Ruby Rose: "I was very young when I started to question my gender”
In this revealing interview from the DIVA vaults, the actor and presenter talks OITNB, sexuality and identity
Carrie Lyell chats to Ruby Rose about fame, faith and her new role as Stella Carlin in Orange Is The New Black
When I found out I would be interviewing Ruby Rose, I was a little nervous. Not just because she’s a super mega star who’s pals with the likes of Ellen Page and Katy Perry, but because I’ve got a bit of a crush on her. Not only is she beautiful, she’s also my hairspiration, and I think we could have something really special. What if she turns out to be a dick, I wondered, as the phone line crackled before connecting. What if she’s not all that? I needn’t have worried, because as soon as we started talking I knew this was no crush. I was in love.
If you’re not familiar with Ruby, you soon will be. The 29-year-old found fame presenting MTV in her native Australia, but she’s set to become a household name worldwide as she joins the cast of the Netflix smash hit and everyone’s favourite show, Orange Is The New Black. Stella Carlin is a cool, charismatic, androgynous inmate set to stir things up for Piper and Alex when she arrives at Litchfield. “She’s very fun to play,” Ruby tells me. “I found her very likeable.”
As well as presenting, Ruby has also spent much of her career modelling and DJing, but besides a small role alongside Christina Ricci in Around The Block, she’s not done much acting. How did Orange happen? “I was approached to audition,” she tells me. That’s pretty cool, I say. “I was obviously ecstatic about the idea of just auditioning, let alone getting the part.” Ruby sent a tape of herself to Orange HQ, and expecting a call back at most, was stunned to be offered the part straight away. “It was really astonishing.”
Some characters in Orange, like Big Boo, were written for the actors. How much of Stella is Ruby? “We definitely have similarities,” she says. “In mannerisms and aesthetically we are both leaning on the androgynous side.” What else? “We have the same sense of humour and wit. She’s very good with numbers, which I’m not,” she laughs. “She’s a lot more cocky than me, she has more confidence than I do, but generally speaking, there were a lot of things that I could draw from.” Did she do much research for the part? “My mum taught in prison pretty much my whole life,” Ruby tells me. “I asked her a few questions and had a lot to draw from, having grown up hearing stories and knowing about what it was like for her to go to work [as an art therapist].”
She must have a sense, then, of how realistic Litchfield is? Says Ruby: “[It’s] a minimum security type place. They’re not big-time criminals, so it’s a looser system. But it’s definitely not like that on the inside, I don’t think. If you were planning on going to prison hoping for the Orange Is The New Black experience, you would be sorely disappointed.”
How does she think the show compares to those of her homeland, like Prisoner Cell Block H or Wentworth? “You know what? I haven’t seen Wentworth,” she confesses. “I’ve been meaning to for so long – I actually really wanted to be on Wentworth. But they said, ‘We don’t know if Australia would really believe Ruby Rose in prison or whether they’d just see Ruby Rose’. But that’s what acting is!” she laughs. “Making people believe it. Then I moved to America and within a year I had Orange come back to me and was like, see? There you go. All it takes is a little faith.”
Speaking of faith, it’s the theme that runs through the new season of Orange. What does that mean to Ruby? “For me, it means a lot of different things. We’re constantly trying to put our faith in something, whether that’s faith in a higher power or faith in ourselves or faith in another person or thing or place.” What’s that higher power? God? “Yeah, for me it’s God, but I have my own interpretation. More like a feeling than picturing what he looks like as written by whatever particular people in whatever book.”
Orange Is The New Black is the most popular show on Netflix, and the multi-award winning series has redefined TV and how we watch it. Why does she think it’s so popular? “Well, it’s brilliantly written, for starters,” Ruby says. “And very well shot. They use a lot of fantastic directors and wonderful writers, but mainly Jenji [Kohan] is a genius. She’s a flat-out genius. The things she did with Weeds and what she does with Orange, it’s just phenomenal. She has turned a very interesting story and a good book into a wonderful series, and it interests everybody because a lot of people relate to different characters in the show. It crosses all types of sexuality, age, religion. Having Laverne [Cox, who plays trans inmate Sophia Burset] in there, having different contrasts of people and ethnicities... I think it’s all inclusive.”
