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Anthony Ramos on going toe to toe with Uzo Aduba on HBO’s In Treatment

The demands of a show like In Treatment force an actor to show everything they’ve got—at least, eventually. HBO’s half hour drama, in which Los Angeles therapist Dr. Brooke Taylor (Uzo Aduba) sees a collection of patients over a batch of weekly episodes, adjusted to the COVID-19 era for its fourth season—both in terms of the psychological challenges faced by its characters and, for one patient particularly, the logistical challenges of teletherapy. Playing a live-in caregiver named Eladio, Anthony Ramos was doing terrific work even as his complex relationship with Aduba’s Brooke played out at a cool, poignant distance, confining every session to browser windows where tension could be cut with the closing of a laptop.

That is, until Eladio’s fifth In Treatment week, when that all changed—and Ramos got to finally reveal the full, electric nature of his performance. “We got to be face-to-face,” Ramos, fresh off his star turn in In the Heights, tells Vanity Fair with a big grin (naturally, over Zoom). “I got to look her in the eye.” 

Their dynamic had been characterized by a mutual, maternal infatuation and a concurrent crossing of boundaries. This session occurs at a pivotal period for both: Brooke yearning for a maybe-missed opportunity at motherhood, while also struggling with substance abuse, and Eladio having just quit his job (feeling he’d been taken advantage of by his wealthy employers) without a place to go and desperate for guidance. When Eladio surprises Brooke at their usual virtual-meeting time, he follows her inside her home office, wandering around the Baldwin Hills residence. “It was important to have a few moments with Eladio separate from Brooke: He’s invading her space and looking for cues to her inner life,” says director Karyn Kusama (Destroyer). “I needed to take the camera outside of the normal patient-therapist axis.”

When Eladio hits the couch, a riveting duet between the two actors ensues. For Ramos, this felt cathartic. He’d known Aduba for years, them having both come from East Coast theater, and while he saw her around the In Treatment set—they filmed their Zoom sessions on the same lot—they could never work together in the same space. “There’s only so much shit you can do in a room [by yourself],” Ramos says. “We didn’t start really catching the vibe until we could do the in-person sessions, where we were just together talking and talking. That was when Uzo and I were really spending a lot of time together. We were having amazing talks. It was incredible.”

The connection between the stars enhances the profound discomfort between the characters. Eladio tells Brooke she’s the reason he quit his job, and that she needs to help him figure out what’s next; you sense Brooke, in Aduba’s calculating responses, both working hard to keep Eladio on track and coming to the realization they’re at too muddied a point to continue on. Her icy demeanor pushes Eladio to a breaking point—and Ramos to searing new heights. “They complement each other so much: Uzo has that veneer of control, that veneer of precision and mastery, and Anthony has something that feels more loose and spontaneous,” Kusama says. “Yet they both get to the same authentic place.”

Aduba and Ramos in an emotional embrace

Suzanne Tenner/HBO

Eladio rises from the couch and stands at the window, taking in the view. Brooke stands beside him, and they hug—tightly, quietly. It’d be affecting in any context, but in this dynamic once limited to videoconference, it’s heartbreaking. “We really get to see the little boy in him,” Ramos says. “She loves him and she wants to see him be okay. And that hug was so natural [between us]. It was just like, ‘Yo, she’s just one person seeing another person hurting.’ That’s a moment where words can’t do anything.” Everyone on set felt it—the show filmed during Los Angeles’s fall-winter COVID surge; the surrounding crew wore face masks and shields, and didn’t make contact. “It was the one thing none of us could do. We couldn’t interact with each other that way,” says Kusama. She calls the hug “charged”—for her, for Ramos and Aduba, and for everyone watching.

But affection doesn’t quite cut it in a doctor-patient back-and-forth, and the two eventually fall back into their old cycle: Eladio pressing Brooke for the warmth in her care she cannot provide. He again tells her he convinced her to quit. And, rejecting this narrative, she snaps—the scream we’ve been waiting for over five weeks, when Brooke truly cracks. Aduba holds the camera at first, but it’s through Ramos’s wrenching, boyish look of shock and hurt that the audience absorbs the seismic shift. “His face is so incredibly expressive,” Kusama says. The director discovered in rehearsals that Ramos’s reaction would best communicate the “emotional consequence” of Brooke’s outburst. “This sense of hurt and retreat told me so much about who he must have been—as a person, as the character, as a child.”

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