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Why Usnavi De La Vega From In The Heights Looks So Familiar

As summer 2021 gets into full swing and as more moviegoers flock to the theaters, one of the film's fans can't wait to see is the much hyped (and very delayed) "In the Heights." The broadway hit adaptation from the mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda will be released in theaters and HBO Max on June 11. The story follows Usnavi de la Vega, a young bodega owner in Washington Heights who one day hopes to return to the Dominican Republic to reopen his father's bar, but while he's in New York City, he has eyes for Vanessa (Melissa Barrera). And she has her own dreams of making it in the fashion world. Meanwhile various other characters enter the fray, coming in and out of the Usnavi's De la Vega Bodega with stories of their own. 

In the original Broadway show, Miranda played the role of Usnavi, but in the film the writer and actor takes a backseat to play a much smaller role of Piragua Guy. So who is playing the starring role in  the film that's already a hit with critics (via The AV Club)? None other than Anthony Ramos, the 29-year-old actor and singer who, in less than a decade, has already carved out a career for himself that most could only dream of. Here's why you probably recognize Ramos.

Ramos played John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Hamilton

If you're starring in one of the biggest Broadway musicals of all time, you're going to be recognized more often than not. Ramos was part of "Hamilton's" original cast, playing both Alexander Hamilton's son Philip as well as the elder Hamilton's friend and revolutionary, John Laurens. 

In a 2020 interview on "The Late Late Show with James Corden," Ramos told the host he landed the role when had no agent and was going to open auditions. He was rehearsing a show at Radio City Music Hall that was cancelled a week before previews, but he said he went to another open audition and sang "Ain't Too Proud To Beg." This led to him being asked to audition for "Hamilton." He did four auditions for the show, was fired from another show, and soon got the call that he landed "Hamilton." Quite the Broadway debut. 

He worked for Grace on the last season of Will & Grace

In 2017, Ramos appeared on the reboot of "Will & Grace." The show entered its ninth season that year, over 10 years after its 2006 finale episode. Ramos guest starred as Tony, Grace's (Debra Messing) assistant who is repeatedly hit on by both Grace and Karen (Megan Mullally). But Tony denies it. Fittingly, Tony eventually tries to teach Grace to sing after she sees how talented he is.

Ramos wasn't the only Broadway star to grace the set of the revival season. Tony Award nominee Andrew Rannells ("The Book of Mormon") and Tony-winner Ben Platt ("Dear Evan Hansen") appeared as well. Platt played a love interest of Will's (Eric McCormack) and Rannells played Reggie, a counselor at Camp Straighten Arrow. Though Ramos had few TV credits up until appearing on the show, he did appear on a Law & Order episode in 2016 called "Forty-One Witnesses," which also happens to feature his "Hamilton" co-star, Daveed Diggs. 

Anthony Ramos played Lady Gaga's best friend in A Star Is Born

One of Anthony Ramos' first big film roles was playing Ramon in 2018's "A Star Is Born." The film centered around the relationship between a young aspiring musician, Ally (Lady Gaga), and an older established rock star, Jackson (Bradley Cooper). Ramon was Ally's supportive best friend who went along for the ride as Ally climbed up the charts. In an interview with "Good Morning America" Ramos praised his co-stars saying, "I am only as good as they are and they're amazing and they're open and they're beautiful souls and you just want to give that back," he explained. "You want to give them everything. It's a testament to them. It's all Bradley and Stephanie [Lady Gaga]. They're amazing."

Ramos soon became friendly enough with Lady Gaga while shooting the film that he forgot who she was. He told Vanity Fair that he became so comfortable with her that he offered her "Hamilton" tickets if she wanted them. "I said, 'Yo man, if you wanna go, I got you,'" Ramos said. "After I said the words I was like, 'She's Lady Gaga, she don't need you to get tickets to Hamilton bro.'"

Anthony Ramos took on Spike Lee's role in 'She's Gotta Have It'

It's never easy to replace an actor who played a role that was so popular it became a part of the late '80s zeitgeist, but Ramos stepped into Spike Lee's shoes to play the oversized glasses-wearing, gold chain-sporting, care-free Mars Blackmon on the Netflix remake of "She's Gotta Have It." Lee played the character not only in the 1986 film, but in a number of iconic Nike commercials with Michael Jordan. How did Ramos land the memorable role for the small screen remake of the film? He told Variety that Lee had seen "Hamilton" around "eight times" and even pointed at Ramos after the show ended. He later got a phone call from Lee telling him to call the director back. "I go meet him at his office in NYU and just hung out and we kicked it really for like an hour. In that first meeting was when he gave me that idea of me potentially playing the role of Mars..." 

And the actor said "being from Brooklyn he's like the man out here — he's like the dude that really put us on the map as far as films are concerned and really gave Brooklyn to the world through film, showed what Brooklyn is and who Brooklyn is."