Ramla Ali Gets Into the Ring With Jeremy O. Harris
The Somali model and boxer Ramla Ali helps Jeremy O. Harris plot her own version of Rocky. Highlights include: fake passports, a coach turned husband, and the rare condition that threatens to unravel it all.
JEREMY O. HARRIS: Hi! I look horrible. You look stunning.
RAMLA ALI: Excuse me. I was about to say the same thing. I literally came from training. I had to have a quick shower. My hair’s a mess.
HARRIS: My hair’s a mess. I have not showered and I don’t know what training looks like.
ALI: Wow. So we’re almost the same.
HARRIS: No. The fact that your body is tight and right and you have washed your hair is five steps ahead of me. My boyfriend’s coming tonight and I’m going to try to rush and do Pilates. What does training consist of for you?
ALI: Today I had to do some track work and it was brutal. I can’t feel my legs. I’ve just sunk into this couch and I don’t think I’m going to move for the rest of the day. I’m going to have people bring me food and beverages.
HARRIS: How many people do you have doing that for you?
ALI: No one does that for me. It’s wishful thinking.
HARRIS: But you are married, right?
ALI: Yes, it’s six years since we’ve been married. So, a pretty long time. Fun fact, my husband proposed after three months.
ALI: And both our parents were saying, “You’re too young, it’s too soon. Get to know each other.” Six years later, I think everybody owes us an apology.
HARRIS: When he was your boyfriend, was he doting on you more?
ALI: I mean, things definitely have changed in six years. I don’t get the same level of attention as I once did. But yeah, I think that just happens when you’re too used to one another.
HARRIS: Do you guys work together? Because he’s a boxing coach, right?
ALI: Well, we did and then we felt like it wasn’t working anymore because we were arguing too much. So we decided to bring in another coach who lives in L.A., so we moved there and my husband manages me full-time as opposed to coaching me.
HARRIS: You know what’s so sexy about the entire story you just told? When you talked about training, I was like, “Do you drink eggs raw in the morning?”
ALI: Have you ever tried to drink raw eggs? It tastes like something died. You can taste death as it’s going down your throat. I’ve only done it once and that was the last time. Have you ever tried it?
HARRIS: No. And actually I quit going to my personal trainer the day he surprised me and was like, “We’re going to box today.” I immediately had childhood trauma come back. I’m getting beat up on the playground and I’m like, “I don’t like this.” He was just like, “Come, come,” and trying to get me to spar with him and I was like, “I don’t like having to punch people. This freaks me out.”
ALI: That’s the thing about boxing. You immediately know if it’s for you or not. It’s one of those sports where you can’t be afraid to get hit. It’s like swimming. You can’t expect to go in the water and not get wet. The moment you first get hit is the moment you know if it’s for you.
HARRIS: Yes. I was like, “Wow, you are a little bitch, Jeremy.” What made you say, “I like this kind of hitting?”
ALI: It’s just something that grew on me. I didn’t walk into a gym and immediately think, “I’m going to fight for a living.” It was something that happened gradually. I didn’t have my first competitive fight until six years after I’d walked into the gym for the first time. It wasn’t me that said, “This is what I want to do.” It took a lot of convincing from my coaches. The first time I ever sparred I got the shit kicked out of me. People assume, “Oh, she’s a woman. She’s going to end up crying.” Even though I was crying inside, I kept going back out of pride.
HARRIS: Did you spar with a girl the first time?
ALI: Yeah. And she beat the shit out of me. It was really embarrassing, actually.
HARRIS: I don’t know if you know that I write plays and screenplays, but I was reading about you and I was like, “Wow, she would be such a great female Rocky.”
ALI: Do you know what I really like? In Rocky IV, there was a political twist at the end when he goes to fight in Russia and then he says, “If I can change, you can change, and we all can change.” I think that was really powerful.
ALI: For me and my husband, when we first got together, a lot of the struggles that we faced had to do with the fact that I’m Black and he’s white. There were a lot of culture shocks. That should definitely be something that’s played out in the Ramla Rocky movie.
HARRIS: In the Ramla Rocky movie! I like that. I may be the perfect person to write this. I don’t know if you know what my first play is about, but it intersects with those ideas.
ALI: That would be amazing.
HARRIS: So we’re doing this together.
ALI: There’s actually a movie being made about my life as well.
HARRIS: Who’s doing it?
ALI: Have you seen the film The Favorite?
HARRIS: Oh my god, yes.
