The musical spectacular In the Heights is the hot new topic of conversation, with people all over the world discussing the long-awaited film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda's popular stage play. Regardless of your feelings about the project — and trust me, reactions to the film run the gamut — there's an undeniable truth at the centre of In the Heights: Anthony Ramos is a bonafide star.
In the Heights marks Ramos' first turn as the leading man in a film or television project, and his performance makes you wonder why it took Hollywood so long to see his potential to be at the heart of any story. He stars in the Jon M. Chu-directed project as Usnavi de la Vega, a Washington Heights resident with a long-term goal of one day returning to his native Dominican Republic to fulfill his late father's ambitions of reviving their beachside family bar. Making that dream come true isn't an easy road for our protagonist; life throws him curveballs of every kind even as he makes his plans to head back home.
The character of Usnavi has been brought to life through endless stage performances since In the Heights first opened in 2008 — creator Miranda made the role famous during its Broadway run — but Ramos' take on the role feels especially inspired. His Usnavi is modern and relatable, fueled by his passions but also tied down by his responsibilities. He's got a stellar singing voice, and his rapping isn't too bad either. And did I mention that this iteration of Usnavi is fine? Like...really fine?
The hype (and the thirst) around the film is beyond exciting for Ramos, who's been waiting his whole life for this kind of gig like. As a Latinx actor working in Hollywood, he knows how rare it is to see stories about his community take centre stage. It took a while to happen, but In the Heights is the manifestation of many dreams, a chance for certain parts of Latinx culture to be celebrated on the big screen. There are some obvious missteps with the work that are impossible to overlook — the movie's failure to properly highlight the presence of Black Dominicans and other darker-skinned Afro-Latinx residents of the real life Heights has earned it warranted criticism — but Ramos is certain that In the Heights' is an important step towards a tangible cultural shift that many people within his community can already feel happening.
"The love I'm getting from family members and friends with people hitting me up to say how moved they are by the story of In the Heights...that's what this movie means to so many people," he explained to Refinery29 during a recent phone call shortly after the release of In the Heights. "To me, to my mom, to my aunts, uncles, and cousins. And it feels like destiny for it to come out right at this time, especially in New York City where the community is finally opening up after a period of extended trauma."
The summer release of In the Heights, occurring right when the city it was filmed in is slowly relaxing its formerly strict pandemic protocol, does feel like fate. But for its leading man, the film and its success are more like destiny and hard work finally coming together. After years of background gigs on Broadway (Damn Yankees, Hamilton) and roles in ensemble casts (A Star is Born, She's Gotta Have it), Usnavi is the first leading role for Ramos, the beginning of what's already shaping up to be a very booked and busy career. In addition to a recurring slot on HBO's Uzo Aduba-led reboot of In Treatment, Ramos is slated to be the star of the next slate of Transformers projects alongside Judas and the Black Messiah's Dominique Fishback and will also lead comedic sci-fi film Distant.
Ramos' meteoric ascent to proper heartthrob status will no doubt be assisted by the upcoming release of his second studio album Love and Lies. Whereas his first official project The Good & The Bad was a rollercoaster of emotions, the actor and singer channelled his energy into making sure that its follow-up would have a totally different vibe: party time. The three already released singles from the album tease out Ramos' intentions — "Blessings" is the lusty, island-inspired soundtrack of a one night stand, "Échale" puts listeners under a frantic dancing spell, and synth-heavy "Say Less" sets the mood while also breaking your heart. We haven't gotten the full scope of his sophomore album just yet (it's set to drop on June 25), but Ramos promises that Love and Lies is "the best shit [he's] ever written."
"I'm so hype for the album to come out," he said excitedly over the phone. "This is the type of music that I've always wanted to write ever since I was a kid, and it's the culmination of all the music I've listened to throughout my almost 30 years on this earth."
"The reggaeton, the Caribbean sounds, the R&B, the ballads, the quintessential pop, the ratchet shit — I'm going to give you all these flavours because that's what makes me feel good, makes me wanna party, to make love! And I want people to feel just as amazing when they hear it."
The long and short of it is that Ramos is in his hot boy era, starring in every movie and show on top of making music for what might be the horniest, hottest summer we've had in a very long time. (Being stuck inside for over a year changes you.) Even though the idea of being a heartthrob feels somewhat alien to him — has he seen himself in a mirror? — Ramos is stepping into his role of Hollywood's newest crush with gratitude and humility. If that's what the people want, that's what the people will get.
"I don't if anyone is ever really prepared to be a thirst object," he laughed. "But for me, it's about the work; I'm so glad that fans are responding to the work. I'll be the thirst object if y'all want me to be!"
"It's helpful because I consistently have to remind myself, Yo, you're good enough. You're worthy," Ramos continued candidly. "As much as I'm flattered by the idea of being someone that people thirst after, I still have days where I have to tell myself that I'm good enough because I don't always feel that way. So the love [from the fans] is good because it pushes me to focus and to keep working hard towards my goals. Being told that you're doing a good job doesn't get old, ever."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.