Actress and producer Ruth Wilson has been shining on the screen and stage for many years, including on projects like The Affair and His Dark Materials. In her newest venture, True Things, she plays Kate, a woman who seems adrift in her life and suddenly starts a whirlwind relationship with a stranger played by Tom Burke. I was able to speak with the actress about her introduction to the character, the journey to get it made, the importance of the depiction, and more!
This interview has been edited for clarity.
This is Kristy Strouse with Film Inquiry: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really appreciate it. And I really enjoyed the film, amazing performance! You are also a producer on the project. How did you first come across the novel?
Ruth Wilson: I was working with Jude Law on a play called Anna Christie in London, and he was being sent various materials. His production company was sent the details, and he said “I think there’s something in this but I don’t know, will you ever read?”. I read it and loved it. I hadn’t really read anything like it and the idea of making that into a film felt really rich and interesting to me. What stood out is that it had a very subjective lens on a female experience of these relationships. There’s a kind of rite of passage. First infatuations with people that you know, you are blind to the reality of who this man is or what the situation is and five years later, you’re like, really, why did I do that? Who was that? I think we’ve all been there. Right? So it felt like a universal theme. But I felt like the character at the heart was someone that was, you know, in one way she was at the will of this man and the other way she was driving the desire, she was driving the need. She was driving the dynamic of that relationship. So that felt really honest, and it felt really complex. It wasn’t just about a woman in a toxic bad relationship with a guy and being a victim. It was like no, she was sort of engaging in this drama and this dynamic. I thought that was really interesting. And I also thought, her humor, the way she saw the world was quirky and actually really observant and clear-minded. But she was just trapped and suffocated in a world that didn’t quite fit with her. So all those things were like, Oh, wow, this is really rich territory. I want to do it and be in it.
Yeah, that’s a terrific answer. So, did you know you wanted to be playing the lead character as soon as you read it?
Ruth Wilson: Yeah, I mean, 10 years ago now. I did, like Jane Eyre and various things, and lots of plays, but I hadn’t really done much modern stuff. It was before the Affair, and I was like, I really want to do a modern part and I want to play a sort of woman. I mean, look, we’ve called women messy now forever. Well, she’s just a woman, so I really responded. I really wanted to play it for that reason. And to dispel that and I felt like I hadn’t really played that before. So I was quite interested in doing something that felt sort of closer to home as well, someone I could relate to.
Yeah, and I want to dive more into the character and everything but first I gotta mention your production company, it’s lady Lazarus, right? Is that inspired by the Sylvia Plath poem?
Ruth Wilson: Yes! I was doing Hedda Gabler at the national reading lots of Sylvia Plath, novels and biography and, and poetry and everything and yeah, like Lady Lazarus was an extraordinary, beautiful poem, and also about sort of rebirth and I just thought, Well, yeah, great, okay. Title of my production company!
Perfect name! I haven’t read this book, though I really want to now. How much did the film vary from it? Because I did hear that it was darker in the novel. Was that something that was changed?
Ruth Wilson: Yeah, the book is a lot darker, it’s a more physically violent relationship. Actually, it turns out to be And Harry and I both when we took on we love so much about the book but actually, we’re kind of really fascinated in development. We became much more fascinated in the sort of first initial throws that studying deep diving into that why we do that why we lined up why we’re blind and love. What is it? Is it expectations? Is it societal pressure or is it just the sort of extraordinary act of imagination and hope that humans have, you know, to kind of project onto someone? That’s not true? Why is it that we get in these? Everyone does it? You know, it’s amazing, really. So, we both found that we were much more interested in spinning around that. And once it became more physically about violence, you can’t- you’re now discussing something else. So Harry, and I sort of, that’s what it’s called truth into it. It’s13, not true things about me, we can like, actually, it’s inspired by parts of the book and buy the character in the book. But we don’t go down that route. We’re sort of exploring some other parts of the book itself.
What was the collaboration with Harry like?
