In her relatively short career, Australian-borne Ruby Rose has conquered many avenues in entertainment, including modeling, boxing, DJ-ing, and even an MTV VJ in her home country. And then of course, there’s the acting. After doing one-off appearance and supporting roles in TV and movies, she broke out for many American’s with a standout performance as Stella Carlin in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” For a while, she was the queen of the action sequels, appearing in such films as Resident Evil: The Final Chapter; xXx: Return of Xander Cage; John Wick: Chapter 2; and Pitch Perfect 3., before hitting it big in the action-horror ensemble film The Meg. For the better part of the last year and a half, she’s been the title character in the CW’s “Batwoman” series, though she recently announced she is leaving the show (and being replaced).
Her latest action work is the tough-as-nails The Doorman, in which Rose plays Ali, a former soldier who returns from a special assignment which resulted in the people she was protecting getting killed, leaving her physically and psychologically damaged. She returns home to New York City where an uncle gets her a low-stakes job as a doorman at a fancy high rise, where she’ll have minimal human contact during a building-wide renovation—exactly how she prefers it. But it turns out that some thieves (led by Jean Reno) are using the renovation as a cover to locate something hidden somewhere in the hotel, putting the remaining few residents in danger and leaving Ali to be all that protects these innocents (who also happen to be related to her) from being killed. The particularly brutal and stunt-heavy movie comes from the great Japanese filmmaker Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Versus, Godzilla: Final Wars, Downrange), and he puts Rose through the paces.
I had the chance recently to chat with Rose about her career in the action world, and her attempts to find more emotional nuances in the various characters she plays. Please enjoy…
Without minimizing the story of the The Doorman, in all honestly, it’s a wonderful excuse to watch you kick ass, maybe better than you’ve ever been able to in a film. Was that the appeal for you, that you just get to cut loose like you do so well?
To be fair, I didn’t know that the stunts would be as incredible as they were. Ryûhei specializes in that, so I did know it would be incredible, but I didn’t realize until we were training quite how much he believed in me to pull off really long sequences and really crazy stuff. I feel very grateful for that because it is fun kicking butt for that long. But what really drew me to the film was that I really like Ryûhei as a director—he was already attached—and I love action films, I love being physical, but I need to have a reason to want to do them than just action. For me, it was the story the drew me into it.
I don’t like playing the same character twice, and in action, sometimes there are types of characters that feel familiar, and even if it’s a good script, that’s great, but I’ve already played this character or an iteration of this character. I don’t want to redo that; someone else can do that. I love Ali because she’s entirely different to any character I’ve played before. She goes through this traumatic experience at the beginning of the film; she’s trying to rebuild herself, she’s raw, she’s vulnerable and lost; she’s trying to find a purpose. And in doing so, she gets this job as as doorman, and then of course, we get into the action of it. But of course, the full-circle moment is this reconnection with this family and this dynamic of something she was holding onto for a long time and something that Rupert Evans’ character was holding onto, which is, he thought I abandoned him by going into the military, and I thought I was doing the most honorable thing by serving my country. And for how long that misunderstanding and lack of communication was going on for, she lost connection with her sister and her family, and she felt very alone. And what I love is when they finally see each other and let down those walls, and they say “This is what you did, and this is how I see it,” and by listening to one another, they can finally realize that they understand each other’s point of view more. I love that that happens.
I know that something that haunts soldiers more than just about anything else is a failed mission, and that’s what happens to Ali, and she’s still dealing with that when she goes back to New York. This film is her road to redemption. This has to succeed this time for her, not just to save her family but to get her mind right again. Tell me about the challenge of capturing that as an actor.
It was. You’re definitely right about her road to redemption—that’s the perfect way to put it. But there are those moments in that where she’s been trying to avoid getting back into any physical situation or any kind of mission or situation where she might fail again. She doesn’t want to be the reason someone lives or dies, and she’s trying to have a normal life by being a doorman. There are so many conflicting moment, where it’s like “Do I stay, do I go? I can’t leave these people; they need to be protected. But am I able to do it.” There are these moments of panic where she’s reminded that the last time she tried to save someone, she didn’t succeed. And now that the stakes are, I don’t want to say they’re higher because it’s her family, but it’s because this is the second time and because there are children involved, like there were in the first mission. For her, it’s a struggle to push that memory out, to be in the present, and figure this out in real time. Who are these people? Why are they here? What do they want? There’s so much going on, but if she thinks about it for too long, she goes straight back to “I can’t do this. I didn’t do it well last time.” And then she has to pull herself together and make it happen. I loved all of those moments.
I think in every film I’ve done where I’m an action star, I’ve been an assassin, or a trained something, and it’s very matter-of-fact: “I have a mission to do this. I’m working on a team, and I’m going to do this.” I’m very skilled in all of these films, in different areas, whether it’s fighting in John Wick or guns in xXx, sniper in Resident Evil. They’re all different kinds of characters, but in this one, there’s a real purpose and reason for a lot of the things she’s doing, and she has a vulnerability about her that a lot of the other characters I’ve played in action didn’t have.
You mentioned your director, when I look at his credits, he’s got at least a half-dozen stone-cold classic, and the other films aren’t bad either. What did he bring out in you that maybe you didn’t know you were capable of?
He really believed in me to make certain character choices. He believed in me when we were talking about the script or some dialogue, I’d say “I feel like it would be like this or work this way,” and when you’re doing blocking, sometimes directors can be really locked into something they’ve envisaged, and sometimes you might say “Can we do it like this?” and they’ll say “No,” and that’s fine. And other times, with someone like Ryûhei, he’s like “Absolutely, let’s do it that way. I love that idea.” There’s a lot of freedom and collaboration that I really appreciated. As far as the other things he brought out in me—we’re doing a very ambitious film in a short amount of time in Romania, he’s just laughing and having fun and lifting everyone up. He’s serious in that he’s done the preparation; he knows exactly what we’re doing that day, and if something goes wrong or we have to switch, he’s got five backup plans, but you never once see him stress or worried. He’s always got that smile and this energy that I really appreciated.
So how much of what we see here as far as the stunt work is you?
[laughs] Literally 99.9 percent. I think there’s a backflip I didn’t do. And that’s because my stunt double was a man. A short, stocky, muscular dude with a thicker neck, and also he had a wig on in trying to emulate my hair. So his head is big with a fake wig, his neck is that big. I took one look at him and said, “That’s not going to work, so I’ll be doing all of this.” Again, I loved that because once I realized I’d be doing all of it, I was like “We have to get right into this.”
It makes a huge difference. Thank you so much, Ruby. Great to talk to you.
Thanks a lot; good to talk to you.
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