AE: Why are you so stable? Where did you grow up?
SR: I was born in Mazatlan, Mexico. Then I moved to San Diego when I was 8. My parents got divorced and my mom is from there. It was a huge culture shock. It was hard.
I grew up speaking both English and Spanish but mostly Spanish. I had a bit of an accent. I experienced some racist comments and had to toughen up. It taught me a lot about myself. I’m Mexican/Irish but I’m very dark and people made a lot of assumptions about who I was and where I came from.
AE: Were you eventually a cool kid?
SR: No, I was a huge dork. I was on the honor roll. I was obsessed with New Kids on the Block. I then went into a hippie phase. I got laughed at a lot for that. Birkenstocks and no makeup wasn’t exactly what you’d expect from a Latina teenager. Someone told me to "pick a color." Whatever that means.
I was in the arts though. I was at a performing arts school from 4th to 12th grade. I immersed myself in piano, choir, acting, musical theatre. In 10th grade people discovered that I could sing and that’s when I started getting some validation.
AE: Did you know you wanted to pursue the arts professionally?
SR: I didn’t really think about it until junior year. I actually was very into math and science, anything analytical. I thought about being a pediatrician or an engineer. I even went to UC Irvine with my mom and had a meeting with a female engineer to see what it was like to be a woman in that industry. But I liked the reaction I was getting in the theatre and so I decided to apply to theater schools for college.
My grandfather and my mother were singers so it didn’t come out of nowhere. I wound up going to Julliard.
AE: What were you doing when you auditioned for Grey’s?
SR: I was performing in Spamalot on Broadway. It was after the Tonys.
Ramirez accepting a Tony Award in 2005 for her role in Spamalot
ABC called me for a meeting. They asked if I was interested in an eight-episode arc on one of their shows. It was amazing because that is so rare that you get that kind of opportunity. They sent me a bunch of DVDs of pilots and shows that were already on the air. Grey’s was the dream. I was obsessed with George. I loved him! And it was a medical show. I’m fascinated by blood and guts.
Shonda Rhimes flew out and saw Spamalot and we had breakfast. We had a wonderful talk and she told me they were looking to write in a love interest for George. I almost fell out of my chair.
AE: Speaking of theater, so many theater actors are openly gay. TV actors are so rarely out. What’s that about?
SR: It all comes down to money. Studios are afraid that advertisers will be put off by gay actors and gay characters. At the end of the day it’s all about selling a product.
Theater has always been a place for misfits, myself included. When you come to Los Angeles, you have to learn to play the game. You can reach a much larger audience but you have to step more gently if you want to stay in the game. It’s very hard on people.
AE: Ah, the game and the madness that is Hollywood, I think it’s crazy that the media will sometimes refer to you as voluptuous or full-figured whereas anywhere else in America, you would be considered thin.
SR: Really? There is a distortion in the world about what we look like and what it all means. I think medically there is an obesity epidemic and that is something to be concerned about, but in terms of aesthetics I think things have become distorted in the media. People look larger on television. Our perceptions of ourselves are distorted because people in life look different than on screen. People are always labeling their health based on what they see on screen.
There was a time when I first joined the show where I gained 25 pounds because I was living my life the way I wanted to and that involved lots of food. At the end of the day it’s about how we feel. You know when you feel good. I’m not here to be a role model. I know that’s inevitable when you’re in the public eye but we all have our vices and we all live our lives to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of campaigns that celebrate what people really look like in the world.
I’ve seen pictures of myself that get photo-shopped. I don’t want my pimple in that picture and neither does the advertiser, and when you’re selling a product you do that. The problem is when people take that at face value and believe it’s reality.