When you watch Ozark, you would never know that the woman playing budding criminal mastermind, Ruth Langmore, is a city girl from New York. That’s because the sound of her voice on the show is pure Appalachia. I know something about this. Having been born in Kentucky, I recognize that rustic, mountain-worn voice anywhere. And Julia Garner does it like someone from back home.
Of course, that’s not the only reason to marvel at her performance on Netflix’s answer to Breaking Bad, it’s merely the first one. Because everything that follows the timbre of her voice is made all the more authentic by the sound coming from her mouth. Ruth is twenty-something going on two hundred and six. You must believe in that voice from the get go to buy into the actor playing her. And oh my, how Garner delivers.
As I said, it doesn’t end there. Garner gives one of the best internal performances on television. While Ruth has no trouble raising her voice and acting out, in her quieter moments, you can see and feel her thinking through the myriad issues and complications she encounters while serving as both her father’s (a terrific Trevor Long) and Marty Byrde’s (Jason Bateman) second in command. Her ability to balance Ruth’s impetuousness with her capacity to scheme and problem solve is a wonder to behold. Ruth is constantly walking on a thin line. While she is a Langmore through and through, she wishes she were more of a Byrde. Take note of the fear she regards her father with and then contrasts it with the way she is around Marty – a man who both recognizes her intelligence and respects it. Ruth’s father is nature. Marty Byrde is nurture (of a kind – we’re still talking about people laundering drug money here).
Garner’s performance here could not be further away from the television role she is probably most known for – that of the vulnerable upper-middle-class ingenue, Kimberly, on The Americans. I know we aren’t supposed to be shocked by an actor’s versatility, but these two roles might as well exist on different planets. There was simply no way to prepare yourself for Garner as a young woman living on the margins of deepest, darkest, rural Missouri.
I was disappointed – to say the least – when Garner’s work on Ozark did not earn her an Emmy nomination after season one. However, the Academy righted that wrong this year, placing Garner among the six nominees. It Could be an uphill battle for her to take home the prize – the fearsome GoT foursome could be hard to get around in a year where Thrones looks likely to wear out a path to the podium next month. But there’s another way to look at that too. Maybe Lena, Gwendoline, Maisie, and Sophie will split the vote, leaving Garner and Killing Eve’s wonderful Fiona Shaw with a chance.
If it should happen that Garner’s name is called between the hours of 8PM and 11PM Eastern standard time on September 22nd, it won’t be just because the women of GoT cannibalized their own votes. More importantly, it will happen because she has given a singular, head-spinning performance that operates under an immense degree of difficulty. There is only one Ruth Langmore. As I watched the second season, it became more and more clear to me, there is also only one Julia Garner.
She owns this role. It’s the best performance on television right now. I won’t concede an inch. And If she wins on the last night of summer in the year of our lord, 2019, it will be because she damn well deserves to.
You can read my recent interview with Julia here.