Ruby Rose spent much of her childhood traveling Australia with her mother, an aspiring artist, trying to make ends meet. They were poor, but unstoppable, says Rose. Her mother had sold her television, so she did not dream of becoming the Hollywood action star that she is now, nor the model, host, DJ, VJ, and activist that she has been throughout the years. When Rose was a child, she just wanted to write.
“I wanted to write a book for children my age. I just wanted to have a way to communicate and talk to children like me, who had no one, “he says in Zoom. “I was just a kid who had no friends, who was super unpopular, was bullied and beaten at school, and I was like, ‘I’m going to be a famous writer.’
The book has yet to appear, but Rose has undoubtedly helped children who identify, like her, as gay or gender-fluid. Since the launch in 2014 of his exciting project, Break free, a personal short film exploring gender roles, Rose has helped spark conversations about gender-fluid and non-binary identities. Her role in Orange Is the New Black brought her distinctive androgyny to the fore, challenging more traditional understandings of sexuality; her casting as Batwoman made her the first gay superhero character in a television series. Even now, starring in action movies like the recently released SAS: Red Notice, her mainstream presence as a gender-fluid lesbian feels subversive and important.
But that visibility cost her dearly as a child.
Rose was born in Melbourne in 1986, the only child of Katia Langenheim, a 20-year-old single mother. Langenheim was an artist, studying for his master’s degree, often with Rose sitting on his lap. The two left Rose’s father when she was two years old and, after a period of sharing a room (with her cat) at her maternal grandparents’ house in Melbourne, they were offered a reduced-price church house in a nearby parish (“a very nice house, considering we were poor”).
Many of Rose’s earliest memories are of struggling with her gender identity. “I loved being with all the boys and I saw myself as one of them,” he says. When the sports classes were divided by gender, he couldn’t understand why he had to play with the girls. At home, he would experiment with making his physical appearance more masculine, combing his hair back like Superman and flexing in the mirror. She also bandaged her breasts.
“For a long time, I thought there was something a little wrong with me, or that I was not the genre I should be,” he says. “It took me years, but I finally got to a place where I went: ‘Okay, I think I’m very androgynous and very in tune with masculine energy.’
Rose came out as a lesbian at age 12, with a fully supportive mother. “She knew it anyway,” he says.
His classmates were less understanding. She was a lesbian, sometimes shaved her head and came from a poor family with a single mother, in addition to having started modeling. All of this made her a target.
“It was horrible,” says Rose. She was verbally and physically abused, socially excluded. “We hate Ruby” was written on the bathroom walls. When she was an introverted teenager, she would hide in the library, waiting for classes to end. At the pool, other girls accused her of looking at them in the locker room, so she stopped going. “It was little intimidating moments like that that made me feel like I couldn’t be myself.”
Some of the teachers tried to protect Rose. Her German teacher sent her to Germany for a few months on an exchange program, usually reserved for the top four students. (“I wasn’t in the top four!”)
But one bullying incident was so serious that it finally convinced Rose’s mother to let her move out of school. “I was hospitalized and then I was out of school for about five days,” says Rose. “About four girls and a boy beat me in front of about 50 people. They hit me over the head with metal chairs in a cafe and threw things at me. They beat me. I ended up with lacerations, big bruises, concussion and also … how much that horrifies your soul, your spirit. I had been harassed a lot, but not to the point where I was worried about my life. “
Rose wanted to press charges, aggravated battery and serious bodily injury, but was warned not to do so. Her mother did not have the means for a protracted legal battle and was also concerned about the sustained impact on her daughter’s mental health (Rose has struggled with mental health issues her entire life, including suicide attempts when she was 12 years old). He still receives messages from people who witnessed the attack. Some apologize for not intervening. One described the nightmares they still have about it.
In 2003, Rose was placed second in a modeling competition for a Australian Teen Magazine. She was a reluctant model; when I was little, her mother would put her in a high ponytail and take her to casting auditions. “I never wanted to be a model. Never, never, never, ”he laughs.
For his first concert, an advertisement for artificial grass, he was paid around $ 1,000. “I hated it. But it made money. We needed it, we had that money.”