Ruth Wilson: Great!! As soon as I got on, I mean, we had a writer on before, and it was working fine. But we wanted a filmmaker writer to come on board who could really take this on. There’s very little dialogue in this piece, it’s really cinematic, and it needs to be visually told, as much as anything else. So as soon as we got Harry involved, we’re like, Okay, now we’re, we’re starting to connect the dots here! And it’s sort of starting to make sense as a film because we have the visual eye on it. And she was brilliant. The film came out of just endless conversations we’d have with each other about, you know, being a woman and being in those sort of relationships and friends and our own experiences, but also friends who’ve had similar experiences.
And it was a really joyous kind of process. And then on the day, you know, in the edit, we started filming, when COVID started happening, so we had a week of filming and went to shut down for four months. And she came back with a baby in tow, And she’s an extraordinary job, even with a little six-week-old baby on set! We work brilliantly together, I really love the way she shoots, she kind of wants it to look cinematic, and has a sort of beautiful eye on things. And she also works in as she was coming from dance, so her movement and the camera is quite fluid and has movement based on it. So anyway, I loved we got very close, and we’re collaborating again on the next thing.
Can you say what it is?
Ruth Wilson: Yeah, it’s just been announced it’s called Women in the wall. And it’s a six-part TV thing for BBC and Showtime. And it’s written by Joe Mirta. So Harry’s directing four episodes of that.
I personally did appreciate a lot of the shots in the film. You know, it was a very interesting kind of take with one of the intimate scenes. I feel like it was kind of a step back. And I don’t know, there was just something about it that I feel conveyed a lot of emotion versus having it be more sexual.
Ruth Wilson: I always think the piece itself is very internalized. So it’s, it’s very subjective, it’s really what Kate is feeling and seeing and experiencing. So, you know, we wanted to always, in every shot, be kind of inside that head of hers. And that imaginative space or the sensory feeling of that. It’s like droplets of the sweat on his skin, or it’s the touch of their hands, so to me, it was much more sensual in that way, which makes it as sexy, if not sexier than just bodies. I think the intimacy of that acts of those scenes is kind of has a more powerful effect than seeing two bodies writhing So I think that’s what we’re exploring a bit with this stuff is that it doesn’t feel any less sexy for that it actually feels even more engaged and more intimate, and slightly more voyeuristic than you get otherwise.And I think it’s really fascinating. It’s very easy to just shoot too but it’s actually quite hard to then get the chemistry right, between the two people in that scene, and getting inside those feelings is a little bit more explosive in some way.
It definitely is. Yeah, it’s, there’s more vulnerability to it as well. Well said! I agree. I love that it’s almost like you kind of keep the audience at a distance to a degree. There’s no judgment in this film. It’s an honest appraisal of this relationship. Did you feel the character change at all over the course of the filming?
Ruth Wilson:Well, I think definitely in developing it did change a bit. I mean, we got those essences from the novel that I love, like the humor of her. And like I say, her sort of the way she observed the world I thought was quite far, like, interesting, and how creative she was really, in some ways, but when we’re developing it, you know, Harry sat with me, we brought lots of our own personal experiences to it, or what we do at home on our own or what? So I think there was a lot of me in there actually, and, and certainly, you know, I sort of feel like, it’s most me that I’ve ever been on a performance, the chaotic side of me, or whatever, you know, like that sort of side of me. And I saw, I think, definitely, that changed maybe from the book a bit.
But I think also, like, I love what you say, it’s true, what you’re saying about her having that drive, like I was, I was very insistent that she can’t be a victim that’s like this is it’s more complex than that it’s more complex than just a toxic relationship that she’s a victim of the will of she’s driving it, she’s engaging in it, she gets his number, she texts him, she pursues him. When she no longer wants them. She gets rid of him, you know, it’s like, actually, and that’s what I think so clever about the film is that we just made playing that line between an Harry riding that line and filming that line between vulnerability and a woman at the wheel as against a woman driving for this. And I think she doesn’t know that herself. That’s what’s happening. It’s like that. I thought that it was so complex, and so real and honest, actually, in the way that those dynamics played out.
Yeah, absolutely. And I love the catharsis, I love the final scene with you dancing.
Ruth Wilson: Yeah. And that was like, you know, we knew we wanted that we didn’t rehearse it didn’t come up with any ideas. Just when you’re going to use PJ, we actually had PJ and we had Patti Smith songs playing horses by Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. I mean, two classic, brilliant, you know, empowered women. And it was postcode with just post-COVID. So it was like, Well, I haven’t danced for six months, with people in a room for six months. So you know, what?
