MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, you remember Anthony Ramos from the original cast of "Hamilton." He played both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SHOT")
ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST OF HAMILTON: (As characters, singing) I am not throwing away my shot. I am not throwing away my shot. Hey, yo, I'm just like my country. I'm young, scrappy and hungry, and I'm not throwing away my shot.
MARTIN: Since Ramos stepped away from those roles in 2016, he has been on a tear. He starred in Spike Lee's Netflix series "She's Gotta Have It," based on Lee's 1986 film of the same name. He played Lady Gaga's best friend in "A Star Is Born." And if that wasn't enough, he's just released an album. It's called "The Good & The Bad."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOOD AND THE BAD")
ANTHONY RAMOS: (Singing) You just gotta hang onto the moments when you're flying, the moments when you're crying, just hang onto the ones that hold you down, the ones that ain't around, the good and the bad, good and the bad, good and the bad.
MARTIN: And he is with us now in our studios in New York to tell us more about "The Good & The Bad."
Anthony Ramos, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome.
RAMOS: Thanks so much for having me. I'm so hyped to be here. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED - let's go.
MARTIN: That's right. Congratulations...
RAMOS: Yeah, thank you.
MARTIN: ...On everything. All right. It's so hard not to say it. I'm trying not to say it.
RAMOS: Say it.
MARTIN: But you're definitely not missing your 1,001st trying to make...
RAMOS: I'm not throwing away my shot.
MARTIN: ...Not throwing away your shot.
RAMOS: I never - I just not to (laughter), all right?
MARTIN: I'm sorry. I'm probably, like, the thousandth person who's tried to make that...
RAMOS: It doesn't get old. It doesn't get old. It was a big, huge part of my life.
MARTIN: Well, I mean, the last couple of years, I mean, working with Lin-Manuel, working with Spike Lee, working with Bradley Cooper, working with Lady Gaga - you know, when you were growing up here in New York, did you ever think that this is where you'd be?
RAMOS: No. Off the top of my head, no. I think there was a little part of me inside, deep down inside, that dreamt about it and felt like it could happen. But in reality, it felt so far away. There were a lot of things that - a lot of things that could have kept me from being here. You know, I was - grew up poor, and grew up in a hood and in the projects. And it's easy to see those things as things that are in our way or setbacks or kind of barriers. But I felt like those things gave me superpowers, and then those places and those circumstances actually helped me get here and gave me the opportunity to sit here with you now.
MARTIN: One of the things I'm curious about, though, is growing up in New York, as I did...
RAMOS: East New York.
MARTIN: East New York.
RAMOS: Let's go (Laughter).
MARTIN: Yes, in the house.
MARTIN: It just - you know, but New York is so close, right? I mean, you can see it if you're standing in the right place.
RAMOS: Oh, yeah.
MARTIN: Does it still feel far away, like the New York that you now have a foot in now? Did it still feel far way back then?
RAMOS: It felt really far away. As a kid, I - we didn't even take trips into the city. You know, it was going to the park or going to - you know what I'm saying? Like, it was - everything was local for me. It was cheaper. It was easier. And we could still do something adventurous. And parents could take us somewhere local, and they wouldn't have to take us into the city and still be - and still suffice, you know? But it was...
MARTIN: It's interesting that people outside of New York maybe don't realize that people who don't live in Manhattan still call it the city.
RAMOS: Right. You know, and anyone who's from New York knows, oh, you live in New York, so you live in Manhattan. You know, because if you don't live in the city - oh, I live in Staten Island. I live in Queens. I live in Long Island. I live, you know, somewhere that's not the city.
RAMOS: Being from New York, right - like, if you talk to your family, and they're, like, hey, so where do you live now? And I'm, like, oh, I live on, you know, 45th and 9th, they're, like, oh.
RAMOS: You get automatic - you get, like, a oh - ellipses, dot dot dot. Like, oh, wow. You're doing big things. And then they follow it up by, you're doing big things, you know? So it's a big deal to even come into the city and hang out and then - let alone live there. I don't live in the city now, but, you know, I work in the city a lot.
MARTIN: Which is all the more reason why it's interesting that for your first album, you really talk a lot about where you came from...
