Sarah Ramos' Celebrity Impressions
The actress's latest projects invite us to think about our collective relationship with Hollywood.
In the first pages of Sarah Ramos new “art zine,” Autograph Hound, recently published by THNK1994, we learn that Ramos’ first brush with celebrity occurred when she was ten years old, onboard a “Sail with the Stars” cruise with Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, among all the activities (dance parties, beach trips), was the promise of a photo with the starlets.
When I was called forward for my precious moment alone with the people I’d traveled across the world to meet, I barely said a word. I didn’t know how to speak to my idols, let alone touch them, so I stood in between them, glued my arms straight down to my sides and smiled for the camera. The photo captured me beaming with pride at being next to such successful people. It meant I might be worthy of success too.
In this moment, Ramos decided she wanted to be an actress, and a year later, she was cast in her first TV show, American Bandstand. In the subsequent years, she attended premieres and got to meet some of the most iconic celebrities of the time, each meeting commemorated with a photograph, a practice that she more or less has kept up to this day, although the meaning these photographs hold for her has certainly changed since that fateful day with the Olsens.
Autograph Hound collects many of these photographs in what becomes an oddly poignant document that forces the viewer to think about their own relationship with famous people. Do you have photos with celebrities? What do you remember about them? Do you have a list of people that if you would run into today you would force yourself to ask for a photograph that you would later share on Instagram with a caption that says something like “I owe it to my 12-year-old self,” as if your current self wasn’t experiencing a particular kind of thrill in real time? (I do.)
GARAGE spoke to Ramos about her varied celebrity experiences, the role of nostalgia iN tHeSe CuRrEnT tImEs, as well as the unrelated-but-not-really projects she began this summer during quarantine: recreating iconic, highly specific scenes and moments in movies, TV shows, and even music videos (remember Jennifer Love Hewitt’s supremely underrated pop music career? Ramos does); as well as the very unhinged podcast, The Renner Files, about the actor Jeremy Renner’s totally bananas decades-long career, which she does alongside the writer Caroline Goldfarb.
When the idea to put this zine together start?
Well, I've always had this collection of truly insane, demented photos from my childhood, where I was a child actor, and collecting photos of myself with celebrities in various locations. I was also a fan of THNK 1994 Museum, [and] they do really cool stuff where they integrate fine art and celebrities. They have one artist, Laura Collins, who does these amazing Real Housewives proper paintings and the Olsen twins hiding from paparazzi. I just knew about them, and I wanted to collaborate with them. Somehow with us talking about this, it came together this way.
When you looked at all the images together in the zine, did it make you feel different about this part of your life and this hobby slash… I don't think it's a hobby? I feel like it's a hobby slash… a peculiarity of your personality.
That's a good way to put it, peculiarity. I mean, I felt different ways about these photos at various points in my life. At the time when I was taking the photos, I think I felt really proud of them, then I went through a phase where I was really embarrassed by them and hid them. I rediscovered them as an adult and was again embarrassed by them. Only [by] sharing them on social media did I get to have fun with them, with other people who could look back on their own pop culture obsessions from that time. I look at the book as [a way of] organizing the chaos from this truly unprocessed psyche of my childhood and turn it into something else rather than it just being total insanity.
I'm a big fan of being a fangirl and just telling people when something they do is cool. I got that same vibe reading the introduction. On social media, there is this part where you're always trying to show the best part of yourself, but it also allows for people to be like, "Haha, look at this. I was so crazy." Which is interesting, but now I feel that hipster detachment is not as prevalent anymore, and everybody’s moving into being a fangirl.
Yeah. I agree. I think there's definitely variations of this. My friend just texted me last night, “Oh, I knew this was going to be fun, but I didn't know I was going to be moved by it.”
Social media is tough… It's easier to convey the, as you said, detachment or enthusiasm of these pictures, but there's actually something a lot deeper at play. I don't know. I've been acting for 20 years, my whole life. I feel like, as you're saying, the pressure to present yourself as doing amazing and achieving impressive things is really high in social media, in Hollywood. I think a part of this zine and the projects I've been doing recently are ways of saying, “I don't need to have X impressive thing or star in this movie with Tom Cruise or whatever for my life to have value, and for my work to be worth seeing.” It always has been if that makes sense. That's what showing this is about.
Sort of unrelated, but I feel like the film remakes that you have been doing this year also have a heavy fangirl vibe, which I love.
Yeah. They definitely do. I was surprised that people responded to those on social media. Successful actors I know like Busy Phillips and Justin Long were like, “Oh my, God, these are amazing. Please keep doing them.” Chloe Moretz messaged me and was like, “I want to do one,” and other people did too. I think especially this year, which has been so hellish, it's intensifying our love for pop culture and the escapism of that. I feel like the reason anybody becomes an actor, or a writer, or wants to be in Hollywood in the first place or in entertainment at all is because of fandom, and that desire to be like, “I just want to be in this. I just want to be a part of it.” I feel like that's what that series is about, and it's definitely connected to Autograph Hound too.
There’s also your Jeremy Renner podcast, The Renner Files.
I feel like Jeremy Renner is the 2020 version of a Hollywood obsession that we might've had in the 2000s. He's bringing the 2000s energy to 2020 with his music styling, with his outlandish vibe. He was on a reality show in 2001 or whenever that was. I relate to him. I started acting around that time, and I just feel there… Your idea of success when you start out will always loom over you. Not that it's like, you're always going to be a slave to that, but it'll always be there as a symbol. I just think it's fascinating that Jeremy Renner and I started out around the same time. I did try to relate to him because he has become this Marvel movie star and all of that, but he has been around for years and years. As I said, I've been acting for 20 years and there's just something fascinating to me about looking at an artist's life holistically rather than, and what embarrassing stuff were they initially influenced by? Is any of that still present, even if they've refined it and made it more presentable? I don't know.
I think there are definitely common themes in your work, like it’s both our reflection of our time, and a spoof but also not a spoof. It’s very much like.. this is us. This is our culture. This is us.
I think, for me, necessity is the mother of invention. I felt like at the top of quarantine, all I wanted to do was, for some reason, listen to Michelle Branch, like The Spirit Room. That was what I was listening to when I was 10, 11, 12 taking these pictures with celebrities and not wanting to be present in my actual life circumstances. That's what I regressed back to when quarantine [first] happened like, “Fuck, I really don't want to be in reality right now.”
I feel like I did that, too. I was definitely at the beginning regressing to things that I enjoyed circa 2001 and I was thinking—why this specific time? My self-analysis was, “Oh, maybe this was the last time that you felt extremely uncertain about what was going on in the world,” because I just started college, and it was post-9/11.
Yeah. I try to take it past just fun nostalgia—while still having fun nostalgia—and trying to use it as a way to look deeper and ask questions about identity and why. “Why was I trying to escape reality? Why did taking photos of celebrities feel like the best way to prove my worth to the world?”