In A Star Is Born, Anthony Ramos plays Ramon, the best friend and confidant of breakout musician Ally (Lady Gaga, in her first film role). Landing a gig with Gaga would already be a dream come true for millions, but Ramos got extra perks: The actor also got to watch the pop star — a woman with whom he’s now on casual, first-name terms — break into impromptu performance.
“We were filming in a theater and in between set-ups, Stefani just got on the piano and did a 15-minute show for the audience,” says Ramos. “She crushed it. Just her and the piano. She’s a megastar. Period.”
If Brooklyn-born Ramos wants to be a megastar, too, he’s certainly nabbing the right projects. In 2015, he dazzled audiences in Broadway’s Hamilton in the major twin roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. Now, Oscar buzz has officially kicked off for A Star Is Born, actor-director Bradley Cooper’s remake of an ever-adaptable film that's previously starred Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland in Gaga’s role. Cooper’s version, in theaters October 5, sees Ally spring to superstardom with the help of a country music star, played by Cooper himself. The story resonated strongly with Ramos, whose own ascent has had its hurdles.
“The neighborhood [I grew up in] was rough,” says the 26-year-old, who was raised by his single mom in Bushwick, where money was tight. “There was crime. No one was running to Broadway because no one could afford it.” For Ramos, who is of Puerto Rican descent, baseball had always been the proposed path, but that, too, was derailed by financial struggles. Musical theater stepped in as an unlikely savior, and after securing a hard-won scholarship to Manhattan’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), Ramos wound up auditioning for a musical, Love Conquers All, in his junior year. Not long before, the theatre world had been alien to him. “It just wasn’t a part of the culture where I grew up,” he says. “It was just about sports. We didn’t have any theater programs.”
Ramos won a lead role in the college production, and fell in love with song and dance. His time at AMDA also allowed him to fill in gaps in his musical theater knowledge. “I’d get to school and kids would be talking about Rodgers and Hammerstein,” he says, “and I’d be like, ‘I don’t know any of these people. I know Jay-Z, Nas, and Usher.’ I had to learn fast.”
His crash course also included listening to cast recordings in the library, staying in the studio alone until 11 pm to master tap, and working in a bakery to stay afloat. And that education keeps paying off. Hamilton changed Ramos’s life, and led to other work, including a role in the Will & Grace revival. Spike Lee caught a Hamilton show and then cast Ramos in his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Next spring, the actor will appear in the blockbuster sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters, alongside Millie Bobby Brown. And in the new film Monsters and Men, in theaters September 28, he plays Manny, a young New Yorker who uses his phone to film the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer, then suffers pivotal consequences when he posts it online. (The topical subject matter, depicted in unnervingly realistic style, helped the film win an audience award at Sundance in January.)
Vastly different from his other projects, Monsters and Men allows Ramos to show more of his range, but the actor's impetus to do the film was personal.
“I grew up in an environment like that,” he says, adding that he relates to being a person of color in fear of what police might do to him. “A cop cuffed me on the Upper West Side one time, and if I’d said anything crazy or tried to act up, who knows what would have happened? My cousins, who were with me, were black and Puerto Rican, and I was just like, 'I gotta chill — I don’t want anything to go down.’”
Such issues helped to inform Freedom, his recently released E.P. of protest songs, prompted by Trump's election. And in A Star Is Born, he finds himself in another tuneful and inspirational arena. The character of Ramon has Ally’s back through every step to stardom.
“He’s really dope, stylish, smart, fun, outgoing, and creative,” Ramos says, noting that who Ramon might date fits seamlessly into that mix. “He’s like that kid in high school that made you be like, ‘What’s his deal? Is he popular, is he not popular? Does he like guys, does he like girls?’ I played him in a way that the dude doesn’t even care. He is who he is.”
Photography by John Russo. Styling by Nicolas Klam.