Anthony Ramos on Telling Stories Through His Music & Extra Special Connection to 'In the Heights' (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
Terence Patrick/CBS via Getty Images
"I just had a lot to say and I never had the opportunity to say it -- or I didn't have the money to pay to say it," Anthony Ramos tells ET with a laugh about his debut album, The Good & The Bad. "At this point in my life and career, I knew it was important to let it out."
The Brooklyn native may best be known for his dual roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Hamilton, as well as Lady Gaga's best friend, Ramon, in A Star Is Born, but Ramos is ready to share his personal story with his new music and first LP. Intrigued by performance arts, Ramos attended New York’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy on a scholarship, graduating from the program in 2011. He then secured roles in a New Jersey production of Grease, followed by Damn Yankees, until he landed the role of Sonny de la Vega in In the Heights, which began his journey with creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
"In the Heights was the first musical that I saw that I was like, 'Oh, I don't just relate to these characters, I know them!" Ramos shares. "I know Usnavi [de la Vega], that's Leo from the corner store. I know Vanessa, that's this girl Tiffany from elementary. I know these people… And it gave me courage to keep going. I thought about quitting [acting] and I couldn't after that. I saw that musical and I said, 'Maybe there's a place for me.'"
And there is certainly a place for Ramos: On Broadway, Hollywood and the music industry.
Last year, his In the Heights moment came full circle when he was cast as Usnavi in the musical's upcoming film adaptation. After filming the musical over the summer alongside Miranda, actors Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins and many more, the Puerto Rican performer is pumped to share this story with the world.
"In the Heights is one of the greatest experiences of my life," Ramos perks ups as he talks about the project. "For many years, the Latin[x] community, we haven't been able to tell our story in this way, especially the Latin community in New York. There are very few neighborhoods that embody that story as authentically as Washington Heights, and they were so happy to have a musical set there."
Slated to be released in June 2020, the Miranda-created, Tony Award-winning story is directed by Jon Chu and follows Ramos' Usnavi, who has mixed feelings about closing his store and retiring to the Dominican Republic after inheriting his grandmother's fortune. The movie, as Ramos puts it, will be "a moment" for all Latinxs.
"It's gonna be a moment for us. You never know what's going to happen with anything you do, but when you do something that you believe in [it's amazing]," he marvels. "The movie hasn't come out but I'm proud of it already because I know what it felt like. I know those days on set where 75 Latin people are in the streets just cheering each other on before the 15th take of a huge dance number, still pumped and hyped, and you feel that thing inside of us that has been waiting to come out of our community for years.. What I'm saying is that we now have the opportunity to give to the world and it was just beautiful and it was a moment."
Ramos also praises the Latinx diversity within the cast. "Leslie is Dominican, Melissa is Mexican, I'm Puerto Rican. They ran the gamut with the cast. They got many Hispanic people up in here and I'm grateful that it's authentic," he explains. "They really did their best to make this movie as authentic as possible, from the music to the dancing to everything. I'm hyped that this story is out in the world and I'm excited I got to be a small piece of this puzzle."
As for how he put his own twist on Usnavi, the role made famous by Miranda, Ramos says "it's really not hard because I am not Lin."
"I just gave my flavor and I played this guy the way I saw him in my head," he details, adding that Miranda didn't make him do "anything other than what I was doing... Usnavi is a caring guy and the dude grew up in the struggle. He has a family that he loves and he takes care of them. It was like, how do I relate to this guy? And if I don't relate to him in a certain way or in this area in my life, who do I know or where have I seen that and how can I pull from that and play this guy in the most honest way?"
His In the Heights experience also included hanging out with Marc Anthony on the set, and sharing stories with the Latin music icon. "Stories that inspired me to be like, bro, you need to follow your heart," Ramos says, adding that Anthony told him to "follow your gut and you have to follow your instinct." And that he did.
This year, Ramos signed a record deal with Republic Records, a feat he called the "perfect opportunity" to share his story.
"It was, like, days after I signed the deal, I was out to L.A. to write this album and we wrote it in five weeks. We wrote 21 songs in 30 days," he explains. "And if I had any doubt that I had stuff to let out, that was quickly negated when I went out there and learned that it's all in me."
Fans have already heard "Figure It Out," "The Good & the Bad" and his most recent single, "Mind Over Matter." The latter's music video features his fiancée and former Hamilton co-star, Jasmine Cephas Jones. Now, with The Good & The Bad, Ramos calls his album "story time." "It's a narrative," he says.
"The vibe is all the things I grew up on," Ramos continues. "It's that New York vibe, that hip-hop mixed with pop. Every song is lyric driven. The words come first and then the music. The music supports the story, even the transitions...and it's one of those albums where you want to throw on the headphones and just take it in. I want people to treat this album like they are reading a book."
In just the span of nine years, Ramos is living out his dreams and is not slowing down anytime soon. His goals for the new year include continuing to "tell stories that I love," staying motivated, maybe write a movie, "getting up and getting this content out."
And if he could give a piece of advice to any young Latinx hopeful who needs a burst of inspiration it's: "Tell your story."
"Your story is unique and your story is amazing. Don't be afraid to tell it," Ramos relays. "Don't think about who's gonna pay for it, don't think about how it's going to get out there, just tell the story. Put the words on the paper and be honest, and it will find its way to the hands that it needs to and it will find its way to the heart that it's supposed to find its way to. Just tell your story, write, write, write and don't be ashamed. Be proud of where you come from and who you are."