If you want to see Julia Garner squirm, try describing her career. In the years since she began acting, Garner has become known for deep diving into her characters (often left-of-centre roles that include cult members as well as criminals), and has earned an impressive list of credits in the process. Before her scene-stealing turn as Ruth Langmore on Netflix’s Ozark, she’d already appeared in Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Americans. When we meet, high above Toronto’s posh Yorkville neighbourhood, Garner unsurprisingly has several anticipated projects in the works. “Whenever I hear ‘buzzy,’ I think, ‘God, I hope people aren’t disappointed,’” she says with a laugh.
Still, it’s a struggle to comb through her IMDb without acknowledging her knack for consistently picking titles that pique critics’ interest. They include Maniac, the latest Netflix drama from True Detective producer Cary Fukunaga, which stars Garner alongside Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. The fact that the series was largely shrouded in mystery ahead of its debut only fuelled public curiosity.
Between sips of tea, Garner explains that she avoids keeping up with reviews from binge-watchers and sought-after reporters alike. She says she knows her performance opposite Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in Ozark is winning over audiences when people suspect she’s from Missouri. “I think the thing that’s still kind of weird to me is when people are surprised that I’m from New York,” says Garner, who brings local criminal-mastermind-in-the-making Ruth to life–accent and all–on the show. “They’ll say, ‘Wait, I thought you were from the Ozarks. Your accent is really good!’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’ve never been.’ That, to me, is the biggest compliment.”
In the drama’s sophomore season, Ruth’s law-breaking father comes back into her life. She admits that the onscreen dynamic pushed her to find her scrappy character’s vulnerable side. “Usually when things get deeper—in terms of acting, or personally too—it’s much more uncomfortable,” she says. “That was the challenge.” It’s one she rose to by giving us flickers of her character as a child, a criminal, and a caretaker throughout the season. “I’ve learned so much from playing Ruth,” she says. “I feel like ever since I’ve played her, I’ve become a better actor.”
Even with the confidence she’s gained from working on the show, Garner says she’s yet to find the cure for the nerves that come with being on a new set. “Thirty seconds before doing a take, I still get nervous the way that I did on my first shoot ever,” she admits. “That never goes away. It happens because you want to do a good job, and you care. It’s like going on a date with a guy you really like.” It certainly hasn’t stopped her. She’s already shooting the upcoming TV adaptation of the incredibly addictive Los Angeles Times podcast Dirty John (which also features Connie Britton and Eric Bana). Garner continued her streak of interesting career choices by nabbing the true crime story’s juiciest role.
Not only is she in demand on camera, but in front rows as well. The former face of Miu Miu has been spotted taking a prominent place at runway shows by designers Prabal Gurung, Sies Marjan, and Calvin Klein. As the film and fashion worlds’ fascination with the actress grows, it feels beyond safe to say that Julia Garner is having a moment. Does she feel that way? Rather than focus on savouring a specific time, Garner continues to hustle. “I feel like you have to have many moments,” she says. “You can’t just rely on one thing.” She has a refreshingly practical approach to a profession that’s often driven by emotion, requires a thick skin, and is impossible to predict. “It’s about doing the work,” she says. “Making sure that you do the best job you can. My job is to move the audience. People want to feel moved.”