As a first-year at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts, Ruby Rose was faced with a tough choice: continue studying acting or accept a gig as one of Australia’s MTV VJs. She chose the latter, but the 29-year-old says she “always had acting in the back of my mind.”
And now, Rose will realize that passion for performance as she makes her Stateside debut on the third season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, premiering Friday. “Stella is sort of an androgynous, cool, charismatic, and charming girl who I think also is pretty gender-fluid,” Rose says of her inmate counterpart, who will be a love interest for Piper (Taylor Schilling) or Alex (Laura Prepon) this season. “She definitely causes some waves.”
For Rose, the role was unexpected. She figured she’d book a web series upon arriving in the states, and steadily work her way up from there. Instead, the tattooed multi-talent will be able to count a streaming megahit among her first acting credits. “I didn’t think I would come here and end up,” Rose says, and pauses. “My first big job is maybe, arguably, one of the biggest television shows around at the moment with some of the best actors of our time.”
In retrospect, Rose believes her 2014 short film Break Free, which she wrote, produced, and starred in, helped get her in front of casting agents—and, effectively, to where she is now—since it garnered a lot of social media attention. But more than building her career, the five-minute video about gender identity, which sees Rose transition from female to male onscreen, is a deeply personal project that she’d been wanting to make for roughly 10 years.
“It was autobiographical so it was really based on my experience of gender growing up and how and why I dress and appear the way that I appear,” Rose says. “One thing I noticed when I moved to America, people don’t really know about me, so a lot of them question why I look like a boy or dress like a boy or why I didn’t have longer hair or what’s with the tattoos. There’s a lot of people with a lot to say about it so I really wanted to put this film out that described it in a short but concise way.”
While Rose is comfortable and confident about who she is, acting—especially on a show as big as OITNB—proved intimidating. “Acting is the one thing that scares me s—less,” she says, but that won’t hold her back. “I could live my whole life being so comfortable doing things I’ve already worked hard to not be nervous at or I could continue to push the envelope and make myself uncomfortable and learn and see what I’m capable of and acting is definitely that.”
What’s more, if her flirtatious, confident wink in the season 3 trailer (see 1:05, below) is any indication, “scared” is the last adjective that’ll come to viewers’ minds.
Orange is the New Black returns for its third season Friday, June 12 on Netflix.