Anthony Ramos: You know, I love walking because I think there’s a, there’s a freedom… The body’s moving, your mind is flowing and you’re just allowing yourself to go wherever your mind and your body wants to go, without you putting any stipulations or restrictions on it.
That’s what’s kind of dope about just getting your body moving.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time To Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos and songs that have influenced their lives. Anthony Ramos won a GRAMMY award for his performance in the Broadway musical “Hamilton”. On this walk, the actor and singer reflects on the importance of being himself and how he persevered to become a performer.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Anthony Ramos: I’m walking in Elysian Park right now in Los Angeles, California. It’s stunning, really. Birds, trees, the breeze is just right. That sun is smacking me right now, which is really nice. My family’s from the Caribbean. So any place that’s hot is my favorite, and it’s really beautiful, man. It’s just… no one up here. It’s actually kind of peaceful, and the further up we get, the more peaceful it gets. So it’s really special.
This vibe is definitely different from home, definitely different to the vibe in Brooklyn. We don’t have too many hikes in New York City. But I was told that there’s a banging view at the top of this hike. So I cannot wait to see it.
But hopefully we don’t run into any wild animals out here. That would be a sad day in the ‘hood.
We grew up in poverty my whole life. Three of us, three kids. My dad wasn’t around, and we had a strenuous relationship. Free lunch in school was really important to me because sometimes that was the only meal I knew I was getting.
But they changed the rules or something like that. So it was a quarter for lunch, and I didn’t have the quarter sometimes.
So I’d, like, you know, hustle my friends. You know, I’d be like, “Yo, can you let me hold a quarter? I’ll pay you back next week,” or whatever.
It was tough. Even when I was six, I used to say to my mom, you know, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t… I’m not proud of where I’m from because I’m so proud of where I’m from. It was just how we were living, you know, living in poverty and living in the ‘hood. And like, I was like, “Yo, Ma, I know that there’s something else for us. I know that there’s more for us than what we know.”
It was tough to kind of have these big dreams as a kid but then know that there was so many odds: money, where we lived, being Hispanic from Brooklyn.
It was either you was playing baseball, or you was… one of your friends was hooking you up with a job. So getting into art was something that was completely like even more of a stretch and even more of a leap.
And the way I found my way onto the stage was interesting. It was my junior year in high school. I was playing baseball at the time. I was an athlete. That was my thing. That was what I wanted to do. And I heard a… an announcement over the loudspeaker at school, “Hey, come audition for this thing called ‘Sing’.” And I didn’t really know what that was, like a talent show, maybe, or something like that.
I always had the ability to kind of sing, but I had never taken voice lessons or anything like that. But I, I did enjoy singing.
I go and audition for this thing. I sing “Ordinary People” by John Legend. I’m about to leave, and the teacher, Sara Steinweiss, she goes, “Hey, so can you read these lines?” I was like, “Read these lines?” Like, “Nah, what do you mean? Well, what is this?” I’m like, “It’s not a talent show?”
She’s like, “No. This is a musical.” I was like, “Nah, Miss, I don’t do that.”
And she goes, “Well, that’s what this is. You have to like, sing and dance and act.” And I was like, “All right.” So I read the lines, and couple days later, the list comes out.
You know, I waited until like some of the students kind of scurried away, and then I, like, snuck my way over. And I find my name on the list. I got a lead role. And I was like, “Man, this is crazy.”
At first I didn’t want to do it because it was just so many lines. And I was like, “Yo, I don’t even do my homework. Like, there’s no way I’m going to… I’m going to memorize all of this.” Sara Steinweiss was like, “No, you really need to do this.” My friends were encouraging me. And I was like, “You know what? Let me just do it.”
The show was a show called “Love Conquers All” that the students had written. I’ll never forget it. I got on stage, and I’m wearing this, like, cloth. It might as well have been a blanket, to be a robe or a cloak or whatever, some royal wear, and a cardboard crown with way too much makeup on. And I’m singing this song, and I just felt this overwhelming feeling of belonging.
I felt this before, but only when I played baseball. And it was almost like that same feeling came over me, if not more. It was almost uncomfortable. I was so uncomfortable at how comfortable I was on stage. From that moment on, I just kept doing the shows, and I kept doing the shows.
