Sarah Ramos has appeared on Law & Order, Wizards of Waverly Place and Private Practice. She starred as Haddie Braverman on NBC’s Parenthood, and, more recently, assumed the role of Cheryl Pistono (ex-wife of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) on HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. It’s a career that spans twenty years and it all started with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen cruise.
Ramos’ entrance into Hollywood began as a fan. With stars in her eyes, she racked up movie and TV credits while also collecting an impressive collection of photos with celebrities. Through May 1, Autograph Hound is on display at Junior High Los Angeles and exhibits Ramos’ introspection on fame and fandom. Ahead of its opening, we spoke with Ramos about her lifelong pop culture obsession, the celebrity-fan dynamic and how she found inspiration in Taylor Swift.
Can you tell us about how Autograph Hound came to life?
There were a few steps to the process. One was sharing the photos that I had on social media and just getting a genuine, generally enthusiastic response. I’d hear about other people’s childhood celebrity obsessions and feel a sense of community around that. The other aspect was THNK 1994, the pop-up pop culture museum who I've partnered with on the Autograph Hound zine and this exhibit, they produced so many pop-up art exhibits and supported so many artists that I thought were so cool that had to do with pop culture. I think their first exhibit was oil paintings of Mary-Kate and Ashley hiding from the paparazzi. I loved the way that they were elevating the culture to the level of fine art and with a sense of humor, so I wanted to work with them.
Do you have a favorite picture in the collection?
I have a few favorite photos. There's obviously the Mary-Kate and Ashley photo which is just insane because it's the one that started it all. It was taken on a cruise ship, which is pretty crazy and epic. Then there are so many that have a meta level to them, like my photo with Joe Jonas. It was taken and I kept seeing him around, but I was in my ironic era. I knew about the Jonas Brothers and I was like,” I don't care but there he is. Wouldn't it be hilarious if I got a photo?” This just shows, again, how I couldn’t quit pop culture. I think it's so funny that I have a photo with Colin Farrell from the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider premiere because I only knew who Colin Farrell was because he dated Britney Spears. The raw sexual energy emanating off the Colin Farrell photo and the Shane West photo is just so shocking compared to my blank, child stare. I obviously love the photo where I photobombed the Riverdale cast at the MTV awards– that was a very embarrassing photo. I wanted it to look cute and cool and I looked extremely creepy and humorous.
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Do you think certain types of celebrities owe it to fans to pose for a photo?
I don't think anyone owes anyone anything. I think that's a scary kind of concept and when fans see a celebrity as not a person or a celebrity sees a fan as not a person— that's scary territory to get into. Nobody wants to be dehumanized or treated like their experience doesn't matter. That being said, I think privacy and respect needs to be involved. It's funny that this project raises questions like that, that I don't think we really discuss all the time in terms of the fan-celebrity contract or fan-artists contract. Additionally, I think it’s interesting what creates the desire in a fan to take a photo with a famous person, like where does that come from? I think my photos are interesting in that matter because I was so young when I wanted to take these photos. In a way it's harder to fault me because I was young. In my opinion, I have to kind of give myself compassion and be curious because I was so obsessed with pop culture, as you can see in “City Girl,” the web series that’s in the exhibit. We should really ask how pop culture and celebrity culture raises us to behave in certain ways and expect certain things.
For you, was it the flashiness of stars that intrigued you or were you just so excited to be in the presence of someone whose art had an impact on you?
I think it was both. I was thrilled to be around the Olsen twins because I worshiped the ground they walked on. I bought their Walmart dolls, their clothes and we paid to go on the cruise. I did really look up to these people. Once I started acting and going to premieres with celebrities, I think I did internalize that this is a status symbol to be here. It’s kind of complicated because just by taking a photo or asking for a photo with somebody to elevate yourself in status, it actually highlights your lower status or that you see yourself as having a lower status. I think the photos started symbolizing something else later. They went from feeling like exciting, joyous objects to status symbols to “Oh no I'm so embarrassed of these.” They were embarrassing representations of my low self-esteem to then feeling ironic. I think the status aspect and the excitement is connected.
Do you think your celebrity interest was key to becoming an actor or do you think as an artist you would have eventually found your way there?
