by Jason Price, Dec 4 2014
As a child, Ruth Connell spent her days on her family's farm in the middle of nowhere dreaming of one day becoming an actress. As time went by she continued toward her goal; no matter how impractical it may have seemed. Today, with years of hard work and dedication under her belt, this inspiring young actress has made those dreams become a reality. An accomplished actress in the UK, Connell will soon be a very familiar face to science fiction fans as she bursts onto the American scene in the critically acclaimed, long running and hugely successful 'Supernatural,' airing Tuesdays in The CW. The show follows brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they travel throughout America hunting for supernatural creatures, their main adversaries through out are Demons. Ruth takes on a pivotal role with the character of Rowena, who is poised to make a big impact on the series this season. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Ruth Connell to discuss her amazing journey as an actor, her work on stage and scene, making the transition from the UK to life in Hollywood, her time on Supernatural; and what the future might hold for her in the years to come!
How did you get started on your journey in the entertainment industry and what made you know acting was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
When I was 4 years old, my cousin Ruby wanted to go to dancing lessons. I was sent along to keep her company! I had a natural aptitude for dancing and I was eventually picked for Scottish Ballet where they do classes for young dancers that you have to audition for. I got involved and they put me in some of their productions. Eventually, I was Clara in “The Nutcracker.” I remember walking out on to the stage and feeling like it was my living room. It was Clara's living room but I felt so at home. I loved being in the company of The Scottish Ballet. I am an only child, so I think, for me, it was that
instant thing of having camaraderie and having people around you. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere and was an only child, so I really did love being in the company. That is really what started me on my journey. I thought maybe I could get into acting by doing musical theater, a side-step into acting. Eventually, it became an overriding feeling that I really wanted to commit to being just an actor. I went to drama college when I was 24 years old, so I was a very old and mature student! [laughs] Even though things weren't easy when I left drama college, I have never regretted my decision to do it.
Who were some of the influences who had a big impact on you as an actor early on?
As I said, I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. I would watch movies and, I have to admit, I was kind of obsessed with “Gone With The Wind” and “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” the American cartoon version. I grew up loving Vivian Leigh and she has always had a special place in my heart. Recently, I played Blanche Dubois in a workshop and it has to be one of my favorite things I have ever done. All sorts of people have inspired me and I have always been lucky with the dance teachers I have had, who believed in me and pushed me on. I did my dance ballet and I didn't get to dance school eventually, I had failed my medical, but I kept dancing and one of my teachers worked with me and got me through my dance ballet. That is something I am still really proud of! Some of my teachers from drama college, I am still friends with now. I just got a message the other day from a teacher who has been following now that I am working in America. That was really cool.
I wanted to ask you about the work you did with The Avenue Theater Company in Greenwich. What can you tell us about it and how it impacted your career?
I was used to working a lot as a dancer. When I was at drama college, I booked some theater jobs. When I graduated from drama college, I was picked as the Critic's Choice, which was great, but all of a sudden, nothing happened! That happens to actors, where all of a sudden there are six months where there is no audition. I hated that feeling! I couldn't stand it, so me and my friends, Joanne Morton and Joseph Raishbrook, created this theater company so we could be in something, direct something or produce something for ourselves and for all of our friends to be in. I didn't realize quite how much I had bitten off more than I could chew with a cast of 13 and a girl from London Fashion College. It was pretty much all put on my credit card at the time! [laughs] It was a great success and we sold out with "A Midsummer Night's Dream' for a week in Greenwich Royal Park. The following year we devised our own piece. Really, the only reason it stopped is because I started to book more work as an actor. One of the big jobs I had as an actor was a number one tour in the UK of a play called "Men Should Weep."; Charlotte Gwinner, who is now my friend, directed it. The man that runs The Globe Theatre in London now, Dominic Dromgoole, helped cast me in it. I remember in an interview him speaking to me and the first thing he had ever done was an open air Shakespeare, so he understood what I had managed to accomplish! He had done it himself, so he knew where I was coming from and I think that helped me get my first proper big acting tour.
What impact has moving from the UK to Los Angeles had on you?
