‘I didn’t see any of it com­ing’

From Hamil­ton and A Star is Born to new film Mon­sters and Men, An­thony Ramos’s star­dom has ex­ploded, and no one is more sur­prised than the young Brook­lynite

The Irish Times - - Arts & Ideas - Tara Brady

I grew up in the projects in Bush­wick. It was awe­some shoot­ing some­thing at home and a story that is fa­mil­iar to me . . . It’s un­for­tu­nately fa­mil­iar to me

In the three years since he orig­i­nated the dual roles of John Lau­rens and Philip Hamil­ton in the Broad­way mu­si­cal

Hamil­ton, An­thony Ramos has been ridicu­lously busy. In 2016, Hamil­ton su­per­fan Spike Lee cast the young Brook­lynite as Mars Black­mon – a role orig­i­nally oc­cu­pied by Lee him­self – in the Net­flix se­ries She’s

Gotta Have It, a re­boot of the 1986 film of the same name. Ex­pect to see Ramos knock­ing around this awards sea­son on the back of his role as Lady Gaga’s best friend in A

Star is Born. Later this year, he’ll fea­ture in the CBS sit­com Kr­ishna and ap­pear along­side Mil­lie Bobby Brown and O’Shea Jack­son Jr in Godzilla: King of the Mon­sters . He has al­ready recorded vo­cals for next year’s

Trolls World Tour and is cur­rently shoot­ing Hon­est Thief with Liam Nee­son (“He is the man, though!” says Ramos of his Ir­ish co-star).

“It’s wild for sure,” says the 27-year-old. “I didn’t see any of it com­ing. But I’m def­i­nitely not com­plain­ing.”

Ramos is one of three pro­tag­o­nists in Reinaldo Mar­cus Green’s com­pelling de­but fea­ture Mon­sters and Men. A trip­tych linked by the death of lo­cal Bed­ford-Stuyvesant char­ac­ter Big D (Samel Ed­wards), who is killed dur­ing an en­counter with the po­lice, the film un­folds from three per­spec­tives: a com­pro­mised African-Amer­i­can of­fi­cer (John David Wash­ing­ton), a dis­il­lu­sioned high school sports star (Kelvin Har­ri­son Jr), and Manny (Ramos), a friend of the de­ceased who films the in­ci­dent on his smart­phone. He’s warned by the cops that shar­ing the video would be “a dis­ser­vice to ev­ery­one”, but sto­ries that the vic­tim “went” for a po­lice­man’s gun make it in­creas­ingly tempt­ing to up­load the footage.

“It was the one script I read that year that made me think I have to go above and be­yond and do ev­ery­thing I can to be in this movie,” says Ramos. “I don’t care how many au­di­tions it takes. I don’t care who I got to call. I don’t care how many doors have to knock on. It brought me back to grow­ing up in the ’hood. It was an amaz­ing shoot. I was shoot­ing Mon­sters and Men and Godzilla at the same time so I was go­ing back and forth to At­lanta and shoot­ing this be­he­moth of a film and then com­ing back to New York and shoot­ing the small film where ev­ery­one is in­volved in the cre­ative process. We shut up one neigh­bour­hood over from where I grew up, I grew up in the projects in Bush­wick. It was awe­some just get­ting to be home and shoot­ing some­thing at home and a story that is fa­mil­iar to me.” He pauses. “It’s un­for­tu­nately fa­mil­iar to me.”

There are count­less real-world in­ci­dents that might have in­spired Mon­sters and

Men, but there are un­mis­tak­able par­al­lels with the the death of Eric Gar­ner in 2014, an in­ci­dent which was also filmed by the vic­tim’s friend.

“They re­ally did that guy dirty,” says Ramos. “It’s un­for­tu­nate that the story is based on true events and that re­la­tion­ship with re­al­ity made it men­tally ex­haust­ing. But it has an im­por­tant mes­sage. I have cops in my fam­ily. I was talk­ing to one of my cousins about it. He’s a de­tec­tive and we were talk­ing about the sit­u­a­tion de­picted in the movie. We agreed on some things and we dis­agreed on oth­ers; def­i­nitely dis­agreed. But it was en­cour­ag­ing to know that I could have that con­ver­sa­tion with a cop, and it didn’t get out of hand and we didn’t get an­gry. We were able to un­der­stand each other. I just hope that the movie helps other folks to do that.”

An­thony Ramos Martinez, the mid­dle of three sib­lings of Puerto Ri­can de­scent, grew up with his mother, sis­ter, and brother in Bush­wick, Brook­lyn. At high school, he au­di­tioned for what he thought was a tal­ent show, bring­ing him to the at­ten­tion of the school’s mu­si­cal di­rec­tor, Sara Stein­weiss.

