Julia Garner is trying to recall exactly what happened when she took to the stage at the Emmys last September to accept the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. It’s proving difficult, though, because she feels like she “full-on blacked out” in that moment.
“I don’t remember anything,” the 26-year-old actor, best known to the world as spitfire Ruth Langmore in Netflix’s blockbuster series Ozark, says. “When I walked up on stage, I took the award, I looked out and saw so many people. And I was like, ‘What the f**k?’ It was terrifying!”
While distracted by the illustrious audience (“I made direct eye contact with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones… [which] threw me off!”), Garner managed to thank her co-star Jason Bateman, calling him her “guiding light from the beginning”. She also paid tribute to the role and path that had led her to that moment. “Every single day I just feel so lucky to be doing this,” she added, while also admitting to just how nervous she was feeling. Welcome reassurance came afterwards in Fleabag form. “Phoebe Waller-Bridge said she loved my speech,” she laughs, remembering how she had started “going on about chocolate” at one point. “I said ‘I love you’ [to her] backstage and she [replied], ‘I loved your speech. It was so endearing.’ I was like, ‘It was terrible!’”
“I’m still a little frazzled by it,” she reflects of the night. “I can't believe I was even nominated, to be honest. It was scary-surreal.” Had she listened to her co-star, though, Garner – who was a frontrunner to triumph in the category – might not have been quite so shocked.
“I always loved FILM. I grew up WATCHING Turner Classic Movies and always had this FASCINATION with actors: Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep”
“Jason kept telling me I was going to win, and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no’,” she insists, acknowledging that the surprise may have partly been due to her avoiding reading anything about herself on the internet, bar the very occasional review.
She might not have felt prepared for that precise moment, but in reality Garner has been gearing up to the win for over a decade. Born and raised in New York City to creative parents – her mother, then a comedian and now a therapist, was, as she describes, “on the Israeli version of Saturday Night Live”; her dad is a painter and art teacher – she thinks her career choice makes sense.
“I always loved film. I grew up watching Turner Classic Movies and I always had this fascination with actors: Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep.”
Garner’s mother enrolled her in acting classes early on to help her overcome her shyness. “I really liked the feeling of getting lost in the moment, saying ‘cut’, and getting back to reality. I was just like, ‘What is this out-of-body experience?’”
“I wasn’t EXPECTING anything. But I knew Ruth was so LIKEABLE… I knew she was my PART”
Kicking off her career in her teenage years, she didn’t manage to land the part at her first major audition – a leading role on the US version of Skins. The experience still proved to be pivotal, however, as it meant an introduction to casting director Susan Shopmaker. Just a few months later, Shopmaker cast the then-16-year-old Garner in 2011 drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, where she appeared alongside Sarah Paulson and Elizabeth Olsen.
Garner believes the success she has achieved since is rooted in two things, the first being the ethos of “work hard and be kind”.
“I see actors who are great artists, they work hard and they’re good, but they’re not great. Then you meet them and realize they’re not a great person, either. [So] the reason they’re only good and not great is because they’re lacking soul. You want someone who has soul, you know?”
Secondly, she believes an actor shouldn’t rely on a single breakthrough moment in their career – or rest on their laurels if they get one. “[We] need a few different breaks, and they need to keep coming.”
Ozark, in which Garner stars with Bateman and Laura Linney, “was my first big, big break,” she says. “It made people know who I am.” As it happens, the role of Ruth “wasn’t supposed to be a big part of the show”. But the sass and verve she brought to the character captivated audiences and made the actor integral to its success. The New York Times called Ruth the “tough but tender heart of Ozark”. That was Garner’s impression of the character, too, and it was this that attracted her to the project in the first place.
“I didn’t know the show was going to be successful,” she recalls of her first impressions of it. “Because sometimes you have shows that have stars in it and a star writer and star director, and it doesn’t take off. So I wasn’t expecting anything. But I knew Ruth was so likeable, even from the scene I read in my audition. I knew she was my part.”
“Ruth was a CHILD in a lot of WAYS. Now, she’s becoming more of a WOMAN”
With the third season premiering this spring, Garner has been somewhat synonymous with her role – a foul-mouthed, whip-smart criminal – for nearly four years now. In fact, they’ve grown up together.
