Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now! On Wednesday, Sept. 2, Fordham’s Campus Activities Board (CAB) hosted a Q&A session with Broadway and film actor Anthony Ramos as part of its Speaker Series through Zoom.
Despite the restless and unpredictable world, Ramos took the time to reflect with CAB and Fordham student attendees on his career journey, including his breakout role as the original John Laurens/Philip in “Hamilton,” Lady Gaga, and being a TikTok meme. Feeling “blessed and overwhelmed,” Ramos had been quarantining in Brooklyn with his fiancee, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and his dog prior to joining CAB for the Q&A session.
Ramos didn’t start out as a theater kid. Inaccessible to plenty of communities, musical theater is historically known to be a classist endeavor, often costing hundreds of dollars for tickets and professional training. Growing up in the projects, he never saw musicals and said that he “didn’t like them, to be honest.” However, he did like singing; when his brother caught Ramos singing in the shower, he told him, “You might be aight at that s—!”
Ramos was originally focused on baseball in school; however, he began competing in programs like Sing, a two-night competition in which students write musicals, when he was in high school. After having all his college applications withdrawn for not turning in the financial aid forms on time, Ramos found himself lost and considered joining the Navy until a teacher brought up the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). He was upfront about his financial situation and was awarded a full-ride scholarship. “I thought, ‘If this isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is,’” he recalled aloud. He could have never predicted the kind of opportunities the career change would lead to.
According to Ramos, the experience of working on “Hamilton” was just as magical as the final product. He started “Hamilton” at 23, “mad scared, didn’t even feel like (he) belonged,” but after doing a show eight times a week for over two years, it’s easy to form a family. “The work itself was different,” he emphasized. “It was the language I speak.”
For him, performing in “Hamilton” felt like the cast was truly “walkin’ in (their) purpose,” akin to a gut feeling or an alignment with destiny. There were plenty of difficulties, such as learning the choreography for “Satisfied,” dancing in heavy wool jackets off-Broadway, and keeping his relationship with Cephas Jones on the down-low, but the relationships formed were priceless. “Five or six years removed, we’ve seen each other grow together. Leslie (Odom Jr.) had a baby. Lin (-Manuel Miranda) was having his first baby at the start. Pippa (Soo) and I were walking our dogs together a few weeks ago. I just watched the filmed show with Oak (Onaodowan) at my apartment,” Ramos shared. “We’re one big family.”
Encourage yourself to be kind to yourself. We don’t give ourselves a chance to stand up, which stops us from growing. The world already beats you down. Anthony Ramos
Ramos has definitely found mentors through his projects, both Broadway and film. Outside of “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda proved to be a long-lasting mentor, especially concerning “In the Heights,” Miranda’s 2008 Broadway hit whose movie adaptation is scheduled for 2021. Before being cast as the lead in the feature film, Ramos actually auditioned for the national tour of the show and was told later on by Miranda during “Hamilton,” “You weren’t ready then.” Flash forward to the filming of “In the Heights” last year, Miranda was on set much more than Ramos had expected. And yet, Miranda had “barely any notes ever” on the role he originated. “Lin didn’t give any advice. He just said, ‘You got this,’” Ramos remembered fondly.
While working on Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born,” he grew close to Lady Gaga and made sure to highlight how hard she works. While doing press for the film, Ramos was about to get signed to a record deal. When seeking wisdom from the award-winning pop star, Lady Gaga advised, “You’re swimming with the sharks now, kid,” and said to cherish the small bar gigs while they last.
Ramos has been so busy on his next album, insisting that he’s “got some heat coming,” that he only discovered during the Q&A that a soundbite of Ramos’ from “21 Chump Street” became a TikTok meme. When asked to comment, he was cracking up: “I ain’t got no thoughts! That’s mad funny.” But what he certainly had thoughts on was advice for students.
“Learn new s—; learn as much as you can. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Create multiple streams of income that fulfill you,” Ramos said. “Encourage yourself to be kind to yourself. We don’t give ourselves a chance to stand up, which stops us from growing. The world already beats you down. Practice humility; it’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s alright to be sad.”