Childhood & Early Years
Sara Elena Ramirez was born on August 31, 1975 in Mazatlán, a city located in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Her father, Alberto Ramirez, is a Mexican oceanographer and a professor while her mother, Luisa Vargas, is an Irish-American and Mexican entertainer and educator, having US citizenship.
Sara’s parents divorced when she was eight years old. Thereafter, she lived with her mother in San Diego, USA. Here, she faced a lot of racism and discrimination, especially when her ‘white-looking’ mother was not around. The experience left her traumatized, creating a feeling of being unwanted. .
As a child, she was very fond of the fairytale character Cinderella. In an interview, she said that although a princess, blonde and blue-eyed, Cinderella was not treated like one and therefore she could easily relate to her.
For her middle and high school education, Sara was enrolled at San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts (SDSCPA). It is an art focused public magnet school, which provides pre-professional training in the arts alongside a college preparatory curriculum.
Studying at SDSCPA, Sara grew up in an artistic environment. While in her seventh grade, she first appeared for school audition. But by then, she had begun to believe that she was not wanted and was so nervous that she did not pass the test.
Sara was too traumatized by her failure at the seventh grade that she did not try any further. Finally she mustered enough courage to appear for another audition while in her ninth grade. This time, she passed with flying colors with the song ‘Wind beneath My Wings’.
The success and the ensuing praise boosted her confidence. Eventually she began to appear in every school production, enacting the roles of the Witch in ‘Into the Woods’, Dolly in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and Miss Hannigan in ‘Annie’. Soon she began to get the appreciation she had always longed for.
Initially, her goal in life was to become an engineer. But as she began to get appreciation, she decided to pursue theater and arts, entering New York’s Julliard School after graduating from SDSCPA. In New York, she had to struggle financially, living in a 10-by-16 room with a loft bed.
In 1997, Sara graduated from Julliard School with a degree in Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (Dramatics). But even before her graduation, she was discovered by a casting director, who offered her a role in Paul Simon's ‘The Capeman’.
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In 1998, Sara Elena Ramirez began her career, making her Broadway debut at Marquis Theatre with ‘The Capeman’, appearing in it in the role of Wahzinak. Although the production received overall negative reviews Ramirez was singled out for her outstanding performance.
Also in 1998, she debuted in films, appearing in a minor, but memorable role in a romantic comedy drama film, entitled ‘You’ve Got Mail’. In it she played the part of Rose, the company cashier, very serious about her company’s policies.
In 1999, she voiced the titular character of Lammy, a shy lamb, in the video game, ‘UmJammer Lammy’. Also in the same year, she appeared as a performer in ‘The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm’, winning her first prize for it.
In 2000, she appeared as Lieutenant Vena in the television film, ‘Star Petrol’. In the same year, she performed in four television series; as Carol Quinn in ‘Spin City’, Gwen Girard in ‘Third Watch’, Linda in ‘Welcome to New York’ and Mrs. Barrera in 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'.
In 2001, she gave the voice over for Lammy in ‘PaRappa the Rapper 2’, having a smaller role this time. Also in the same year, she returned to the stage, enacting the role of Felicia in ‘A Class Act’ at Ambassador Theatre from March 11 to June 10, 2001.
On September 24, 2001, when ‘Dreamgirls’ was staged in the benefit of the Actors Fund of America at Ford Center for the Performing Arts, she appeared as a member of the ensemble in it. The musical was recorded and later released as CD.
In 2002, she appeared in three films; as police officer in ‘The Spiderman’, as Belkis in ‘Washington Heights’ and as female ensemble in ‘Chicago’. Moreover, she appeared as Gabriella Martinez in ‘Baseball Wives’, a TV movie and as Lisa Perez in another episode of 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'.
In 2002, she also appeared in ‘The Vagina Monologues’, an episodic play, which explores various sexual and other issues through the eyes of women. Held at Westside Theatre, it ran from November 12 to December 1, 2002.
In 2003, she appeared as Hannah Bulut in one episode of ‘As the World Turns’. The other works of the year were ’Naked Hotel’, a TV movie and ‘When Ocean Meets Sky’, a documentary involving gay movement.
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In 2004, Ramirez appeared as Irma Pacheco in one episode of ‘NYPD Blue’. In the same year, she had her first big break, being chosen to play the role of the Lady of the Lake in ‘Spamalot’ a musical by Eric Idle and John Du Prez.
‘Spamalot’ officially opened at Chicago's Shubert Theatre (now the PrivateBank Theatre) on 9 January 2005; but had its first preview on 21 December 2004. Later it moved to Broadway, where it opened at Shubert Theatre on February 14, 2005 and ended on December 18, 2005 after 1575 performances.
Her performance in ‘Spamalot’ not only won her great critical acclaim, but also drew the attention of the top ABC executives, who offered her a role in any ABC production. Ramirez chose ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ because she was very fond of it. Eventually, she was given the role of Calliope Torres.
Ramirez joined ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in a recurring role in its second season, which ran from September 25, 2005 till May 15, 2006. But in its third season, which was first aired on September 21, 2006, her role was upgraded to one of the main characters.
She remained with ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ till May 2016, appearing in 241 episodes from season 2 to season 12, successfully portraying a very complicated character, garnering several nominations and awards for it. Meanwhile in 2009, she debuted as a singer and released her first single, a rendition of ‘Silent Night’.
On March 27, 2011, she released ‘Sara Ramirez’, a self-titled extended play with four tracks. It debuted at #37 on the Billboard 200, #9 on Billboard's Independent Albums chart, and # 38 on the Canadian Albums Chart for the week of April 16, 2011.
From 2013 to 2018, she gave the voiceover for Queen Miranda in the animation television series, ‘Sofia the First’. Meanwhile in 2016, she appeared in the role of Queen Miranda in 'Elena and the Secret of Avalor', an adventure crossover television movie between ‘Sofia the First’ and ‘Elena of Avalor’.
From 2016, she started working behind the camera, coproducing ‘Loserville’ with the Pacer Foundation's Center for Bullying Prevention & Stomp Out Bullying. She was also an executive producer and the narrator of ‘Out of Exile: Daniel’s Story’, a story which reminds us about the hostility faced by the LGBT community.
In 2017, she coproduced ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’, another documentary on LGBT rights. Concurrently, she continued acting, appearing in the role of Kat Sandoval in her current television series, ‘Madam Secretary’.