staying with what I know. I know what I’m going to get here. We stay in the same area because we know the person in the corner store. I know where everything is, it’s familiar. But sometimes when we step out of our comfort zone into something uncomfortable, we get surprised that the thing that feels so uncomfortable probably feels that way because it’s a new level of comfort. It may be a deeper level of comfort that we’re not used to.
Q: Stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying to find that place to belong, is that what inspires you as an artist?
A: Yeah, this is not comfortable for me. You know, I look comfortable sitting here talking. Playing shows to mostly strangers every night and sharing these intimate stories about my life with groups of people at a time. It’s not comfortable talking about a lot of stuff that I haven’t even told people that are really close to me and now I’m sharing it with the world or anyone that’s down to listen. right? It’s very uncomfortable. Every night I have to make a decision to be uncomfortable. When I was 16 years old, one of my baseball coaches said to me, ‘you know my job is to make you comfortable in uncomfortable situations’. He said my job as your coach is to help you learn how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and I never forgot that.
Q: Would you say that’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten over your career?
A: I don’t know what the best piece of advice but that’s definitely one of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten in my life. You know, another great piece of advice was from Lin Manuel who wrote the ‘Hamilton’ and ‘In the Heights’ musicals and now the ‘In the Heights’ movie coming out next year. This dude is so successful. We’re hanging out the rehearsal and I cracked a joke about needing to change the way I spoke because I thought I sounded ghetto. He said that I didn’t need to change the way I spoke. He said, “Papa, we just need to make sure people understand you”.
Q: Speaking of roles, you’ll be taking on the lead role in the movie version of “In the Heights”. How did that come about? Was Usnavy a role that you’ve always wanted?
A: Playing Usnavy for ‘In the Heights’ is for real dream come true for me. ‘In the Heights’ was the first musical that I saw that I felt like I related to every song and not only that I related to the people on stage. I felt like I knew them. That person is like Tiffany from elementary school, but that person is like my cousin. These were people who felt like people that I knew, and they looked like me and they sounded like me. It’s amazing how life just comes full circle. From me seeing the show and it giving me so much hope and now starring in the movie version.
Q: Speaking of shows, what can people expect when they come to see one of your shows?
A: They can I know they can expect to get a deeper look into who I am. There’s nothing like seeing the show live. I think we listened to a record within an album is one thing. And that’s cool, right? And I think I encourage everybody to listen to the album. But when you come to a show, I take it to another level because I get to connect with you. I get to be intimate with you, I get to look you in the eye. This is my story. This is the song. These are the lyrics. This is why I wrote these lyrics.