Ruby’s not the only famous face joining the show this season. Lori Petty, best known as Tank Girl, is also coming to Litchfield following a guest appearance in season two. What did she think of Ruby’s Tank Girl tattoo on her back? “It was so weird because I didn’t know she was going to be on the show,” Ruby tells me. “I was walking around probably topless or in a bra or something, and one of the cast members was like, ‘Errrm, is that Tank Girl? You know Lori Petty starts tomorrow?’ and I was like, ‘Oh. My God. Nobody tell her. Keep it cool, keep it on the downlow’. But of course the next day on set she came up to me and said, ‘Are you the girl that’s got my face tattooed on her back?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh man. Someone’s ruined my cover’.”
What about the rest of the cast? Who was her BFF behind the scenes? “Oh god, I couldn’t choose one,” she laughs. “That’s such a trap! You’re trying to get me in trouble! I spent a lot of time with Jackie [Cruz], who plays Flaca. I spent a lot of time with Adrienne [C Moore, Black Cindy] and then Yael [Stone, Morello], who’s also Australian, but I hung out with everyone. Vicky [Jeudy] who plays Janae, and Samira [Wiley] who plays Poussey... every single person I spent as much time with as possible.” What was it like getting all love-triangled-up with Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon? Without giving away any sexy spoilers, Ruby says: “It was great. Laura, because she is so skilled, so talented, and she’s been doing this for such a long time. It’s an honour to work with her, and Taylor is also so talented and great to work with.”
As well as being open about her sexuality, Ruby’s also been outspoken about her struggles with gender identity – most famously with her viral film, Break Free. “I was very young when I kind of started questioning the fact that I didn’t really feel like I related to the other girls at my school,” she says. “Not knowing at that age much about gender except a carbon cut-out of what a man should be and what a woman should be, I instinctively thought, ‘Well hold on a second. I’m into what guys do and I feel better when I appear more boyish, maybe I should be a boy. I should have been born a boy.’ I felt uncomfortable being a girl and felt uncomfortable being around other girls. I felt like a fraud.”
In time, Ruby learnt to embrace her masculine and feminine sides, and managed to find peace with her gender identity without the need for hormonal or surgical interventions. She says: “It probably wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I decided actually, I would stay as I was and then I could really embrace the androgyny and not make a decision on changing gender. I could stay quite gender-fluid. The older I get, the more at home I am with who I am, but I’m always straddling that line of masculinity and femininity.”
What advice would she give to someone reading this who might be experiencing similar dysphoria? “It depends on where you’re at with it,” Ruby says. “If you’re confused or you’re upset, or if you’re depressed by it or freaked out by it, it’s important to find somebody to talk to, whether it’s a doctor or a therapist or a friend or a family member. Don’t try to push down those feelings and emotions, and don’t try to be something that you’re not. Find someone safe to talk to about it and you can go from there. And I think if it’s somebody that’s really adamant and 100% sure about what they want, whether that’s to transition or change their pronouns or whatever it is, I support doing that and finding a really solid support group and doing it the most healthy and safe way.”
Depression is also something Ruby’s battled. Why was it important for her to talk openly about that? “Probably the same reason I am so open and public about sexuality – I didn’t see much of that happening when I was in Australia. I was given opportunities to talk about things and it felt weird just using those platforms to speak about products or shows people should watch. It just seemed a bit empty, and I knew that was something that was a big part of my life so it seemed really weird not to express that. I couldn’t see any harm coming out of it. Harm maybe on my side, but harm to the community and to the people I wanted to actually li up? I could only see positives.”
Back to Orange, and its incredible impact. As a lesbian playing a lesbian, how important is it for visibility and representation? “It’s huge,” Ruby says. “And it’s been a very long time since we’ve had a show that has depicted lesbian relationships well. The L Word was amazing, but that was some time ago. I love being part of something that brings the community together, and it’s definitely a bonus being able to watch someone who is gay and they’re [playing] gay, just because it sends a really powerful message.”
Is she excited or nervous about the level of fame and recognition playing Stella will bring? “Both,” Ruby laughs. “Nervous and excited is my favourite concoction of things to feel! I’m really lucky and blessed and everything that comes with it is icing on top of what was and is a fantastic journey of being educated in a new craft and inspired by these new friends and working with the best writers and directors in the business. All of that outweighs anything that gets me too nervous.”
And with the news that Orange has been signed up for a fourth season before the third has even hit screens, I wonder, will Stella be sticking around? “I can’t tell you...” Ruby teases. The wait, I tell her, is agonising. She laughs. “It’s agonising for me too, trust me.”
Yep, it’s definitely love.
This article first appeared in DIVA magazine, June 2015.
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