What he hated the most was that his appearance was constantly criticized. He brought out his rebellious streak. If they criticized his tattoos, he would want more. If they commented on his shaved head, he dyed it pink. “I was not against modeling, I was against being told that I had to look a certain way, and that my appearance was not good enough. If anything, it made me bolder, stronger. I had a little problem with authority. “
However, Rose’s first tattoo was not the usual act of teenage rebellion, but part of a deal with her mother. When Rose returned from Germany with a tongue piercing, her mother, concerned that they had no money for dental treatment, offered to give her a tattoo if she removed it.
“She let me do that, because she wanted me to own my body,” says Rose. The tattoo was a Celtic rose design, a “tramp stamp on the lower back” that she now seems embarrassed about. “He said that he felt like all the harassment and attacks were giving me a lack of limits. What is mine How can I regain ownership of myself? It was a good idea and very sweet. It made me feel stronger and tougher. “
After school, Rose attended an acting course at Victorian College of the Arts, which his family helped pay for. She worked various jobs (including bar work and modeling) while studying and auditioning. And it was while working as a manager in a call center that he received life-changing news.
“I was on the phone with a guy who was complaining, telling me that he was never going to get anywhere because he wouldn’t give him a credit on his account.” His other phone rang. It was MTV about her auditioning to be a VJ and presenter (part of the audition involved having 100 shots of beer in 100 minutes). “I answer and they say, ‘Hey, you’re moving to Sydney!’ She accepted immediately, went out and left her angry interlocutor on hold.
Rose started on MTV in 2007 and quickly established herself as a household name in Australia, hosting shows like Australia’s Next Top Model. She wanted to act, but had become too prominent as a television host in her home country to be taken seriously.
After moving to the United States, he struggled for two years to get an agent or manager, let alone a position. “They all just wanted me to do reality shows. They said, ‘We still don’t have a reality show with a gay woman. It would be huge. ‘
With four months remaining on her US visa, Rose produced and launched Break free, a personal short film in which he transforms from a feminine to a masculine appearance. In two weeks it was viewed more than 5 million times. Today it has been viewed more than 54 million times. Is it the project you are most proud of? “I would say yes,” he says. “I was very proud of it at the time, and proud of the people who would come up to me on the street and write to me about what it meant to them. Now that we have spent almost seven years, I am very proud of it. Because not only did it open so many doors, it also started so many conversations. “
However, while these conversations have brought greater acceptance and understanding of transgender, non-binary, and gender-fluid identities, hostility has also increased over the years.
“I think people are afraid of things they don’t understand,” says Rose. “That is just part of human nature. Unless that person is in a position where it really affects the way people live, then I don’t have the bandwidth to devote my energy to worrying that this person doesn’t understand. I don’t even have a problem with them having a problem. I’m still confused as to why they are so completely wrapped up in this phobia, fear, anger, rage, whatever, and why they get so excited about it. “
The success of Break Free led to Rose playing the seductive recluse Stella Carlin in Orange Is the New Black, and she has since become a modern action star, with roles in the John Wick, xXx and Resident Evil franchises. Most recently she starred in SAS: Red Notice as the film’s villain, a psychopathic mercenary. In 2018, Rose made headlines when she was cast as Batwoman. In May of last year, after a series, Rose announced that she would be leaving the show.
When filming stopped in Hollywood last year, Rose found herself wrestling with some of life’s big questions: “Do I have to think about what else I want to do in life?” Maybe one day he will fulfill his childhood dream and write a book for children struggling with their identity. What advice would you give them now? “The path that you are supposed to be on is going to be the path that was designed for you: whoever you are, in your essence, and whoever you feel you are one day to the Next. You are allowed to change and you are allowed to be fluid. You are allowed to be insecure and you are allowed to have all those feelings. It’s really nobody else’s business. No one else can tell you what or who you are. All the answers you are looking for are within you. “
SAS: Red Notice is now available on Sky Cinema.
In the UK, charity Mind is available at 0300 123 3393 and ChildLine is at 0800 1111. In the US, Mental Health America is available at 800-273-8255. In Australia, support is available at Beyond the blue at 1300 22 4636, Life line on 13 11 14 and on MensLine at 1300789978.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism