Sarah Ramos: The Graduate Years
As Haddie Braverman, the teenage daughter of Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter) on NBC’s cult favorite Parenthood, Sarah Ramos spent five years perfecting the balance between lovability and petulance. Since the series ended in 2015, the Columbia University graduate has taken the opportunity to showcase her talents beyond Haddie and even acting, with a weird and wonderful range of creative projects.
Last September, for example, Ramos released Fluffy, a short she wrote and directed. Co-starring Max Minghella, Fluffy tells a cringe-worthy story of unrequited love, presenting Ramos as a shy, dreamy college student. A few months later, she appeared in the third season of Showtime’s drama The Affair as Audrey, a feminist student unafraid of challenging (and annoying) her professor and her peers about the reality of rape on campus.
Then there is the podcast Ramos produces, This Week Had Me Like, a surreal roundup of celebrity news hosted by Caroline Goldfarb of @officialseanpenn fame. “I’ve learned a lot from it,” Ramos enthuses. “I learned that Jon Bon Jovi has a pasta sauce line, called ‘bongiovi’…Hilary Swank has an athleisure line; Alyssa Milano designs paper towels. It’s crazy. Nick Carter posted on his Instagram about how to freeze your baby’s cord blood—not umbilical cord. It’s very niche!”
Also in the works is a rom-com web series slated for release this month, which Ramos wrote when she was 12 and decided to direct at the ripe age of 25. “It’s called City Girl and it is a little silly,” she explains. “It’s the adult world through the mind of a 12-year-old. It’s bizarrely warped and the logic doesn’t make sense, so it’s really funny.” Featuring Alia Shawkat and Nick Thorburn, City Girl stars Ramos as a grown-up only a tween could conceive of: a furniture store-owning lady named Kacey Jones, who is afflicted by mysterious migraines and falls in love with her doctor.
This summer, Ramos will be back on television, with the much-anticipated Charlaine Harris vampire series Midnight, Texas. Interview recently spoke to Ramos about leaving the Parenthood family and taking the creative reigns in her career.
ELOISE BLONDIAU: I thought we would start by talking about Fluffy, a short film you wrote and directed. It really reminded me of the HBO show Enlightened—the warped optimism, the music, everything rang true.
SARAH RAMOS: Enlightened was the biggest influence in all aspects for Fluffy. It was based on a short story, so it wasn’t originally inspired by Enlightened, but I really love that show—Laura Dern‘s performance in it, the writing, and the voiceover—so much, so I’m glad that came through. Even the wardrobe was a little inspired by Enlightened. I’ve watched the show many times.
BLONDIAU: What was the process of writing and directing Fluffy like?
RAMOS: Fluffy is based on a short story that a friend of mine, named Ingrid Nelson, wrote. I had read it in college because Ingrid and I went to Columbia together. I really liked it and always thought that it was a really funny look at this obsessive girl who’s having a non-relationship, but the drama the non-relationship has on her psyche and emotional state, I thought that was really interesting.
BLONDIAU: Was it the first thing you’ve written and directed?
RAMOS: It was the first thing I’ve written and directed alone. I actually co-wrote and co-directed a short film called The Arm [with Brie Larson and Jessie Ennis] that ended up winning a Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. That was the first thing I ever did. I was 19, 20 years old. It was totally an experiment and we just hoped that it went well. It went to Sundance, which I totally wasn’t expecting, and I wanted to take some time before I did my next project because when you’re really young, I think you can only get away with, “I’m just doing this for fun and experimenting,” once.
I had been acting on Parenthood and then I went to Columbia for creative writing. I was a regular on the show during seasons one to three and in seasons four to six I would only do a couple of guest episodes. So I was in New York at Columbia for those three seasons of the show and then I graduated as it ended.
BLONDIAU: I imagine your degree in creative writing was formative in helping to write and direct Fluffy.
RAMOS: I went to school and I studied fiction and creative writing because I had been acting since I was a kid and I didn’t want to do something that had to do with the film industry; I wanted to broaden my perspective. So I really was reading a lot of short stories and fiction and I think that had a huge effect on Fluffy. It is really taken out of something I found in a college classroom. I met so many talented people there.
BLONDIAU: BB Dakota, the company that sponsored Fluffy, did so as part of an effort to elevate women entrepreneurs and creatives, and in The Affair you play a feminist college student campaigning against rape on campus. How often do you get a chance to express a political perspective in your work?
RAMOS: Well, I feel like The Affair was the most direct of way of doing that. I read the script and I thought, “This is so exciting. This is exactly what the conversation is right now on Twitter and everywhere I see people talking about this.”
I had an interesting experience on that set. My character is hammering home on this one issue, [that sexual consent should be verbal,] and the other characters tell her she sounds like a Planned Parenthood pamphlet. Which is not untrue—it’s not like she’s making brand new arguments—but when we were filming this scene it felt like everyone was laughing at me, which was interesting, and the point of the show was that she’s kind of annoying. But in the moment it was bizarre. I was like, “I think I’m making valid points but everyone is rolling their eyes.” That’s the vibe out there in the world, too.
BLONDIAU: I think the viewer is as unnerved by the laughter as your character is.
RAMOS: I hope so. It’s just touchy territory talking about something like this. It’s hard to not let accusations of sounding cliché stop you from making your point. It’s easier to tear something down than it is to build it up.
We have another scene where my character talks to [her professor] Noah [played by Dominic West] and he says, “Do you really feel unsafe in my class?” and she says, “I feel unsafe all the time,” and lists all these different places she has felt unsafe. Dominic West asked me if I personally felt this way in those situations and I said that I have—I don’t always feel unsafe when I’m getting into an elevator, but I can very easily imagine being alone in an elevator with a man and feeling uncomfortable. It was interesting how my character would more forcefully describe that sense of alienation, and that makes people uncomfortable and it makes people want to push back and call someone paranoid.
BLONDIAU: In addition to The Affair you’re on the new show Midnight, Texas, which in some ways feels like the furthest thing possible from Parenthood.
RAMOS: First of all, I agree that it’s super different from Parenthood and the other shows that I have been on since I was 10 years old. I’ve realized that most of the family-driven dramas I’ve been on could be called breakfast shows, because there’s always that scene where it’s the morning and a mom and dad are arguing with me to get their kids breakfast and fed so they can get to school on time. There were so many scenes that I’ve done where I go to get something out of the fridge and say something bratty to my parents. On [Midnight, Texas] we’re running away from monsters and staking vampires in the heart and doing all this action that I had never done before. So it’s super different, and super fun.
Midnight, Texas weirdly has this part of shows like Gilmore Girls and Friday Night Lights that I love so much, which is the importance of the small town location and feel, where everyone knows each other and you just walk into each other’s houses. Midnight, Texas has that small town charm in a big way, and that was really appealing and fun too. Also it’s based on Charlaine Harris’ books, and she wrote True Blood and is a maniac.
BLONDIAU: Were you a fan of supernatural shows growing up?
RAMOS: I have, for the most part, stayed away from supernatural genre, although I feel like I’ve seen all of the Twilight movies, even though I did it “ironically.” I did watch Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] because my best friend was obsessed with it, so I had an appreciation for that and the fact that they did a musical episode. But I was too scared—I was too much of a chicken—to watch supernatural stuff. I would get really scared if they did a Halloween episode of The Simpsons. I couldn’t watch that, so this is pretty new. [laughs]
[On the set of Midnight, Texas] there are a lot of dead bodies. I find the show very disturbing. It’s fun and campy, but they’re really going for it, and it gets really dark.
BLONDIAU: What do you like about the character you play in Midnight, Texas?
RAMOS: Personally, it’s really freeing and fun because I get to play for death situations in basically every episode. There’s also a really fun romance part of it. Call it a guilty pleasure or not, but I’m a fan of Taylor Swift’s music. I love getting wrapped up in how simple and insanely dramatic her love stories are, especially in her early country music. And the show has this small town, destined-to-be-together, heartbreak feel, and I definitely get to play that kind of romance. It’s just fun. I feel like I’m in a Taylor Swift song; sometimes I’m like, “Guys aren’t really like this in real life. This is fun to pretend!”
RAMOS: Yes. For some reason I remember the break-up scene between Alex and Haddie began with, “Do you want to go see a movie? There’s a new Michael Cera movie.” And Alex is like, “This isn’t working.” There’s no time to go see a movie in Midnight, Texas.
BLONDIAU: You played Haddie for so many years on Parenthood. Is that character still with you, or are you relishing the opportunity to move on?
RAMOS: It was such a special character to play and world to be a part of, but wouldn’t it be sad if I was walking around like, “Aw, I miss Haddie”? I see [show creator] Jason Katims or Dax [Shepard] chime in on the internet and say, “Not opposed to a revival!” and I am not either—I did watch the Gilmore Girls revival and it was amazing. I’m not Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana is dead; it’s not like I murdered Haddie or anything. But I don’t think Haddie would make it in Midnight, Texas. It’s not the streets of Berkeley.