There is no character on television quite as ferocious as Julia Garner’s Ruth from Ozark. Audiences cheered her on while she has laundered money, thrown a man twice her size off of a boat, and even killed her own family – all the while finding a thousand inventive ways to say fuck. It’s easy to see why Garner beat out half the cast of Game of Thrones last year to win the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
Speaking with Awards Daily, Garner touched on Ruth’s whirlwind of a third season on one of Netflix’s biggest streaming sensations. The third season introduced a more vulnerable side to the spitfire who now without any family fully turns to the Byrdes to take her in, including a surprising relationship with Wendy’s uncontrollable brother. That doesn’t mean that we see a completely different Ruth either – Garner touches on her now infamous “bitch wolf” head-to-head with Laura Linney herself. Of course, she also walked us through Emmy night and the surprising face that threw her off mid acceptance speech.
Awards Daily: Let’s go back to last year when you won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. What was that night like for you?
Julia Garner: The Emmys fell on a Sunday, and I had my biggest scene of season three first thing Tuesday morning. I was obviously happy and excited, and I couldn’t believe it but there was a part of me that couldn’t shake my nerves about the upcoming scene. I remember holding that Emmy in my hands and thinking about what was coming next – The bitch wolf scene!
I also remember doing this stupid thing when I got up on stage. I looked at the entire audience and made eye contact with Michael Douglass and Catherine Zeta Jones, and realized I was at the Emmys. So Michael Douglass threw me off on my speech! I don’t remember anything I said on or backstage, and I just remember hoping that no one thought this person who just won this amazing prize is an idiot. This is something all actors dream about since they were kids. Kind of like how we all dream about who we will end up marrying. But you never think about the details so when it happened it was all so surreal!
AD: Speaking of the Bitch Wolf scene, it is a moment that went instantly viral becoming one of the water cooler moments of the year. I noticed you even reposted it yourself and mentioned that it was your favorite scene but also the most challenging. Why is that?
JG: I just knew how important it is because of the way it affected Ruth. It lays the groundwork for her going into season four on top of it being the culmination of three seasons worth of buildup. It had been bottling up and exploded at just the right moment.
It’s also a very technical scene. Every single thing was planned out. Obviously, I plan out everything before I get on set, I am not someone that wings it. But between Laura, Jason, and our amazing director Alik Sakharov, we had a much longer than the rest of the season. We planned out every movement, big or small; the word I stormed in on, what stopped me in my tracks, what line would Laura rise up, when would I lean over, when I go crazy. It was really important we emphasize the power dynamic between these two women going head to head.
AD: As you mentioned, you were in the middle of shooting the third season when you won the Emmy. Did you feel any sort of pressure when you got back to set? And how do you keep a fan favorite like Ruth fresh three seasons in?
JG: It would be a lie to say that I didn’t think about it. In order to be an actor you need an audience. Anyone who says they don’t care what they think is lying. Everyone cares.
For me the most important thing is that I don’t view the characters I play as characters, I view them as people. Every person has their own flaws and their own strengths so I always try to find that, even beyond the writing. I develop their own characteristics and traits down to their walk or their personal ticks. Great acting is detail oriented and that’s what makes them human. It’s easy to put on an accent and walk around but that’s just a character.
Television is a funny thing. I’ve learned that there is a difference between being consistent and being repetitive. If you’re repetitive with the character it gets boring but we need to keep them consistent along that growth. But I live for that challenge. Whenever I get a new script I freak out a little and don’t know how I am going to do it but I love it, I live for it.
AD: The third season introduced us to a more vulnerable side of Ruth both in her relationship with Ben and everything going on with Wyatt. What was that like as an actor to explore the more vulnerable side of her?
JG: It was definitely more challenging. Ruth’s whole thing is mask on, mask off. The audience sees her vulnerability privately but the people in her life never see it. The difference with the third season is that the people in her life start to realize that she is vulnerable and sensitive. I’ve actually always looked at her as the most sensitive character on the show and that’s why she goes crazy the way that she does. She shames and blames.
It scared me because I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t being consistent with Ruth now that she is all of a sudden more openly vulnerable. It was important to show. This is going to sound cheesy but we’ve seen her go from this young girl to a woman; she’s having a lot of growing pains. She’s gone through so much in such a short amount of time. Honestly, if Ruth were experiencing quarantine she would probably look at it as a vacation!
AD: At its core Ozark is a show that explores the sacrifices we make for family. How is that explored with Ruth throughout the third season?
JG: Throughout the third season it seems like each family is having an identity crisis. Ruth is trying to be something that she’s not, and that’s a Byrde. She doesn’t know what her own family is and she wants them be something that they’re not. She lost everything; she killed her uncle, her father died because of her association with the Byrde’s, Wyatt is gone. Deep down in her gut she knows that it’s wrong but she’s trying to justify her decisions which leads to her wanting to become a Byrde.
She made all of these sacrifices for the Byrde family and then we see her ask them to do one thing for her which was to handle Frank Jr. When they refused to do it she went crazy. It will be interesting to see the repercussions of that in the fourth season.
AD: For the first time this season we also saw Ruth explore a more romantic side of herself, something she’s kind of resisted until now. Why do you think Ben was the right match for her?
JG: He was consistent with her. She lost her family and in that time she really felt this sense of love from Ben and with everything going on she needed that unconditional love. There was also something appealing about being with a Byrde. I think it started with finding this convenient in but it did turn into this real love and compassion.
AD: You’re also in the middle of another Netflix project; Shonda Rhimes’ upcoming limited series Inventing Anna. What can you tell us about that?
JG: It’s a crazy story. It is definitely different than anything I’ve ever done and hopefully audiences will enjoy it. Obviously, Shonda knows how to put together an amazing team. I have to say I loved the wardrobe. Going from Ozark to this was something else. I’m playing Anna Delvey so everything was Alexander McQueen and stuff like that. I’m excited for everyone to see it but we were in the middle of our ten month shoot when the pandemic hit so we still have quite a bit to work on.
AD: Earlier this year your film The Assistant premiered and since then has become a streaming success. What has it been like to see audiences react to the film and its portrayal of abuse?
JG: The reactions have been interesting. A lot of people have said how much the film has been able to help them and connect to Jane. I also knew I was in good hands with Kitty Green and she was actually one of the main reasons I joined the project. It was kind of scary when I agreed to do it. This is the first movie to come out like this post Weinstein. Obviously, this is not about him and as Kitty always said he was one of the catalysts for the Me Too movement but if he was the problem then it would already be fixed. It’s such a sensitive subject and I wasn’t sure how people would respond.
With the internet there is so much going on and it feels like every five minutes we are talking about something new, so it was interesting to see that success and to see so many different reactions. I always think it speaks to success when art is talked about, always. To see so many different reactions that keeps this conversation going makes me really proud.
All three seasons of Ozark are available to stream on Netflix and the series is up for contention in all major drama categories at the 2020 Emmys.