Movie Stars: Ramos, Anthony–Latino Actor, In the Heights–June 11

 

The first time Anthony Ramos auditioned for In the Heights was a decade ago. He was 19 and trying out for an ensemble part in a national tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ musical about dreaming and surviving in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

He made it four rounds and danced for Miranda in the final audition but didn’t make the cut. Miranda has no memory of this first encounter. In 2011, Ramos was just another drama school graduate amid a chorus line hopefuls trying to get a gig–especially difficult in an industry where Latino roles were scarce.

IN THE HEIGHTS

He would try out once again for another Heights show, and then a third time: On that attempt, it was a regional theater production for Actors’ Equity members, and although he didn’t belong to the union, he followed the casting director into an elevator at Chelsea Studios and slipped his headshot, securing a last-minute audition to perform a song and recite three lines of dialogue.
The casting director liked his rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” enough to send him back out into the hallway with 10 pages of dialogue and music. Ramos was prepared: As the one musical to feature Latino company, “Heights was the only show I felt like I could have a part in, so I had already learned all the male parts.”

He ultimately landed a major supporting role, Sonny, the protagonist’s younger cousin, as well as his union card. That made him eligible, two years later, to try out for another project, an off-Broadway production of The Hamilton Mixtape. This time, Miranda remembered him.

“He sang ‘My Shot’ like he was Alexander Hamilton reincarnated and, if given a chance, he would run the world,” Miranda says. “I’ve never seen a hungrier presence. He has that thing that movie stars have–the moment you see them, you are rooting for them to win.”

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Gucci blazer and jewelry. PHOTOGRAPHED BY RUVEN AFANADOR

“He’s got this sexy charm, he knows he’s talented, and he’s got this relaxed Latino kind of confidence,” says co-star Olga Merediz.

Warner is hopeful when the latest version of In the Heights that Anthony Ramos has gone after (this time quite successfully) opens in theaters and HBO Max on June 11.

Now he’s the lead, Usnavi, the bodega owner working to save up enough money to move to his parents’ Dominican Republic homeland–it’s the highest-profile, highest-pressure role of his career.

“Besides the regular assets of a leading man, this person had to be able to cross mediums,” says director Chu, who compares Ramos to the young Will Smith. “He had to be able to act through singing, and dance through dialogue. He had to rap from that genuine center of truth and bring moments as small as the flicker of an eyelid to a big number where he’s moving just as well as the best dancers in the world. And then there’s the English and Spanish on top of that. As soon as Anthony got on camera, it was clear to me that this guy was a star for a whole generation of people.”

But the $55 million movie adaptation of Miranda’s first Broadway musical would test Ramos’ star power. It will also test the industry’s health, being one of the first wave of summer films to hit theaters during the post-COVID (its release was pushed from June 2020) while also part of WarnerMedia’s controversial same-day streaming debut on HBO Max.

The movie has a chance to become a cinematic cultural touchstone that Latinos, who over-index as moviegoers but are the most disproportionately underrepresented demographic in Hollywood, have been waiting for.

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Anthony Ramos was photographed April 26 at Seret Studios in Brooklyn, New York. Styling by Bobby Wesley. Calvin Klein shirt and pants, Loewe shoes. PHOTOGRAPHED BY RUVEN AFANADOR

“We haven’t had a movie that feels like Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians,” says Ramos, who on the Heights set kicked off each day with the rallying cry, “For the culture!” or its variants, “For la raza!” and, “For my familia!”

It was raining when the ensemble shot its massive showstopping number, “96,000,” set at the neighborhood’s Highbridge Pool. “Everybody was in that water freezing, and it was like, ‘Yo, remember: It’s for the culture,’ ” Ramos recalls. “You could just feel the ancestors, years of people who feel like they have not had this chance, understanding that this moment is our chance. That’s what I kept in my heart every single day when I went to set.”

Ramos’ favorite In the Heights lyric is Usnavi’s closing number, fittingly titled “Finale.” Two years after production wrapped and over Zoom from his temporary quarters in Montreal (where he’s shooting a Transformers movie), he raps 16 bars, which end on the words “I’m home.”

“That is what sums up In the Heights,” says Ramos, but it’s also what sums up his own 29 years. “I grew up in New York, and my dream was to not live there. Figuratively and physically, New York has done a number. I know what it’s like to struggle, to walk eight blocks in the cold to your apartment. I know how it feels to be hungry for my dreams and also hungry like, ‘I could use some McDonald’s right now.’ “

Ramos grew up in project housing in Bushwick, Brooklyn. His father wasn’t around, and his mother worked as medical biller to support him and his two siblings. “She was making $30,000 a year before taxes, so that was barely 10 Gs a kid. Contesting with poverty and always seeing her stressed was hard, and there were drugs and alcohol in my family, that was hard to deal with as well. I just didn’t want to be in that situation anymore.”