Sarah Ramos has a rare resumé. She started acting at age ten, starring alongside Brittany Snow as the bratty daughter on American Dreams. She played Ivy League eldest daughter Haddie Braveman on beloved NBC drama Parenthood for five years. She's set to star as Cheryl Pistono, then-girlfriend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a new HBO series about the 1980s Lakers.
In her spare time however, the actress interpolates Justin Bieber quotes into Jenny Holzer-style art pieces and pens essays for culture publications about celebrity fandom. She recently produced and directed a romantic comedy script that she wrote for Reese Witherspoon when she was 12 years old. Her grid is littered with fan photos of herself as a child with the likes of Matthew Perry, Colin Farrell and Shane West. Her groupie-turned-starlet-turned-commentator origin story, which includes falling in love with the biz on a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen cruise, is a meta piece of pop culture inception to rival The Bling Ring. (To add another layer, she's engaged to Matt Spicer, director of Ingrid Goes West, a dark indie comedy satirizing teenagers' obsessions with influencer-celebrities.)
Ramos' limitless pop cultural knowledge has been the inspiration for most of her projects, including her latest, which she calls "Quaran-Scenes:" SNL-worthy, DIY-produced recreations of her favorite films and TV shows. It all started with the scene from Bring It On where Missy storms out of practice after realizing the Toros are poaching their routines from the East Compton Clovers, which has been "stuck in Ramos' head" for years.
Her range expanded with Kim Cattrall/Samantha Jones' "funky tasting spunk" scene, Jughead's Riverdale "I'm a weirdo" scene and Hillary Duff in A Cinderella Story roasting Chad Michael Murray. She started bringing in famous friends like Tavi Gevinson, Aubrey Plaza and Elle Fanning, for the "I wish you were dead" scene from Marriage Story, the "talking about eating doggy chow" scene from Showgirls, and the "I could be jello" scene from My Best Friend's Wedding. The most popular video sees her tackle the scene in The Social Network where Eduardo tells Mark Zuckerberg to "lawyer up," playing both Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake's characters. A tour-de-force performance from Dylan O'Brien as Andrew Garfield helped the video go viral, with help from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Garfield himself.
The videos make it clear that Ramos, who writes and directs outside of her tween creations as well, could have had a third (fourth?) career as a character comedian. PAPER caught up with her to find out what's going on behind the iPhone camera.
How did the series start? Was it something you'd been planning or was it a result of quarantine or boredom-induced inspiration?
Actually, since 2019, I had this one scene stuck in my head: the scene from Bring It On where Missy storms out of practice after realizing that the Toros have been stealing their routines from the East Compton Clovers. It was stuck in my head like a song, I just had it memorized from watching it so many times when I was a kid, and it's so funny. Do you ever have that?
Totally. There's that scene from Love, Actually where Laura Linney is sitting with Andrew Lincoln, who's in love with Keira Knightley at her wedding, and they're talking about the bad DJ that I have accidentally memorized Anyway, carry on.
I realized, "Oh, that scene's stuck in my head." I was like "Is this like what TikTok is for? Doing a scene with yourself?" I made [a TikTok of Bring It On] over Thanksgiving last year, posted it and got a good response. One of my friends suggested that I do a scene from The Morning Show, where Reese Witherspoon's character has a meltdown at a coal protest and ends up going viral. I'd been wanting to do that, and then just the first week of quarantine, I was like, "Well, I guess, I guess I have time to do that scene now." I just started with scenes I was already obsessed with. I had of the "funky tasting spunk scene" from Sex and the City memorized, the part where she goes "Cum, spooch, jizz, joy juice, funky," so I decided to learn the rest of it. I've also had the Megan Fox line from Holiday in the Sun stuck in my head for years.
And when you went into quarantine you were like, "Oh, I should like, focus on these while everything else is on hold?"
Yeah, I've been working on some writing projects too, but this has ended up being really fun. I've been acting since I was a kid and a big part of being an actor is making self tapes for auditions that you send out. You might do one a week for a year. In my experience, like, not many people watch them. It feels like you're sending it out into a void. The Quaran-Scenes are the opposite of that, where I made a video and like all my friends were like, "Make more of these!"
You're sort of flipping that symbol of grind and rejection on its head.
Yeah! Just remembering that this is all supposed to be fun. We don't have to take it so seriously.
What's your criteria for picking a scene for the series?
I've done a couple of requests from my friend Ben Lewis, who is also a hilarious and talented actor. He requested Showgirls for Aubrey Plaza and me, and he requested The Morning Show, as I mentioned. But I have to follow my own compass. Ben was not sure Holiday in the Sun was gonna fly and I was like "I'm just doing it I don't care." And then Georgie Flores suggested I do A Cinderella Story, the Hilary Duff movie, a classic. I knew Elle Fanning was the only person who could play like Cameron Diaz from the 90s and '00s, like that adorable, smiley, so charming persona. I wanted to do Charlie's Angels, but it a bit too action packed, like we'd really need a reverse shot. For the most part, scenes with two people talking are the easiest. That's how we narrowed it down to My Best Friend's Wedding.
You've been playing almost every role of production: casting, directing, starring, editing, doing costumes, hair, make-up, etc. Walk us through the nuts and bolts of one, maybe The Social Network. Do you just have an incredible wig and costume collection, and are you just pulling from your own wardrobe?
Well, the wardrobe has pretty much been mine. After a few videos, my hair stylist, Eddie Cook, donated his wig collection to me for quarantine. Though that was after the Cinderella Story one, and it kills me that I'm not blonde. Like why aren't I blonde here? Hilary Duff is blonde. It's so important. And I couldn't get my bangs right. That said, I impressed myself with the Showgirls look. I'm wearing a swimsuit as a top under a sweater. So it doesn't have to be perfect, though I am a perfectionist, so my Justin Timberlake outfit kind of kills me. I just didn't have any zip-up hoodies. You cannot do stuff from the 2000s without a zip-up hoodie.