Ok, so I had always had a thing about America in my head. When I was a teenager, I thought it was going to be like 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to be a teenager in America. [laughs] One of my friends, who is also an actress, had made the move. I remember discussing with other friends in London the fact that the year before I moved to LA I had had four really big projects, which all didn't come to anything. I had worked my way up in theater and I was being seen for TV and I was penciled in for some really good stuff but it wasn't coming through. It was very frustrating. I had booked a series regular and then the series didn't run. It was things like that, so I said to my friend, "I am thinking about going to LA." He said, "You have been talking about this for seven years!" I thought, "Aww man, I better hurry up and get on with it!" [laughs] There came a point in my life where I needed a change and a life challenge. It wasn't just about my career, it was about moving to a new continent on my own and experiencing the challenges of setting up a life here. I needed that challenge. My masterplan, so to speak, was to get a lot more experience in film and television because there is so much more getting made out here. In Britain, you tend to cut your teeth on theater, where out here people tend to cut their teeth on costarring roles and the like. From when I got here until now, I feel like I have been lucky because I have always had a project, even if it was low budget, to work on. I will never regret having come to LA. It has been a journey! [laughs] The people that I have met have been great. I feel like a tourist in many ways! I am still getting a kick out of the fact that I am at so-and-so's house or at such-and-such's party. I am sort of a fangirl myself with some of the people I meet. I am friends with a director named Kevin Connor and he directed 'Moonlighting' I was like, "Oh my gosh! You directed 'Moonlighting!'" I was really young when it was on but stuff like that gives me such a thrill! That is one of the things I love about LA!
You have some great things happening at the moment. One of the biggest is your role on the hit series, “Supernatural.” How did you get involved with the project and made you know it was a role you wanted to pursue?
My friend sent me the breakdown and said, "I think you should try and get seen for this!" When I read it, I just thought, "This is written for me!" I did say to a friend, "If I can't get seen for this, there is no point in my being in America." It was just so up my street. I was pretty determined at that point in time that I would do whatever it took to get seen for it. I wasn't sure if I could get an audition. I had been working steadily and I knew I had a bit of a breakthrough last year but I had to go home for six months. I was back in LA and I wasn't sure if I was going to get an audition. I hadn't been in the room for a TV job in about 18 months. I just couldn't seem to get in the room. I decided, at that point, to put all of my Scottish clips on tape, I sent it to the casting director's office and the casting office in Canada. I knew I had to get seen for it! At the end of the day, they came back to me with an audition in the normal way! [laughs] I cleared my calendar for the weekend and had the weekend to prepare, luckily, because that doesn't always happen. I watched about 14 episodes of “Supernatural” in about two days to immerse myself in the world and familiarize myself with the character I was seeing on the page. My first meeting was so positive and I could see a little light go on when they met me and saw I was authentically Scottish and I could do the role. That doesn't happen often as an actor that you think, "I have quite a good feeling about this." The next day, I was in front of producers and the next day I had network approval! I absolutely feel that this is one of the reasons I was meant to be in America, to play Rowena. If you believe in anything supernatural, perhaps this is my little piece of magic and maybe it was meant to be!
What did you bring to this character that wasn't on the written page?
I didn't even realize how Scottish I was until I came to LA! When I was in Scotland, I was like, "I not the most Scottish person, I'm a child of the universe … " and then you travel 5,000 miles. You quickly realize how much you have been influenced by the place you grew up in, the sensibilities you have and the language. They are a couple of instances in the script where I have made tiny suggestions, where things could be more Scottish. These are things I see as second nature because it is where I am from, so I hope I brought some real authenticity to Rowena. She is really funny on the page and hopefully I bring my own little twinkle!
Aside from featuring a lot of great talent, one of the cool things about “Supernatural” is how everyone involved seems so invested and excited about the project. What was the vibe like on set and what have you picked up from working with the cast?
It has been truly fantastic. When you hear people talking about how the cast is a family and how great things are, it's not lip service. You can’t fake that stuff for 10 years. There really is an amazing atmosphere and there is a lot of care that goes into each show. The producers of the show have always listened to the fans of the show on social media and were one of the first shows to respond and take on board what the fans were feeling. They keep in touch with their fan base and are really making the show for the fans. It does feel like you are family and I think that is a really cool thing. There is such an atmosphere of respect on the set. Everyone has been in it for a long time and there are no egos or anyone trying to prove their worth. Everyone is pretty secure in what they are doing. As a newcomer on the American television scene, I realize how lucky I am to have landed in that kind of environment where there is so little stress and everyone is really engaged with what they are doing.