And senior year comes, and I had applied to a bunch of schools to play baseball. And unfortunately, every application got withdrawn from every single school because I didn’t… I didn’t get the financial aid forms in, in time. We had a lot going on, and we just couldn’t do it.
So I had nowhere to go. I had no school to go to.
Sara Steinweiss, you know, my teacher, didn’t give up, though. She was like, “Yo, look, I got this pamphlet for this one school called AMDA in New York, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.”
I was like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, word, cool.” So she gives me this pamphlet. You know, there’s some girl on the pamphlet. She’s, like, holding this mic up and singing her heart out, you could tell. And she looks beautiful. The light’s hitting her perfectly. And I’m like, “Yo, I’m never going to get into this school.”
Sara’s like, “Yo, look. We have to work on your audition material. And you got to fill out the application. You got to write these two essays and dah, dah, dah. We got to get this in pretty soon.”
Immediately, I felt overwhelmed.
I actually didn’t want to complete the application. I wanted to quit. I was crying at my best friend’s house. And he called her and said, “Hey, you know Anthony wants to quit. Like, he talking about going to the Navy. Can you just talk to him?”
She’s like, “Put him on the phone.” She goes, “Hey, walk to my house right now.” I’m like, “Walk to your house right now? You live mad far.” She’s… Like, she’s like, “I don’t care. Get your behind over here.”
I sat around her kitchen table, finished the essays. And then she said, “Well, you know, do you have the money to pay for the application? Can you send it in?” And I kind of looked at her, and she was like, “You know what? Give it to me.” She knew I didn’t have the money. I didn’t have the courage to tell her that, but she put the $50 down to get the application in, and I was off to the races.
I prepared the monologue, I prepared the song. And I went to the school and did the audition. I do my monologue. I’ll never forget it. I brought props with me. It was like… I’m over here crawling on the floor. I’m really getting into character. And then I do my song, “This Is the Moment” and I, like, take off my shirt during the song and throw it. Like, it was all dramatic or whatever. You know, I felt good about the audition, but I didn’t hear anything back for a couple days. And finally, my phone rings one day, and I’m in the shower, actually. And I pick it up in the shower. “Hey, man, you know, I just want to let you know you got in.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so… I was crying in the shower like, “Oh, man.”
Fast-forward, I get the, the welcome packet. “Oh, you know, we’re so excited to have you.” The campus and the student life, and right, you’re reading all the things about the school, you know, what it’s going to be like to go there. And then, next thing you know, flip to page 33. Right? They always put it in the back: “And here’s how much it’s going to cost.” Immediately, this wave of sadness came over me and hopelessness because I looked at that number, and I said, “There’s no way we can afford this.”
I’ll never forget. My mom, she looked at me. She said, “Don’t worry, papa. God’s going to make a way. God’s going to make a way.” And I was like, “Well, semester’s about to start. I’m going to need God to make a way pretty quick, let me tell you… So we might have to start praying twice a day instead of once, you know?”
And then the school was calling me about a loan. So we were thinking about taking out this crazy loan that we definitely couldn’t afford.
But Sara Steinweiss comes again. Here she comes again to the rescue. She says, “Hey, man, I gave your name to a scholarship fund. You’re going to have a meeting with them.”
I sit across the table from this woman, and I start telling her my story. I’m sharing with her. And I’m just like, “Look, man, my family’s gone through this, this, this, and that. I know my grades aren’t the best, but my grades aren’t a reflection of who I am. I just need someone to give me a shot. You know, I need someone to give me a chance. If someone does that, I won’t let them down.” So, basically, she’s crying, I’m crying.
Later on, my phone rings, “Hey, you know we don’t give this scholarship out to people with your grades usually. But, you know, Anthony, we want to pay for your school for all four years.”
Immediately, my life was changed. It was like, in that moment, if I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life, it smacked me in the face right there.
I was just overwhelmed with this sense of hope, like, “Wow, there’s hope for a future.” So many years of feeling lost and finally, like, seeing a door crack open, but, like, not just crack open, like, burst open. God made a way. That moment was the beginning of everything.
It’s amazing, like, how when we just continue to say yes to things in life that we don’t really, like, understand, like, “I don’t understand why I’m saying yes right now. I don’t really know how I’m going to do this.” But we just say yes. “Yes, I’ll do this thing that’s completely uncomfortable and foreign to me. Yes, I’ll give it my all, and I’ll work the hardest I’ve ever worked at anything in my whole life because I have this opportunity.”