ALI: That producer is producing the movie. It’s a funny story, actually. She approached me back in 2016 and said, “I’d love to make a movie about your life.” And I said, “No, bitch. It’s not going to happen.” It just felt intrusive and I didn’t want the whole world seeing my life because I knew for her to tell it well, she’d need to dig deep into my history, my family’s history. It was a bit much. But she sort of just stuck around like a bad smell.
HARRIS: Like the best producers do.
ALI: And she became a really good friend. She came to some of my competitions, she came to family events with me. She met my parents. So four years later, in 2020, I finally agreed. It’s being funded by Film4.
HARRIS: Fantastic. Do they want you to act in it?
ALI: Me? I can’t act for shit.
HARRIS: Anyone can act, anyone can write. It’s just about patience and time.
ALI: Really? I don’t think I could write as well as you do, to be honest. What made you get into playwriting?
HARRIS: I was an actor that was really frustrated with the work I was getting offered and there was a type of play that I really wanted to be in and that was written for white people. And then the plays that were for Black people generally were revivals of plays that I didn’t want to do. So I was like, “Okay, someone needs to write the new weird plays for the weirdo Black kids.”
ALI: I love that.
HARRIS: You’re a Libra, right?
HARRIS: You’re a Virgo?
ALI: This is another fun fact. I actually don’t know when I was born.
ALI: Yeah. So, I was born during the civil war in Somalia and there isn’t an official record of me being born. So, my date of birth was guessed by my sister. When we came to the U.K. as war refugees on fake passports, we had to throw the passports in the bin and claim asylum. And then everybody’s given papers and because we didn’t have any, she made something up for me on the spot and that’s what I have today. So I don’t really know how old I am and I don’t really know when I was born. I claim I’m 21.
HARRIS: You’re the youngest person in the game. Forever.
ALI: I’m going to be 50 telling people I’m 21.
HARRIS: And who are we to know the difference?
ALI: I know, right?
HARRIS: Do you spend most of your time in L.A.?
ALI: Yes. I’m actually going to fly back this week so I can start camp, because my next fight is going to be in January. In camp, you literally have to train between eight to ten weeks intensively. Every day you feel like your body’s broken, but that’s what I love. The good thing about L.A. is I don’t really know a lot of people, so there’s not a lot of distractions. Whereas when I’m in London, every other day a friend’s like, “Hey, let’s go out and get dinner.”
HARRIS: Are you able to get dinner when you’re training? What does that look like for you? Is everyone eating pasta and you’re like, “Cool, I’ll have the broccoli,” or is it like, “I need to eat everything in my sight?”
ALI: Athletes eat more than non-athletes because we’re burning so many calories in the gym. When I go out with friends, they’ll have their one plate and I’ll be like, “Guys, I’m really hungry. Excuse me, I’m going to order three plates.” It sucks for them if we’re splitting the bill, but that’s what happens when you say, “Let’s go to dinner.” Do you want to come and eat some pasta with me?
HARRIS: Yes, I’m going to find a great place for us. There’s one restaurant I’m immediately thinking about in West Hollywood that would be very good for you. It’s butcher-blocks of meat.
ALI: Oh, man. I don’t eat meat.
HARRIS: You’re veg?
ALI: I’ve always had problems internally eating meat. Even growing up. But luckily in the family, we have my sister, and she’s a nurse who’s a specialist in allergies. About six years ago I went into her clinic to get tested and we realized that I’m allergic to meat.
HARRIS: Whoa. Another great scene in the Ramla Rocky movie: the discovery of the meat allergy.
ALI: Where she eats meat and throws up.
HARRIS: Yes, and we don’t know what’s wrong with her.
ALI: “Oh my god. What’s happening to Ramla? She’s having a seizure on the floor.”
HARRIS: That’s Ramla Rocky III. It’s the big turning point in it.
HARRIS: I should let you go because we were only supposed to talk for 10 minutes and we talked for 20.
ALI: Oh wow. It was a great chat, I must admit.
HARRIS: But also I was going to tell you that 60 percent of kids these days say they want to be an influencer when they grow up. No one wants to be a firefighter or a boxer or a playwright.
ALI: Exactly I want to be an influencer.
Hair: Michael Delmas at Total World
Makeup: Carol Lopez Reid at Carol Hayes Management
Production: Town Productions
Set Design: Olivia Giles at Jones Management
Photography Assistants: Robin Bernstein and Gabor Koncz
Fashion Assistant: Sanda Bell