Anthony Ramos’s life may have changed in an instant, but his success wasn’t overnight. After ditching his aspirations to be a professional baseball player, the Brooklyn-born performer found himself on a full-ride scholarship for the theatre program at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York. He worked at acting, while simultaneously falling in love with making music. (His debut EP, Freedom, was released last month.)
Then, at age 23, Hamilton happened. Landing the dual roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton, Ramos worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the Broadway phenomenon, and it was on the stage that Spike Lee entered his life. He came to the show “literally eight times,” according to Ramos, but there’s more to how he became involved with Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Calling from his home in Brooklyn, Ramos opened up about the craziest year of his life, the advice Spike gave him, and how he’s trying to find balance while everything around him continues to change.
VICE: 2017 seemed like a landmark year for you. What were the highlights?
Anthony Ramos: Riding the bike down the hill in Brooklyn on my first day on set for She’s Gotta Have It, doing a stunt, and crashing into the camera. Another “Holy shit” moment was, “Holy shit, I’m actually making my record.” I was in the studio, it was sounding like more than I even envisioned in my mind, and I was able to work with some dope people. Also, “Holy shit, I’m doing Godzilla.” “Holy shit, I’m on the set of Will & Grace with all of these actors that have been doing this for so many years.” “Holy shit, I’m working with Lady Gaga.”
How’d you meet Spike?
The first time he came to see Hamilton off-Broadway, we were at the public theater and he was sitting in the second row. It’s the end of the show, we go downstage for curtain call, the audience is clapping, and all we see is Spike clapping really aggressively and pointing. Chris Jackson is to my right and he whispers through the side of his mouth, “He ain’t pointing at me.” Next thing you know, Spike comes onstage after the show and we meet for the first time—very brief, wasn’t anything crazy. A month later I get a phone call and it’s the simplest voicemail I’ve ever received in my life: “Anthony. It’s Spike. Spike Lee. Call me back.” It was wild, dude—five seconds. I call him back and he asks me to meet him at his office at NYU, telling me stories about his life and asking me questions about where I was from. He gave me a DVD of She’s Gotta Have It and then he told me about the project.
What kind of advice has he offered you?
Spike’s a man of very few words, but when he does speak it’s usually profound. He would just always tell me—it’s kind of cliché, and you hear it a lot in elementary school—“be yourself.” But his way of saying it was like, “Ant, do you. Don’t worry about what anybody has to say, don’t worry about what anybody thinks about what you’re doing.” The only thing that matters is how you feel in the moment, and what you think is the right choice in that moment. He was one of the people who pushed me to finish my record. Spike is a person that just does—he doesn’t really talk too much, he just does it and you’re like, “Oh, wow. Yeah, he did that.”
Is it strange to play his role in She’s Gotta Have It 30 years later?
Yeah—I mean, I don’t even know if people wore the bike messenger outfit that thirty years ago. People still wear it, but ain’t nobody really wearing it recreationally out in the street just going to the store. That’s what makes Mars timeless—he’s like this imaginary superhero, so I don’t think it’s weird playing this character 30 years later. He’ll live on forever and evolve as time evolves, you know? It’s dope to be able to reinvent him in 2018. When the rest of the world is gone, I think Mars will be the one that’s still here.
With all that’s happened, are you happier with yourself?
With everything going on, I’m happy—but not because of these things, because I get to do what I love. I get to do simple things like take a vacation with my family. I get to go to Puerto Rico with amazing organizations that are doing incredible work. Am I tired? Yeah, I’m tired. There are sad moments—lonely moments when you’re sitting up in your room all by yourself shooting on location, in Atlanta or Vancouver or LA, and your family’s back home. You can miss home. But I’m not doing it for myself. When I get back home and talk to my family about these experiences and have them be a part of it, that’s what makes me happier. I’m learning how to balance all this shit. You don’t have to do everything and you don’t have to try to be everywhere, be at every party. Money will come and opportunities will come, but the only thing we don’t get back is time.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.