Interesting question. I think it's twofold. I definitely watched the Disney Channel and the Olsen twins and was like, “I want to do that” and then it was like “OK, I can and I will.” That being said, having been acting for 20 years and now working in other mediums writing, directing, making art and having met so many other actors who have different ambitions, I think a lot of people want to be actors starting out because it's the most visible option. We don't totally have as much of an understanding about the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that makes this industry go, even down to the star-making machine, like PR people, hair and makeup people, journalists and magazine editors. I think when I was young, I thought I saw the star and was intoxicated by their power and magnetism, not realizing that so many other people's work went into making them mesmerizing.
You’ve credited Taylor Swift with partially helping you get out of the irony and disdain era of your fandom. Can you tell us more about that?
I could talk about Taylor Swift and her influence and inspiration for years straight. She is a fascinating, multifaceted figure in this industry and she is an incredible artist and writer, first and foremost. She’s been writing since before anybody took her seriously when people questioned whether or not she had that talent. At the same time, she is a really savvy business and PR person. Part of her genius in storytelling extends to her image making it feel like she's just so cohesive. I think when I was in my ironic, cynical era, I looked at Taylor Swift and saw a pop princess who fit perfectly into the status quo and who I would have nothing in common with. Once I actually listened to her music, I found it to be really genuine. It helped me remember how I grew up loving the Olsen twins and Lizzie McGuire and I wanted to be a pop princess. I loved Britney Spears and for whatever reason, I felt like I had to shut that down. I loved Taylor's kind of unapologetic embracing of that and it felt like it transcended. She was very mainstream, but it felt like she wasn't just doing it because that's what the industry wanted her to be. It was authentic to her and that was inspiring.
Would you agree that former fangirls make for the best workers in entertainment, whether that’s as actors or publicists or managers or writers?
Yes, I would agree. I think that one of the things that keeps me going and helps me connect to people in moments of cynicism and disappointment in this industry is to remember that if people are working in Hollywood it's because they're a fan. Just like how I said when I was feeling cynical, I wrote off Taylor Swift, somebody who has since then given me the most love and inspiration I could ask for. That feeling of having been a fan of somebody is what propelled most people into the media. Sometimes it's not as fun as we imagined when we were starting out, but that inner fan side should be protected and cherished.
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To what degree do you think our relationship with celebrity culture has gotten better and worsened? I think about the tabloid heyday of the early-to-mid aughts and it isn’t quite like that anymore, but social media has definitely put a weird spin on things.
I think social media is very multifaceted. I have really appreciated getting to read, listen and watch Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey and the list goes on of all of these icons who I grew up watching, hearing them tell their own stories, not mediated by other people. I’ve appreciated having them talk about the behind the scenes, often heartbreaking experiences that led to them becoming so famous and their image being consumed by so many people and unpacking what that felt like. I think social media, art and the Me Too movement has shifted for everyone. What I'm even more interested in is women's ability to speak about their own experiences directly, and we seem to be a bit more interested in hearing about it. I think with social media, the smoke and mirrors of the industry have been a little bit diluted. People have a lot more media literacy and know a little bit how the sausage is made and crave more honesty and transparency.
What are you most excited about for people to experience through Autograph Hound?
I'm really excited. One of the most fun aspects of all of this, whether it's been making quarantines, posting photos I've taken with celebrities or making “City Girl,” which is the script I wrote when I was a kid, has been having other people share their own stories. I love hearing people saying, “Oh, I was obsessed with this celebrity” and “I took this photo.” A bunch of fans have sent in their own photos that they've taken with celebrities and every photo has a story. Reading other peoples’ stories and scripts that they wrote when they were kids is hilarious and some are inspired by soap operas and one of them is Hanson fanfiction. There’s also quarantines of people talking about their own favorite movies that they watched so many times that they have it memorized. Sometimes consuming pop culture can feel like such a solitary activity, especially since we've been in quarantine. I'm really excited to feel a sense of community around it and be like, “Wow, we were all doing this at the same time alone.”
Do you have any upcoming projects you’re looking forward to?
I'm really excited about multiple things. The HBO show I'm on about the Lakers in the ‘80s just got picked up for Season 2 today, which is cool. But I'm really excited about this Audible original that I wrote called Zaddy, and it is also inspired by and takes place in L.A. It's a sexy, dark, twisted thriller about a young fitness instructor in L.A. who starts dating an older guy who has some secrets. I perform it, I wrote it and it's co-starring Chris Messina as Zaddy and that comes out May 5.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Unique Nicole/ Getty Images