Nearly a decade since accidentally auditioning for his first musical during his junior year of high school (he thought it was a talent show), Bushwick native and New Utrecht graduate Anthony Ramos is gearing up for the release of the first-ever Netflix original series with his name on the bill.
The Class of ’09 public-school alum – who has already made a name for himself as the originator of both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Grammy-Award winning musical phenomenon “Hamilton” – will star as Mars Blackmon in the contemporary, small-screen remake of Spike Lee’s 1985 debut film “She’s Gotta Have It.”
The show — in which Ramos will play a character originated by Lee in the now-30-year-old movie — centers on Nola Darling, a Brooklyn-based artist in her late 20s, and her three lovers: Greer Childs, Jamie Overstreet and Blackmon.
“It’s a show about a woman living in 2017 gentrified Brooklyn truly exploring all aspects of her life and living that life to the fullest,” Ramos told this paper. “She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s ambitious and she just so happens to have three lovers – and each guy could not be more different.”
Blackmon, Ramos said, is “pretty eccentric.”
“He brings out the child in Nola,” he said of his character. “I think he brings out the best in Nola. I feel like maybe I’m a little biased, but I’m Team Mars.”
As for his casting, Ramos said, Lee seemed to seek him out.
“I think we were still in previews for ‘Hamilton’ and Spike came to see it,” he recalled. “He’s sitting in, like, the fourth row and all of a sudden we’re bowing and I catch him pointing at me. I looked over at my buddy Chris Jackson who would stand next to me during bows and said like, ‘Is Spike Lee pointing at me?’
“He says, sort of through the side of his mouth, ‘Well, he ain’t pointing at me,’” Ramos went on. “The next thing you know I get a call, maybe a month later, and it’s the simplest message: ‘Anthony, it’s Spike Lee. Call me back.’”
And he did.
“I’m totally honored,” Ramos said. “Spike could have had a bunch of other people play this role and he didn’t.”
Filming the project was a switch for the star, who has spent most of his career on stages, big and small.
“It’s a different type of discipline,” he explained. “On stage, you’re keeping your energy up for two to three hours, sometimes even just an hour and a half. With Spike, we were starting to shoot at 5:30 in the morning and sometimes going all night. And you’re not shooting the whole time – you could be first up, you could be last up. You’ve gotta be ready to rock for all 12 hours as opposed to just a few on stage.”
On top of his role in the series, Ramos wrote some of the music for the show, the release of which comes just weeks after that of two songs off of his forthcoming debut album, “Freedom EP,” a collection of songs inspired by his reaction to the 2016 presidential election (the first two of which are currently available to stream on SoundCloud and Spotify). The full album will drop on January 20, 2018 — one year to the day since President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Meanwhile, as the series’ release date fast approaches, Ramos said, the buzz is growing – especially in his home-borough, where much of the show was filmed.
“Everyone is hype,” he said, going on to cite specifically his girlfriend, friends, family and longtime mentor Sara Steinweiss (who, he said is still “freaking out” about a recent “Will and Grace” cameo) as constant pillars of support. “The buzz is definitely spreading in Brooklyn, especially with it being something Spike Lee did. Spike is a king in Brooklyn. Brooklyn loves him and, man, I love Brooklyn, so it’s a good look for us out here.”
Even more than his own character, Ramos is excited for the world to meet Darling, and to see what happens when Lee puts her and Blackmon together. “I think it’s gonna be dope,” he said.
Ramos’ co-stars include Cleo Anthony as Childs, Lyriq Bent as Overstreet and DeWanda Wise as Darling.
“She’s Gotta Have It” will debut on Netflix Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 23.
When asked what advice he has for local theater kids looking for their big break, Ramos answered simply: “Keep doing it until you don’t want to.”