Why not? Dance! Was that one-take?
Ruth Wilson: Like many things that we did on the day, we did decide, you know, we should do this without people as well. So do it surrounded by people, but also take away everyone else because of the I think that sort of changed throughout the process of filming was we were realizing this other imaginative life or the idea of a waking nightmare, waking dream, you know, and sliding in and out of those. So I thought it best to get one as well with me on my own. Because that’s what we’re saying is that she’s – when you don’t feel like she’s on her own. She’s the only important thing and are you concerned is that? What do you don’t like that you’re not doing for anyone else who doesn’t feel so funny? It’s but that’s that was the suggestion of that.
I love that. So I know, we only have a few more minutes. I’m just curious, as someone who’s done theater and film, TV, what do you look for in a role? Are you looking to be challenged? Do you look for a connection to the character? Is there anything in particular?
Ruth Wilson:I think it’s, um, it’s, it’s really hard. I don’t know what how decisions are made. Really, they’re kind of ephemeral. And it’s different circumstances, different reasons, different times. But I think that I character is key is often the main reason I take a job, I sort of fall in love with the character, and I might I don’t want anyone to play that. That’s so cool. And, and usually, yeah, there’s probably some world I’m spinning in, in my head, or in my own life that I want to explore somehow or something I haven’t done yet in my performance. And so that’s probably why I get drawn to certain characters. And then, of course, it’s the people involved. And it’s where it’s going to shoot. You know, how many hours you might be doing is at night shoot. So you know, so. But no, basically, it comes down to character, I think. And then who the director or the team that’s around?
And do you think having a production company allows you to kind of get more roles that you’re interested in?
Ruth Wilson: Yeah, it definitely allows you to, yeah, seek and find things that you kind of want to do. And I mean, the two things I’ve done, I mean, Mrs. Wilson wasn’t under my production company, but I produced it. And both true things and Miss Wilson feel quite personal actually. I mean, they both feel like I really brought parts of myself to both of those parts, those roles. And so, I don’t know, we’ve got I’ve got a few more things with Lady Lazarus, but it’s like, where’s that go? I don’t know whether it’s going to remain as a very personal space for me, or whether it will be Well now we’ll see.
And so you know, you’ve already worn a couple of hats do you feel like you might want to go into writing or directing anything else in the future?
Ruth Wilson: I think writing is such a particular skill. I really admire writers because it’s about sitting in a room on your own staring at a wall. And I don’t know if I hear that. doing that. But directing may be more likely I’ve directed a play before and I enjoyed that. It’s really it’s really tough. I found it quite hard to do that. But I, I really enjoyed it. So if the right thing comes up that I want to direct Yeah, I might give that a go. Might want to know. I mean, I’m, there are people that are very good at it. So I don’t know if I need to, but it might be something that I’d like to try. Well, I’d love to see that.
So, last question: I’m just wondering what’s coming up for you? What’s next?
Ruth Wilson: Yeah. Um, well, I’ve just, we’ve got the third season of His Dark Materials, which comes out, I think, in December, although I’m not sure on the dates. We’ve got See How they Run which is coming out on the 16th of September, I think. And that’s the Fox Searchlight, and that’s a murder mystery comedy. I’ve just done two things. Obviously. I’ve just done a play, but I’m going to do let me know I got I’ve just done a film. Sorry. What I did. I’ve just done a film with a new director. What’s been really exciting is his first feature horror movie in upstate New York. So I’m really just finished it really excited to see how that turns out. Because I really enjoyed working with him. I’m hoping that you know, his debut is really exciting. And I’m about to go into production next month producing something called the Woman in the wall, which is with Harry again, she’s going to direct four episodes out of six. And it’s about it’s a sort of Gothic Horror around the Magdalene Laundries and we shoot that in Ireland. So start shooting that in October!
When I look forward to all those things, appreciate you taking the time. Have a great rest of your day!
Film Inquiry would like to thank Ruth Wilson for taking the time to speak with us!
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Kristy Strouse is Editor in Chief of Film Inquiry, writer, podcaster, and all around film and TV fanatic.