Whether it is on stage, television or film, what is your process for bringing a new character to life?
I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to process. I am one of those actors that still goes to class. That is one of the great things about coming to LA. Coming from Britain, we had different ways of approaching things. I have done a couple of turns with The Groundlings and that is something I wouldn’t ever have dared to do in Britain. I have really enjoyed doing that and worked with a really cool teacher named Diana Castle. I did a lot more imagination work. When I am looking at parts, I use my instincts mainly but then I ask myself all of the actor questions. I come from a dance background and I can usually feel the character in my body, if that makes sense. I was aware when I saw the episode of “Supernatural” last night that I had made a strong physical choice when Rowena glides in with her hands in the air. [laughs] I think that always helps me too.
You have quite a few projects in the works. What should we be on the lookout for in the near future?
I am so excited about “Supernatural” and how that is going to roll out. I can't say for how long but I am still looking forward to that! [laughs] I am going to be going to some of the conventions next year! This whole journey I have been on is overtaking everything at the moment and it is wonderful! That is what I had wanted to happen! This show has given me everything I have wanted all in one goal! I have been waiting a long time and all of a sudden it's like, "Bingo!" [laughs] I have worked on a few other projects this year. I often do voice-overs. I do voice match for a really cool character for Disney, a Scottish character for Disney, who is also a feisty redhead! [laughs] I've recently worked on a Dogma-style movie for my friend, Henry Alberto. It is called 'Hara-Kiri.' It was really cool and I had never done anything like that before. I also filmed a movie at the beginning of the year called “The Cursed Man” based on the cult novel by Keith Rommel. One is very experimental and the other is very sci-fi. Those will be coming out next year. I am really looking forward to seeing what opportunities doing “Supernatural” leads to. Maybe I will get in some more rooms and get some auditions now! [laughs]
What is your biggest evolution as an actress since first starting out?
That is a good question. Coming to America has really been part of my process as a person and an actor. I did a play last year where I played Mrs. Darling and Captain Hook. It was a really good version called 'Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers.' It was really cool to play the heartbroken mother and then to play the diabolical Hook. I think that part really stretched me and has informed Rowena in some way. It was quite metaphysical as well. It was a big step up. I had been in 'Peter Pan'10 years before playing Tigerlily, which is a really fun part but a much smaller part. I think when I did the play last year, I realized how far I had come in 10 years.
Is there a role or genre you are anxious to take on at this point in your career?
I think of myself as this serious theater actress but usually, with everything I do, there is a little twist of humor in it. I realize that now, looking back. I am really drawn to really dark drama, independent and French films. There is so much amazing television around now with really strong writing and it is really inspiring seeing women in their 30s or older really doing it. It seems that we are breaking through and people are happy to watch women as they mature with the strength and power that they have. Hopefully, I can evolve into being one of those women! I would love to be one of those leading actresses in a few years who are taking that forward. On another note, I also lived “Flash Gordon.” [laughs] That was my first sci-fi memory! I I wanted to be like Dale Arden [played by Melanie Anderson]. I think I really liked her orange two piece and the fact she was tied up and rescued by Flash, which is very un-feminist of me but she was a savvy reporter as well. [laughs] I have always loved sci-fi and was a huge fan of the TV series “V.” When I was really young I remember when Diana pulled off her human face to reveal the reptile underneath, I said to my mom, "I always knew there was something wrong with her!" [laughs] I recently met the actress who played Diana, Jane Badler. I love when life comes to a freckle like that! When you meet someone in LA who you watched on your farm in Scotland, you realize life is pretty magical.
What is your best advice for someone out there on a farm in the middle of nowhere who aspires to make their career in the entertainment industry as you have?
Every day, do something towards your goal. I think sometimes, as an actor, the frustration is that you don't know what to do to move things forward. Every day, even if it is just watching film, picking up a speech and working on it or reading about acting, you have to chip away at it. I think sometimes we wait for dramatic changes in luck or lightning bolts from the sky, and those can happen, but in my experience they happen when you are already on the path and doing the hard work. That is what you have to do to make it out there!
Thank you so much for your time today, Ruth! You have been an absolute delight!
Thank you, Jason! Very deep questions and I look forward to speaking to you soon!