Who Plays Ruth in ‘Ozark’ and How Did She Become Famous?

To call Julia Garner a rising star seems almost to sell her short. She’s been acting since she was a teenager, and she’s long proved her bona fides, with movies like Grandma, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and most recently, The Assistant.

She branched out into television too, starring in, among other shows, FX’s The Americans. However, it is her role in Netflix’s Ozark that has gotten her the most acclaim, with an Emmy win for playing Ruth Langmore on Ozark

How did Julia Garner get famous?

Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore in 'Ozark' Season 3
Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore in ‘Ozark’ Season 3 | Netflix

Garner, now 26, began acting about 10 years ago. One of her first roles was in the movie Martha Marcy May Marlene, which starred another up and comer, Elizabeth Olsen, as a woman trying to escape a cult. Her role in the 2011 movie Not Fade Away may have been called only “girl in car,” but writer-director David Chase of The Sopranos fame wrote the small part specifically for Garner, according to a New York Times article

“I started doing student films at Columbia grad school, and this one student filmmaker, his girlfriend was interning at an open casting call for [the casting director] Susan Shopmaker. Later on she did the stage reading for Martha Marcy May Marlene, then she cast it. And that was my first movie,” Garner told the Times. 

And that was before she gained even more prominence in the movie Grandma, playing a teenager who asks for money to pay for an abortion. And that was no small thing, considering the grandmother was played by Lily Tomlin.

Garner said in another interview with the New York Times: “Look, I do weird parts — there’s always something wrong with my character or they are in a really weird situation. “I went on an abortion journey with my grandma, and that was my most normal part.”

What does Julia Garner say about her role on ‘Ozark?’

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Garner’s first TV role came via The Americans, where she had a recurring role as Kimberly Breland on The Americans. She also starred in an episode of Girls and had a role in the short-lived Netflix series The Get Down. But Ozark took her career to a new level after it came along in 2017. She plays Ruth Langmore, the partner to Jason Bateman’s Marty Byrde who gets in over his head in a money-laundering scheme. 

In 2018, she told The Times: “I have a journal, and every character that I play, I write as the character, how I feel about things and how I’m going to play it. So I will write, “Dear Diary, today I had a bad day because Russ and Boyd and my dad” and this and that. She’s a young girl and she wants the same things that any other young girl would want. She also has hope for a better life that she’ll do anything to get. That’s what makes it so sad, and also makes it human.”

The industry certainly took notice of her work, awarding her an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a drama series.  Her competition was Gwendoline Christie, Lena Headey Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams, all from Game of Thrones, and Fiona Shaw from Killing Eve. Her win came as a surprise to her, as she struggled to find the right words in her acceptance speech. 

‘Ozark’ pays major dividends for Julia Garner 

Critics have found many words to praise Garner’s work in Ozark.  Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that the actor “continues to deliver shattering work as the whip-smart, fierce and tough but also vulnerable Ruth, who remains the most sympathetic character on the show.”

Garner told the Los Angeles Times that her most difficult scene for Ozark had been one-on-one with Laura Linney, certainly no slouch in acclaim or talent herself. That was right around the time she won her Emmy, and she had the same thought that has struck other award winners: “Well, it’s all downhill from here!”