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Five Minutes with Rutina Wesley
Fans of “True Blood” were probably shocked by the recent season finale’s closing minutes when they watched Tara, played by Rutina Wesley (above), get shot in the head, causing an online rumor mill to surge as to the fate of her character. While they’ll have to wait until season five to find out, they can get their Wesley fix now by heading to the Lucille Lortel Theater in the West Village where the actress is starring in the MCC Theater production of Jeff Talbott’s play “The Submission” opposite Jonathan Groff, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Will Rogers. Wesley is Emilie, an actress, whom the playwright Danny (Groff) hires to pretend to be the author of his latest work, a racially charged piece he doesn’t feel he can own up to as a gay, white writer. Needless to say, things get messy—and heated.
Here Wesley chats with W about racial slurs, being duct-taped to a toilet and her future on “True Blood.”
You trained at Julliard and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Did you originally have a theater career in mind before “True Blood” came along?
I wanted to do it all. I think every actor’s dream is to be a working actor, whatever that means. For me, that doesn’t mean the fame and fortune of it all; it just means putting food on the table and telling good stories and working consistently. It’s tough because you can get caught up in the Hollywoodness and fame of it all. I don’t consider myself a celebrity. I’m like, Hey, I’m still Rutina Wesley, from Las Vegas, I’m happily married and I’m very happy to be working, thank you whoever is watching my movies. And I’m very lucky to be with Jeff Talbott and this incredible cast.
It is a pretty amazing ensemble.
And I love being the only girl, which is kind of a bonus.
Well, I get treated like a little princess. I get to be a little princess and then I get to be one of the boys in the locker room. It’s hilarious.
It is an intense play, though. There’s that one scene where Jonathan Groff’s Danny screams the N-word at you. What is it like to have to go through that every night?
I also say the F-word to Jonathan… I feel like that word always makes a hush come over the crowd. We have to really mean it when we say these things to each other and we have to not be afraid to go there and look each other in the eye and say it. And mean it. It’s tough, but I’ll tell you what makes it easy: I adore Jonathan Groff. And I think he adores me. And I say that because every night we give each other a big ol’ hug and we’re like “Love you.” We don’t enjoy saying this to each other seven times a week. At all. We love the play, but every time I’m like, Man, you were givin’ it to me tonight.
Jonathan Groff and Rutina Wesley in “The Submission”
There was also a scene in the third season of “True Blood” that got a lot of attention, you were duct-taped to a toilet and spoke afterwards about how vulnerable that made you feel. How does this compare to that?
They’re both hard in their own ways. I think they’re both degrading, but I think in a play like this, seven shows a week, it’s a lot harder. Because I’m doing it every day. Whereas that was just a day’s worth of shooting. We may do more than one take, but once it’s done, it’s done, it’s in the can. But I have to go through this every night.
“True Blood” does really challenge you to go to some pretty crazy places, though. Has there ever been anything where you’ve thought, “I draw the line here”?
I’m pretty game for anything as an actor and that’s because I trust them. The one thing I did get was the orgies and being duct taped to a toilet and the black eyes and all that and I was like, What’s going on? Okay. I trust you. This is “True Blood.” This is fantasy. So you gotta mix it up a bit. It reminds me a lot of theater because you get to play with these fun props and do these cool things, so it’s actually been a lot of fun.
You just got your brains blown out in the season finale a few weeks ago. Was that fun?
That was awesome! (laughs, ruefully) It was bittersweet. It was a very hard scene to shoot. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. But it was really cool, because I was like, This is awesome because I get to do all this stuff like blood and yay…and then it was like, What’s happening to my character? Am I alive or am I dead? So it’s a very scary place to be in, but it’s awesome.
Portrait: Thom Kaine. The Submission: Courtesy of MCC Theater