MARTIN: ...As opposed to where you are now.
MARTIN: Let me just start with "Dear Diary..."
MARTIN: ...All right? Let's just start with that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAR DIARY")
RAMOS: (Singing) Hey there, mama. Can you tell me how you've been? I know I said I'll be back in two months, and I've being gone ever since. I went across the country to chase the things that I'm needing to grow. So I had to get away from you and everything I ever known.
"Dear Diary" is really my love letter to home, you know? It was really, like, these are all the things on my mind, and I'm going to let them out. Basically, like, first verse is for mom. Second verse for my father, who wasn't in my life for most of my life, but thank god he's around now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAR DIARY")
RAMOS: (Singing) Hey there, papa. I wish I knew where you been. We talked two months ago, and I ain't heard from you since. I'm not gonna lie. I was a little messed up from the last text you sent. But thank god for mama, she taught me how to forgive.
MARTIN: Did you just cry every day (laughter)...
RAMOS: It was hard.
MARTIN: ...Writing this?
RAMOS: It was hard. Yeah. And I was...
MARTIN: We're both trying really hard right now (laughter).
RAMOS: Oh, it's...
MARTIN: We're both looking at each other - like, let's try not to cry.
RAMOS: Yeah. That song's super personal, you know?
MARTIN: Yeah. So...
RAMOS: It don't matter where life leads me because if you call and say that you need me, I'll be coming home. So yeah, it's super personal. I even get emotional talking about it now because (laughter) this is real life. This album's real life for me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAR DIARY")
RAMOS: (Singing) Yeah, project living, yeah - late nights in Linden chillin', uh-huh, Jean's crib with Randy, Rob and Ruben, Mama Frida's pork chops got us feelin'.
MARTIN: Do you feel after "Hamilton" - I mean, first of all, "Hamilton."
RAMOS: Sure. Yeah.
MARTIN: I mean...
MARTIN: ...Please. It's like one of the biggest musicals in recent history. I mean, it is going to go down in history. So couple of questions about it - when you were first working on it, did it seem like it was going to be big that way? Or did it just feel, like, hey, this is great, I got a gig?
RAMOS: Definitely felt more than, hey, this is great, I got a gig. I was like, yo, this is different. You know, we knew it was special. We didn't know it was going to blow up, like, the way it did. But we for sure...
MARTIN: Like tickets at a mortgage payment price.
RAMOS: I mean, tickets sold out forever...
RAMOS: ...To infinity and beyond.
MARTIN: But when did you realize it was that huge experience? It wasn't just a play anymore. It was, like, an event. When did that become real for you?
RAMOS: When the president came. When Barack Obama showed up, we were, like, oh, I guess this - I guess we got something here (laughter).
MARTIN: Were you nervous?
RAMOS: I said the president's got a busy schedule, and he came to see us. I think that was the most electrifying show I had besides, on the flip side, when Mike Pence came to the show. It was crazy. Like, that was also electrifying for me because I felt like this was a story that this person needs to hear. And I'm about to give this dude the best and craziest show I've ever given because I feel like this guy needs to hear this story about immigrants and about these people and about - it's told in this way with all these black and brown people on this stage, you know, telling this story in this way.
MARTIN: Interesting bookend. So you kind of have this bookend experience.
RAMOS: Completely 100% a bookend experience, you know. And - but that's the beauty of that show, right? I feel like that show's for everyone.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALEXANDER HAMILTON")
ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST OF HAMILTON: (As characters, singing) In New York, you can be a new man. Just you wait. Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton. We are waiting in the wings for you, waiting in the wings for you. You could never back down. You never learned to take your time.
MARTIN: When did you make the decision to become an artist? I understand - I read that originally you wanted to be a ballplayer.
RAMOS: I did - in high school.
MARTIN: Because who doesn't? (Laughter).
RAMOS: Right. I mean, the life looks good, right?
MARTIN: It does. But so when did you decide to embrace art? It's not the easiest thing to do. I mean, even in New York, where you're surrounded by artists - right? - in the city. But how did that happen for you?