“I sing my song and she’s like: ‘can you read these lines’,” he laughs. “And I said: ‘I don’t do that’. And she said: ‘well you have to do that; it’s a mu­si­cal’. Then next day I find out I’ve got the part, but it took two weeks of de­lib­er­a­tion be­tween my­self and my­self be­fore I de­cided I’ll do it.”

Ramos had hoped for a ca­reer in base­ball but things didn’t quite go ac­cord­ing to plan: “I wasn’t good enough to be in the Ma­jor League,” he says. “But I was good enough to play col­lege base­ball and get into coach­ing. For me it was the best way for me to get money to go to school and to con­tinue to play the sport that I love. But I was in se­nior year at high school and I’ve been turned down from ev­ery school I ap­plied to. So I’ve no school to go to and I was go­ing through some fam­ily trou­ble at the time. I was pretty frus­trated. I thought about go­ing to the navy or com­mu­nity col­lege.”

His teacher, Sara Stein­weiss, came to the res­cue, pay­ing the re­quired $10 fee re­quired and as­sist­ing him with ad­mis­sions es­says for the Amer­i­can Mu­si­cal and Dra­matic Academy. She also gave his name to the Jerry Se­in­feld Schol­ar­ship Fund.

“The school called and told me I was in and I had to give them a de­posit,” re­calls Ramos. “I asked them for one more day please and two hours later the Schol­ar­ship Fund called to tell me they were go­ing to pay for school for me for four years.”

Post-grad­u­a­tion was a bit of a strug­gle. His first agent dropped him but he kept au­di­tion­ing for any­thing he could. He per­formed on a cruise ship, took a role in a tour­ing pro­duc­tion of Damn Yan­kees, and starred in a re­gional pro­duc­tion of LinManuel Mi­randa’s In the Heights. Ramos would fi­nally meet Mi­randa in 2014 at a call for Hamil­ton.

When did Ramos re­alise that Hamil­ton was a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non?

“I re­alised it when the pres­i­dent was com­ing,” he laughs. “I mean, it couldn’t be any clearer than that! But I knew it was spe­cial from the mo­ment I set foot in the room on the first day of re­hearsals. We had a four-week lab in 2014 and I sat there. Look­ing around, I couldn’t be­lieve I was in that room. And then the mu­sic started to play. I’ve never for­got­ten the mo­ment I heard: ‘How does a bas­tard, or­phan, son of a whore and a Scots­man . . .’ For some­one who grew up lis­ten­ing to hip hop and for some­one who also has stud­ied mu­si­cal theatre and to hear those worlds col­lide so beau­ti­fully, I felt like my mind was about to ex­plode. I tried to ex­plain to peo­ple be­fore the show came out what it was about and they were look­ing at me like I had two heads. And then it be­came what it is. You get peo­ple like Stephen Sond­heim prais­ing the show and some­body like Busta Rhymes giv­ing a 30-minute speech talk­ing about how in­spired he was by the show. It’s spe­cial to be part of some­thing like that.”

Ramos and Mi­randa have a solid track record to­gether. Be­fore Hamil­ton’s off-Broad­way pre­miere, Ramos played Justin Laboy in Mi­randa’s 15-minute mu­si­cal 21 Chump

Street, for a one-time per­for­mance that was recorded for NPR’s This Amer­i­can Life.

They reteamed in Oc­to­ber 2017 with Ramos pro­vid­ing some of the vo­cals for Mi­randa’s song Al­most Like Pray­ing, a re­lease to ben­e­fit Hur­ri­cane Maria vic­tims. In the com­ing months, Ramos goes into pre-pro­duc­tion on the ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated film ver­sion of In the Heights. Mi­randa is on board as a pro­ducer and Jon M Chu (Crazy Rich

Asians) will di­rect a film that was sub­ject to a $50 mil­lion multi-stu­dio bid­ding war.

“We start shoot­ing in April, we’re do­ing a bunch of pre-pro­duc­tion stuff be­fore that,” says Ramos. “I’m just hop­ing I re­mem­ber all the songs”.

Mon­sters and Men opens on Jan­uary 18th

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: IRA L BLACK; CHRISTINA ZISA/NEON

An­thony Ramos: “The story is based on true events and that re­la­tion­ship with re­al­ity made it men­tally ex­haust­ing.” Left: Ramos and John David Wash­ing­ton in Mon­sters and Men.

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