I think it was the willingness to just say yes to things that I didn’t completely understand or things that scared me the most, that then turned into some of the most beautiful blessings I’ve ever received.
The word “yes” can be so powerful.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Growing up, my mom would always would always have me singing at the family events. Like, she’d always make me sing at, like, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My mom would be like, “Anthony, sing a song. Sing ‘Aguanile’,” you know, from Héctor Lavoe, but the Marc Anthony version. I mean, “Just sing the song. Sing ‘Aguanile’ or sing ‘El Cantante’.” Sing… you know, she always loved when I’d sing in Spanish.
Marc Anthony was somebody I grew up loving, Wisin y Yandel, Daddy Yankee, like, all these artists. But, you know, I grew up in Brooklyn, in Bushwick. I wasn’t singing in Spanish. I was singing… You know, I was listening to hip-hop. I was listening to 50 Cent. I was listening to Mobb Deep. I was listening to Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z. Some of my favorite artists were white, or they were Black, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t listening to Latin artists.
There weren’t many actors or many singers who were crossing over, maybe more singers but definitely not actors that I could look at and be like, “Oh, man, like, you know, wow,” like, That’s what I want to do. That, that person’s career is something I want to emulate," or whatever…
Like, I was like, “I’m Latino, but, like, how do I take my Latino-ness, you know, that Latin flavor in me and bring it to these other genres of music or genres of entertainment that haven’t necessarily welcomed us as a part of the community yet?”
Later on out of college, getting out there and doing open auditions, 500 people waiting at 5:00 in the morning outside of a studio in the cold winter, just hoping to get seen for a show. And then it was like, “You’re too light, you’re too dark, you’re too tall, you’re too short. We want a classical singer. We want a more contemporary.” Like, I was like, “Yo, what is it going to take? Like, what do I have to do?”
I definitely was feeling discouraged, and I wanted to quit. And then Lin-Manuel Miranda.
I sat in the audience of his first musical, “In the Heights” where I saw characters on the stage that not only look like me, but they sound like me. They sing music that resembles the music I listen to on a day-to-day. Their vernacular’s like mine, their swag, their walk. They’re singing about things, like, I know about, piragua, shaved ice, things I would eat. The salsa music, I’m hearing congas. Things that remind me of home, things that remind me of how I grew up.
I sat in that audience, and I was like, “Yo, maybe there’s a place for me in this world, this world of theater or entertainment.”
It’s almost like Lin’s words on stage gave me hope.
And then fast-forward, I did a show on Broadway. I did “Hamilton”, the musical.
And it was intimidating for me because everyone in that show was top-notch, best of the best at what we do. And I was just like, “Man,” like, in awe of my cast members. And I just couldn’t believe I got to share the space with them. It was crazy.
You know, I remember one day I was in the theater having a cast meeting about something, and I’m talking to Lin, who wrote the show and starred in the show, and a few of my other cast members. I cracked a joke.
And I can’t remember what the joke was, but I was feeling insecure about the way I cracked it. I judged myself before I could give anyone else a chance to digest what I just said or judge me or whatever. Right? I just, like, immediately judged myself. I said what I said out loud like, “Ha, ha, ha, man, I think I speak too ghetto, man. Sometimes I think I talk too ‘hood. Like I need to just kind of change the way I speak.”
Lin turned to me. I’ll never forget. He looked at me, and right in my eyes, and said, “You never have to change the way you speak, papa. You just need to make sure people understand you.”
That quote will forever live in my heart, my mind. That quote has helped me make decisions for jobs, for what I’m going to do next. It just felt like this moment of revelation for me when he said that, remembering that I don’t have to change who I am.
His words, like, us just chilling at rehearsal, gave me hope. They mean so much to me, man. I love him, and I’m grateful for him and for his encouragement.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
So, at the start of the pandemic, you know, lockdown, in March. And I was home in New York City. I was kind of… I had been sitting around. I hadn’t worked out in years. For years, I’d been saying, “Man, I got to get back in shape. I got to get back in shape.”
My fiancee had been working with a trainer, this gentleman named Corey Harbison. And she was really, like, making some amazing progress. She kept telling me, “Ant, you’ll love Corey. Y’all should work out.”