RAMOS: It just felt more tangible. We tend to follow the patterns of our families, right? My dad played baseball. My brother played baseball. And then I was supposed to be the next one in line. That's what - I mean, "The Good & The Bad," the first verse is they used to call me the franchise in the backyard. There was a dude named Nookie (ph). he lived two apartment buildings over. He'd be like, yo, Franchise. He'd call me Franchise from the window always, always. And everyone in the yard knew that that was me. I was supposed to be the next in line until I wasn't.
MARTIN: Franchise meaning franchise player.
RAMOS: The franchise player. Like pops played, brother played. Now you're the next in line and - until I wasn't. I got injured at 16. There go my big dreams back at the start talking to God, thought for me he had big things, right? That's where those lyrics came from. But then "The Good & The Bad" really sums up how I even got into acting, you know. It's like, you know, I almost went to the Navy.
Thank God for Jason (ph). He saved me, my best friend from high school. You know, he called our high school director on the phone. I auditioned for what I thought was a talent show in school. I didn't know it was a musical audition for this thing. I thought it was a talent show. Teacher goes OK, great, read these lines. And I was like, nah, Miss, I don't do that.
RAMOS: And she's like what?
RAMOS: Do you know what this is? I'm like, yeah, it's a talent show. She's like, no, it's a musical. She's like, OK...
MARTIN: Can I just ask - forgive me. Did you know what a musical was at that point?
RAMOS: I knew what a musical was, but I wasn't a fan. I didn't really grow up watching - I didn't love musicals growing up. Like, my high school girlfriend tried to play "Rent" for me, and I was like, I don't get it. Now I love "Rent," right? It takes time for...
MARTIN: "My Fair Lady" wasn't your thing.
RAMOS: Right. But now I love these, the old, the new. I love them now.
MARTIN: So you got the part.
RAMOS: Got the part. I got on stage. Now in that moment, you know, I was wearing my cardboard crown playing Zeus. And when I get up there wearing way too much makeup and I start singing this song, and in that moment, I was like - you ever just been uncomfortably comfortable? You're like, I am so uncomfortable because I feel so comfortable in this place that is - this is so unfamiliar to me, yet I feel like I belong here. This is where I'm supposed to be the whole time.
RAMOS: You know, and it was just in that moment, it was like the light bulb just went off.
MARTIN: Well, congratulations on everything. I mean, you have so many things going on. You're working with Lin-Manuel Miranda again...
MARTIN: ...The creator of "Hamilton." You're starring in the film adaptation of his play In The Heights.
MARTIN: For listeners who aren't familiar with it, what's it about?
RAMOS: Well, it's about a community - predominantly Latin community in a neighborhood called Washington Heights. It's above Harlem. There's a main character who narrates the story, who we see the story through his eyes - Usnavi, the character I play. And it's about all these people just grinding it out in this neighborhood and living day-to-day and what that's like in that community. And Usnavi owns a bodega. And there's the car service owner and his daughter who goes to Stanford but feels like she doesn't belong necessarily because she's one of the only Latina, you know, students in the school and what that's like for her. And this movie is just really about culture and love and family. And...
MARTIN: It's almost like it was written for you.
RAMOS: I mean, it's...
MARTIN: I mean, it's...
RAMOS: It was wild. I mean, when I saw the show, I was watching these characters on stage. And I'm taking this in. And I was like, you know, and I thought about, like, quitting acting because, I was like, I don't know if there's a space for me here. Like, nobody's rushing to write a role for the freckled Puerto Rican kid who's barely 5'9". You know what I'm saying? Like, no one's, like, in a rush - I can't wait to write the next lead role for him.
But I sat there, and I was like, I can't wait. I have to keep going. And it was just beautiful to be inspired by that story. And now I can't wait for this to be in the world, this salsa and this pop and music and there's all these bangers in this musical and music that feels like the music I grew up listening to and I think many people in the world have grown up listening to but just haven't heard it in this way. So I'm so excited for this to be in the world.
MARTIN: Well, so are we. That's Anthony Ramos. His album, "The Good & The Bad," is out now. Anthony Ramos, thank you so much for talking to us.
RAMOS: Thanks so much for having me, Michel. Mad love.
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