“In season one, Ruth was a child in a lot of ways. Now, she’s becoming more of a woman. But I think she’s at that age – and I can say this because I’m at that age myself – that’s really weird; you’re transitioning from a young adult to an actual adult. That’s the thing people don’t get: a 20-year-old isn’t really an adult. You’re like a child,” she laughs. “I can’t believe I’m 26 and I’m saying a 20-year-old is a child!”
Garner’s latest movie project, The Assistant, became one of the first products of the #MeToo era when it was screened during the 2019 festival season. Directed by Kitty Green, Garner plays Jane, an assistant to a male entertainment executive (presumed to be inspired by Harvey Weinstein) who is never shown on camera. Acted mainly through facial expressions and body language – dialogue is limited – the movie highlights the multifaceted forms manipulation and predatory behavior can take.
“All abuse is TERRIBLE. The thing that’s heartbreaking is when you’re ABUSED and you don’t even know it. It’s very MANIPULATIVE”
“All abuse is terrible,” considers Garner of the stark issues the movie raises on screen. “The thing that’s heartbreaking is when you’re abused and you don’t even know it. It’s very manipulative.”
Fortunately, the actor hasn’t experienced such behavior first-hand in the industry. “Of course you worry about it. You kind of always have one eye open, you know? But I never had that happen to me,” she says. “I know people it’s happened to, and I know people who worked in abusive work environments. And that’s the thing. Kitty always said this in the press junkets and I absolutely agree with her: if the problem with Harvey Weinstein had [just] been him then [it] would be gone. But the problem is so much bigger. It’s about abuse. Period.”
Garner’s range on screen is broad – she evokes sadness and discomfort just as easily as she makes you laugh. Still on her to-do list is a period piece, and she’d like to bring back the ’90s rom-com (When Harry Met Sally is her favorite movie). But it’s not just her work that’s eclectic – her approach to fashion is, too.
“I’ve always loved fashion. I’ve always loved clothes,” she shares, thinking of the few “fashion things” she’s done already. For spring/summer 2016, she was cast as the face of Miu Miu – “Miuccia Prada and Steven Meisel? It was a no-brainer” – and last year she fronted a Kate Spade campaign shot by Tim Walker.
She’s also been featured in the Pirelli calendar (she was photographed for the 2019 version alongside the likes of Misty Copeland and Gigi Hadid). And she walked the runway for Alexander Wang’s last Balenciaga show, an experience she found “very funny, but terrifying… I had to walk so fast because the model behind me was just walking normally and [that] was like me running!”
Still, Garner says, she’s never been someone who cares about what’s on trend. “I always wear what looks good on me, because I think the most important thing with fashion is confidence. You can wear something beautiful and if you don’t feel good in it, it’s not going to look great. But if you wear a paper bag and feel good in it, you’re going to look good!”
Her approach to style seems to mirror the attitude she takes to making career choices. “I think art is most interesting when it contradicts itself,” she says. “I try to do that with my acting, just like I try to do that with my fashion” – and that includes the wedding dress she wore for her recent winter nuptials.
“I think ART is most interesting when it CONTRADICTS itself. I try to do that with my ACTING…”
In December, Garner married Mark Foster, lead singer of indie-pop band Foster the People. For the occasion, she wore a short-sleeved, high-necked white lace gown by New York designer Danielle Frankel, wrapped up under a furry shawl.
The couple met at the Sundance Film Festival seven years ago, then became close friends and started dating in 2017. Foster had a ring made six months later, and proposed after ten. When they wed just before New Year’s Eve at New York’s PUBLIC Hotel, it was the perfect finale to Garner’s biggest year yet.
“I was a fiancée at the Emmys and I was a bride in December,” she says of her two standout moments from 2019. “An Emmy was actually much more surprising. I knew that I was going to marry Mark, I just didn’t know he was going to propose that day.”
“It’s funny; people are always like, ‘What’s the bigger deal? The Emmy or the husband?’ And I’m like, they’re both equally huge, but in very different ways.”
The Assistant will be released on digital platforms on May 1st