I’m like, “Ah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Can’t wait. It’s going to be great.” But I kept kind of blowing them off like, “Nah. You know, next time, next time.”
Finally, I made a decision. I said, “You know what? If there’s any time to get back in shape, it’s now. It’s right now. I’m home all the time. Like, there’s no excuse for me not to work out.”
One morning, we put Corey on the phone, set the phone down in a place where he could see us both. First time I work out in mad long, and then I’m working out with my girl. Not even 25 minutes into the workout, I’m, like, in the bathroom yakking, yakking out my iniquities. And I’m just like, “This is crazy.” So embarrassing.
I’m not going to lie, I was a little discouraged. But then I got up the next day, and I was like, “Boom, let’s go. Come on.” I kept going. We started three times a week. Then we started four times a week.
That was the start of the pandemic. For whatever reason, weights and toilet paper were the things that were going. You couldn’t find any of those.
We started with, like, Poland Spring gallons. We had a yoga mat, ordered an ab roller. We were able to get that, but that was basically it. You know, it was very minimalistic. We had a small amount of things, but we made them work.
Now I’m in the best shape I’ve been in, in years. The last time I, I worked out like this was probably when I was 20, 22 years old. You know, I’m 29 now, and I feel strong like that again.
It was almost like I looked up, and I was like, “Yo, God, you looked out for your boy because let me tell you, your boy was fragile.”
I mean, I’d be lying to you if I said that I wanted to work out every day that I do. There are days, more than I’d like, that I get up, and I’m like, “Yo, I really don’t want to lift a weight right now. I don’t want to do a sit-up. I don’t want to do anything right now. I just want to… I want to stay in this bed, right? I want to chill.”
I’d be hard on myself. Like, I’d… Like, if I didn’t work out an hour and a half, it wasn’t good enough. I’d be like, “Well, if I don’t have an hour and a half to work out, I’m just not going to do it.” And it’s like, no, that’s not… Like, even if you have 25 minutes, like, just get up and do something.
When we move away from being hard on ourselves and just get up and do something, we find that, little by little, we start chipping away at our goals.
Wow. I’ve just gotten to the top of this hill. This view is beautiful.
Wow, look at the stadium right there. That’s crazy. Let’s go. What’s so awesome is I’m looking directly at Dodger Stadium, world champion Dodger Stadium.
It’s beautiful, man. This is crazy. Like, it’s like my worlds colliding right now. I’m talking about all these things in my life that have happened and how I got into the arts, and now I’m looking this stadium, this baseball field that symbolizes the thing that meant the most to me from the start, which was playing ball. And I still love the game so much.
It’s just amazing when the worlds collide like that. Yeah, man. Wow. This is really special, man.
Music is such a big part of my life. So I just wanted to share some of the songs that mean a lot to me.
We hear a lot of songs about people having, like, one-night stands or, “I met this person at the club and took them back to the crib and bah, dah, dah, dah, dah,” and I’m like, “Yo, that’s not my life, man.”
I’ve been with my fiancee for almost six years now. And I said, you know, “Where’s the song about people who actually have been in long-term relationships, who are, like, in love?” Every day, you know, you got to work on the relationship, and, and, you know, it becomes less about the physical and more about the mental. So I wrote this song just about that, making love but, like, real love.
The song is called “Mind Over Matter”.
[MUSIC - “MIND OVER MATTER” BY ANTHONY RAMOS]
There’s a group that I love called Johnnyswim, Abner and Amanda Ramirez. I love their music. I sang one of their songs at a show I did one time, and then a fan connected us on Twitter. Now they’re, like, good friends. And my fiancee and I really love this song, and we sing it together. And this song just means a lot to me, to us, and I just wanted to share it.
So this one’s called “Take the World.”
[MUSIC - “TAKE THE WORLD” BY JOHNNYSWIM]
I was thinking to myself, “Man, isn’t it interesting how we just tell little lies all the time to avoid things or to, like, not have to deal with something?” I just wanted to write a song about that. I was like, “It’s so interesting how we do that.” It’s just me admitting that I do that.
This song’s called “Little Lies”.
[MUSIC - “LITTLE LIES” BY ANTHONY RAMOS]
These stories never get old to me. It’s nice to open up and walk at the same time, and on a beautiful day. I mean, it’s kind of perfect.
Thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.