Do you have a favorite so far? One you feel like you really killed?
Oh my god, that really is tough. I love them all. The Samantha from Sex and the City one's pretty epic. Any one where I can actually use the score, like Riverdale scene where I play Jughead and Betty, and The Social Network. When the score's available, that really makes it.
You're an actress, but there's also an element of comedy to these. Have you waded into comedy much or is acting your primary focus?I started acting when I was 10, but I would say before I started acting, I was a pop culture connoisseur. I started acting after I went on a Mary Kate and Ashley cruise. I was obsessed with the Olsen twins (hence the Holiday in the Sun video). I booked an NBC show as a regular when I was 10, and that show was also about pop culture, so I just got just ever more obsessed pop culture and started going to premieres and taking pictures with celebrities –– really psychotic. And I've been acting since. It's like a quilt. I can't really say, "Oh, I started making art and writing later," but that's actually not true.The last time I went semi-viral was for like a web series where I've produced a romantic comedy script that I wrote starring Reese Witherspoon when I was a 12 year old child actor. I really like taking things that people don't necessarily take seriously or think deserves to be, and spending that time to bring it into the world.
Do these feel like a creative exercise? To play all these roles? Sadly, you would probably never be cast as Justin Timberlake's character The Social Network.
A hundred percent. I'm trying to keep every week feeling different. It's funny that The Social Network got the response it did, 'cause watching it before I posted, I was like, "Why did I play two men in unflattering outfits? I'm cringing so hard." On another note, I never thought I'd be able to do a good Julia Roberts. But after finding the perfect thing for Elle Fanning to do [play Cameron Diaz opposite Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding], I was like, "Well, I have to rise to the occasion." That's a huge challenge, but it's so fun because I feel like I know these people already.
I assume it's a different skill to read a script and play that role, as opposed to mimicking someone's affect.
It's interesting. Watching the scenes really closely, you learn a lot. There are lines in like The Social Network where you think it's on Andrew Garfield, but they cut away to reaction shots and stuff like that. So there's that aspect of it. Then there's watching for, "What is the actor playing? What choice are they making on this line?"
What is the secret to impersonating Kim Cattrall?
[Imitating Kim] Oh my god, honey! It's all in the "honeys" and "fabulouses." I don't know, she just takes over your body.
You have a keen eye for scenes that are actually really impressive and often overlooked. Like you're not picking obvious scenes. It feels like you're sort of honoring and elevating sometimes maligned roles or films.
Well, it's a combination. I did Showgirls and I did The Social Network, which are very well-regarded. I'm trying to keep myself on my toes and keep myself entertained. It started out like, "Look, no one is having an amazing time in quarantine." And when quarantine started, I found myself like mentally regressing to the early 2000s when I was a kid actor and I had a blue iMac that looked like a bubble and I watched Mary Kate and Ashley videos and listened to Michelle Branch. I regressed to that state of mind, so there was this really comforting sense of joy in doing these nostalgic videos that like helped me get through the beginning weeks of quarantine. But also, Megan Fox in Holiday in the Sun saying, "I get what I want and this winter break I want Jordan," has been in my head my entire life. So that's what I'm doing, because why shouldn't I? [laughs] Like, we all need to have fun right now.
Yeah, it feels like we're at peak nostalgia right now. We just want to be living in literally any other time than ours. Even the early 2000s.
Well, that's how it started for me. But I did want to veer away from that a bit, so I did Riverdale and Marriage Story and The Social Network, which is 2007. I've just been finding stuff that feels comforting for whatever reason. Like Marriage Story, even though it's like this horrifying drama about divorce, which I did with Tavi Gevinson. Everyone on the internet saw it, and there's something comforting in seeing it through a different lens.
What did you put in hold when you went into quarantine?
We were supposed to start shooting this HBO show called Showtime, about the Lakers in the 80s. I was going to play, I am going to play Kareem Abdul Jabbar's girlfriend and baby mama, Cheryl Pistono. Adam McKay directed the pilot and John C. Reilly's in it. That got pushed. I also have a rom-com script I'm working ong. I also have a podcast with my friend Caroline Goldfarb who runs @OfficialSeanPenn. It was going to be a regular pop culture podcast, but in quarantine we pivoted to doing a mini-series podcast about the Jeremy Renner app.
There's a lot to discuss there.
My days are working on the Jeremy Renner app podcast in the morning, and dong Quaran-scenes at night.
Have you ever found a conflict between being a pop culture critic or connoisseur, simultaneously with being a celebrity in your own right?
It's interesting. I've been walking this line kind of like forever. I've been on TV since I was 10 years old. But I was also taking fan photos with Colin Farrell or Matthew Perry. In the past, I've felt like I had to hide that, my love of pop culture as a fan and be more serious and not care about the celebrities, if I want to be taken seriously as an actor or an artist. But as I've gotten older and just accepted myself more, I really just try to follow things that bring me joy and that I think are fun. That is just who I am. I do have a full-fledged, traditional career as an actress: I was on Parenthood, I was on The Affair, I was in How to Be Single. I'm doing this HBO show. But I'm also a pop culture commentator and an artist. I feel grateful that we live in a time where I can do all of those things.
Yeah, totally. I was just trying to figure out "what you were" and it was sort of hard to define.
I think more people, more famous actors and celebrities than you think pay attention to pop culture. We all love it, that's why we started doing this. And everybody just wants to be part of the conversation. So I don't actually think I'm that unique.
Screenshot via Instagram