Thursday 18 July 2019

'In America, I spent two years trying to make it' - Aussie star Ruby Rose talks fame, identity and growing up gender fluid

Rose stars in The Meg opposite Jason Statham which opens on Friday

Ruby Rose
Ruby Rose
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

The phone line crackles and sputters and several time zones away, Australian DJ-turned-actress Ruby Rose prepares herself for yet another 12-minute slice of promo. Phone interviews haven't always been her friend - she's described in the past how the handsets have given her skin problems - but today she's eager, above all else, to get the word out about The Meg, a nautical action film which is a bit like a modern-day Jaws, aimed, perhaps, at a younger audience.

"I had a lot of fun making this film," she tells me. "One of the glories of doing a film like this is that you get to do a lot of stunt work - diving, high-wire stuff. At the start, I said I loved being in the water but then we were in time after time. I've always been quite sporty, growing up in Australia, I loved skateboarding and being outside and any excuse to jump into the water, I'm there.

"There was such a great cast and crew on this film. It was a learning experience and one I'm grateful for." The film is packed with stunts and comic-book style quips, and Rose took pride in her ability to manage the stunts and took mock umbrage at her co-star Jessica McNamee's ribbing of her diving skills on Twitter. "It's funny that Jess had a go at me about my diving because she could literally sprain her ankle walking or spill her coffee in one of the most important set pieces, whereas the rest of us did 50 different types of training. I'm like, really, Jess?! No, she has a great sense of humour though, we tease each other."

While not exactly a household name on this side of the pond, Rose has enormous celebrity in her native Australia where she is a social media icon (1.3m Twitter followers) and much-photographed star. This in turn led her to move to America where she won a role in Orange Is The New Black and was invited to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Besides her obvious talent, part of what fuelled the fascination with her there was that she was one of the first public figures to come out as gender fluid and, even in the face of corporations who try to censor her, she still bravely speaks openly and fluently about her experience.

"When I was younger, I did feel gender fluid," she explains. "I didn't really feel like I fell into the readymade moulds that society has for male and female. I didn't have the education or the knowledge to understand that you can be androgynous and a tomboy but still be all woman. The difference was that my peers at school made me feel like I wasn't in the right body. But, as I began to take on influences from people as diverse as David Bowie, Annie Lennox and Madonna, I began to see how fluid people could be with their dress sense and who they wanted to be and who they wanted to love. And I began to see that I could be whoever I wanted to be. For young people, as well, I think it comes down to having a good therapist and a good doctor. And also I think parents know their own kids best. There are so many youth groups kids can join now and there is so much more out there than when I was growing up, so you would hope that it's a bit easier for kids now. From the transgender people who are my friends, they've said that the years that they had to wait were damaging for them."

Rose was born in Melbourne, the daughter of a 20-year-old single mother and artist, whom she describes as one of her role models. She had a peripatetic childhood and the family moved around Australia a lot before finally settling back in Melbourne. When she was 16, Rose came second in a national modelling competition and within two years of that, she had launched her own clothing and footwear collections.

Despite this early success, she says she never felt like she fitted in. "I certainly didn't feel like I belonged. I felt very lonely and misunderstood and didn't really know my place. I was bullied a lot and didn't believe I was part of any group or culture. Sometimes now I find myself getting annoyed at minor little things and I find myself asking what would the 16-year-old Ruby think of these complaints and the truth is she'd think 'look at all the beautiful things you have in your life, sorry, you don't get to complain'."

By her mid-20s - she is now 32 - she was ubiquitous in Australian media, appearing on every major magazine cover and gaining further renown as a VJ for MTV. She was a judge on Australia's Next Top Model, a guest commentator at the Winter Olympics and hosted TV coverage of Sydney's Mardi Gras. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, the suspicion that she might be a bit overexposed crept in. She once said that she decided to leave Australia for the US because she was worried Aussies were "sick" of her as she was "everywhere".

"I had done everything in Australia that I could do," she told News Corp, "like literally I had a clothing brand, a radio show, I hosted my own TV show, there wasn't really anything I wasn't doing. My relationship when I left was like, 'Oh my God, they hate me'".

At 26, she packed her bags and moved to LA. "It was really difficult because people told me that the public wouldn't believe me as anything as other than the Ruby Rose brand in Australia. In America, I spent two years trying to make it. I had no agent and people wanted me to host reality TV or be a VJ; basically to do what I had done in Australia. When I said I wanted to act, the big agents passed on me. I made a short film and that was what got me noticed for Orange."

Rose's gamine androgyny seemed to fit perfectly with the long-running Netflix series but she says she doesn't pay too much attention to the media obsession with her looks.

"It's a sort of a first world problem to have," she concedes. "Instead of being frustrated or overthinking, it's about refocusing people on the work I do."

Earlier this year, Rose confirmed her split with The Veronicas' Jess Origliasso and in the days before we speak, she makes headlines for what one newspaper called 'flirting up a storm' with singer Demi Lovato on Twitter.

Rose sets the record straight: "Demi is my friend and I have tremendous respect for her. On social media, you make fun of each other and people read into it too much or take it the wrong way. As with Jess teasing my diving skills, it's all in good fun."

'The Meg' is on nationwide release from this Friday

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