Playing a doctor on TV—surgeon Callie Torres of the long-running Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET)—engages “the geeky side of my brain,” says Sara Ramirez, 36. But the Mexican-born actress, who won a 2005 Tony in the stage smash Monty Python’s Spamalot before finding a wider audience in prime time, also stole the show’s musical episode. Thelma Adams raises the curtain on Ramirez and learns that she’d love to play Evita on Broadway—when she finally surrenders her scalpel.
PARADE: Callie and her girlfriend, Arizona, got married on the show last year. What was the response?
Sara: I’ve gotten tons of positive feedback. We offered up romance that a gay couple could relate to, and that’s very inclusive. I felt honored to tell that story.
Which do you prefer, TV or theater?
Theater feeds my heart and soul. In TV, the work is a bit more scattered; in the theater you’re in it together from the get-go. You have to be ready to handle any situation at any moment.
Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction onstage?
When I worked with Tim Curry on Spamalot, my costume was a gown hidden beneath another gown, to be revealed later. One night, you could see half of the hidden gown underneath, so the surprise was ruined—and the audience loved it because of the unplanned joke. We all cracked up together.
What classic musical would you want to do in a revival?
Evita! It’s one of my favorites—the music, the drama, this complex character. It’s coming to Broadway [in the spring]. Obviously, I missed that boat.
In 2008, your best friend, New York actor Al D. Rodriguez, died from liver cancer. How did you deal with that loss?
It was a wake-up call about what’s important in life. The grief process changes you forever, and it changed me for the better. I needed to ground myself, to search within. I met my fiancé after that dark period, when I was starting to get back my appetite for life.
Who’s your fiancé?
He’s a business analyst. We met at an after-after-party. It was soul mates at first sight—“I feel like I know you.” When you’re not looking, that’s when it happens. It was refreshing for both of us to encounter a grown-up!
What do the two of you do on Sundays?
We hike in the canyon near our house. It’s a wonderful way to decompress, a soothing environment in which to talk while we’re walking—unless we’re out of breath. Then there’s laundry, cleaning the house, shopping for food. It’s our day to replenish and check in with each other.
Is your biological clock ticking?
I’m considering having kids. It’s a huge responsibility to me. I come from a family that’s divorced, and that gives you a sense of caution. I get the timeline, I get the stats, but I want to enjoy being engaged for a minute.
Was 2011 a peak year for you?
It was the first year I felt like I was back after my best friend died. I had been in a lot of pain, and angry. I didn’t know if I was ever going to come out of it. Last year I felt lighter, more interested in people. Now I’m walking around going, “Isn’t life great?”
“It all began with a phone call. My wonderful TV agent, Cindy Mintz of Abrams Artists Agency, wanted to let me know that actress Sara Ramirez had inquired about a meeting with me. My jaw dropped. I was a huge—I mean HUGE—fan of Sara’s, and the idea that she knew who I was and wanted to meet me was almost too good to comprehend.
I looked at my calendar, and realized I would soon be in Los Angeles, where Sara, a star on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy as you probably know, resides. As luck would have it, my dear friend Alain Romero, founder and director of Solpro, a Latino professionals networking organization, had planned a book party for me to help launch my latest novel, Lauren’s Saints of Dirty Faith.
I let Cindy know I could meet Sara during that couple of days, and then I did something I might not have dared to do early in my career. I asked Sara to please come to the book party and help me promote the novel by reading a section out loud to the guests.
In the past, in part because I was raised to be “humble,” I would have been afraid to ask. I would have heard my mother’s negative, sarcastic voice ringing in my head, something like, “Well, I guess you think you’re something special, huh?” Now, however? Now I knew—I’d learned—that in life you don’t get what you want and need unless you ask for it, something that is very hard for many of us.
To my enormous surprise, Sara said yes. I was overjoyed.
We met for dinner before the party. I was stunned that she came alone. Most celebrities I’d dealt with came to such things with an entourage—and an attitude. Anticipating such, I had brought my own cadre of agents, managers, and the like. It was embarrassing, because Sara was so down-to-earth, and there I was, acting like a diva. I later apologized for this in an email, and Sara told me not to worry; she even complimented me for having so many great people who support me and my career. Without a doubt, Sara is the most genuine and unaffected star I have ever met.
During dinner, Sara told me a moving story about how my work came to her attention. A dear friend of hers, a gay man, recommended it. Sara told me she wasn’t a big reader, and that even though he’d told her to read my stuff years ago, it wasn’t until he passed away recently that she took The Dirty Girls Social Club off her shelf and cracked the spine. Her eyes lit up as she told me of several synchronicities that happened to her while reading the book—a book whose writing had delivered to me many similar inexplicable happenings. Turns out, Sara and I shared many things—including half-Irish moms, a love of music and formal conservatory training. My work spoke to her, and she wanted to help me bring it to the screen.
At the party, Sara stood before the awed crowd in her elegant black leggings, top and boots. She was slender, gorgeous and very tall, with her hair shiny and looping in beautiful curls. And she read from the book, bringing my words to life in a way I had never heard before. Flash bulbs went off every couple of seconds. The photos and word of my book spread all over the Internet, as I’d known they would, and sales of the book jumped. Sara held the power to help me, and she did. I will never forget her generosity, her lack of pretense, her plainspoken integrity.
I wanted to share this story with the readers of Mamiverse, because we so often talk about envy and jealousy among women. Ms. Ramirez was a breath of fresh air, because she helped another woman, me. I will never forget it.
If I can, I will help Sara in return. I will also do what I can to help those who might ask me to, emulating her wonderful example. There is power in women helping one another, and we should all remember that.
Thank you, Sara, for the gift of your support.”