Ahead of the season finale on Friday 25 August, And Just Like That… star Sara Ramirez talks about their polarising character, Che Diaz, and coming out publicly – twice!
It’s about 4.30am when Sara Ramirez appears on my screen, looking radiant and well-groomed, as part of a global roundtable interview featuring mainly Europe-based journalists. The actor became an internationally recognised face when they took the role of Callie Torres in Grey’s Anatomy, at one time the world’s most-watched television show.
They followed up being one of the most popular characters on one of the most successful shows ever made by signing up to the reboot of pop culture milestone Sex & The City, And Just Like That… which is streaming now on NEON. As Che Diaz, Ramirez took on the franchise’s first non-binary character, which drew a lukewarm response from both mainstream and LGBTQ+ viewers.
In Season One of And Just Like That… Che seduced Cynthia Nixon’s character Miranda, who chose to leave her husband Steve, ending one of the franchise’s most beloved marriages.
Following an awkward first question from an Australian journalist about a scene involving a strap-on, most of the other reporters are keen to ask Ramirez about how they handled the mixed response to their controversial character.
“As an actor, part of my process is to maintain some healthy boundaries around living in anyone else’s opinions, because they’re not really helpful to my process. But I couldn’t escape knowing that that character had a very polarising impact. I love Steve and Miranda. I love Steve and David Eigenberg (the actor who plays Steve), so I was upset that wasn’t going to work out, but as an actor and a storyteller, I was super excited to push people to their own edges,” a bright-eyed Ramirez tells us, confessing they were happy to see their character given greater nuance in Season Two. “I thought it was necessary. I wanted to get to know them a little better,” they admit.
Another journalist asks whether Che, as a non-binary character on a high-profile show, can combat the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric coming from the likes of Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, which Ramirez elegantly rejects.
“We have to be really careful when we put any expectations on the entertainment industry to create a judicious outcome in the real world. The power of the entertainment industry is visibility and representation, not justice,” they reply.
“While this increases people’s awareness of our existence, it can also increase violence against our communities, which is deeply saddening and enraging. So when we talk about Che, this one representation that does not represent every non-binary person – because we are not a monolith – we have to speak about the character responsibly,” Ramirez highlights, taking aim at the fandom that spent hours expressing their disappointment with the character on social media.
“I appreciate people’s passion. We want that as a TV show. But when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues in the world right now, how does that passion show up for the health and well-being of real-life trans, queer, and non-binary people? Are they making efforts to get to know any local communities? Have they volunteered? Have they given back?”
While Season One presented Che as an Uber-confident standup comic and podcast host, Season Two of And Just Like That… explores Che’s vulnerability when being cast to play themself in a sitcom based on their life turns out not to be the career-high they had hoped for.
“Like a lot of folks who have had shows written about their real lives, Che is engaging with the Hollywood machine, and capitalism wants us to be a certain way, flattening our existence, placing ourselves in boxes that are more easily digestible for people. What Che confronts is a very strong agenda from the network that dictates so many things they have to change about what they wanted to be authentic. It’s heartbreaking but also hilarious. Che has to come to terms with what they actually want out of this and what this means for how they feel about themselves,” explains Ramirez, admitting, “While I have not experienced working on a show that was supposed to be based on my life, I know people who have. They’re told that their authentic existence is what [the network] wants to portray, and then, inevitably, the system asks these people to erase themselves and anything that’s authentically them!”
Staying authentically themselves while in the public eye has been a tightrope that Ramirez has also had to walk. While they came out privately as bisexual to themself and a few family members at age 17, it was in 2016, soon after the Pulse Nightclub shootings, that they came out as bisexual and queer publicly in a speech at Los Angeles’ Impact Summit. “I felt it was a really important moment to share it,” they tell me when it’s Your Ex’s turn to ask a question.
I ask if ‘coming out publicly as non-binary was any harder than coming out as bisexual?’
“The non-binary experience, the gender journey, began before I had the words to describe myself. So all of these experiences and journeys are incremental; nothing is overnight. And while it wasn’t hard, per se, it came with some fears about the outcome,” Ramirez admits, explaining that when they came out as non-binary, “I just changed my pronouns on my social media platforms and didn’t make an announcement. A year went by, and I wrote a poem on Instagram, and suddenly the media decided that this was the moment I had come out as non-binary.”
I ask if they feared this would affect their career, but much like their bisexual coming out, for Ramirez, the timing was everything.
“We were in the middle of a pandemic, so I wasn’t sure that any of us had a career moving forward. That was quite the vacuum in which to exist and acknowledge one’s existence. It was incredibly empowering because regardless of what was going to happen after, I was going to live my authentic life.”
And just like that, at 5am, our interview concludes. I consider going back to bed but choose to binge-watch And Just Like That… instead.
Watch Sara Ramirez play Che Diaz in And Just Like That… Seasons One and Two, streaming now on neontv.co.nz
Article | Oliver Hall.
Photo | Paul Gregory.