It’s a mellow morning in downtown Los Angeles, many of the fashion district shops are just opening and the busy masses have yet to bombard the city streets. Equally as quiet just 5 stories above, our photo shoot with dynamic actress Rutina Wesley is setting up while the significance of what was about to occur couldn’t feel more aloud. There we were, an unusually petite staff looking forward to setting eyes on our very first female cover here at 26 Magazine. If you’ve ever seen her channel and portray any role, you’d instantly understand why she HAD to be our first ‘Woman of the Year’.
Casually, our studio door peaked open and there she was, a brilliant beam of excitement and magnetism with a smile that both greeted and connected every person in the room. Rutina Wesley had arrived. Many remember her as the strong shero protagonist, Tara Thornton on HBO’s cult classic True Blood. These days audiences both new and familiar have been privy to witness Rutina display the dynamic, deeply sought expression as one Ms. Nova Bordelone on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Ava DuVernay produced, acclaimed drama ‘Queen Sugar’.
Both characters that have brought her to the Louisiana countryside beckoning a crown the size of any artist who digs as deeply as she does to ignite characters as only she can. Through our screens we can feel the poise, the study, the excellence exuding from an actor who gives her craft the work and respect it deserves. Today was the day and she was our first. Oh Rutina, Rutina we love you so!
On her beginnings:
At 26 we talk a lot about luxury being is a state of mind. It’s an awareness of abundance of consciousness – a birthright even. Now a year into our publishing journey, many interviews later we’ve found that with a lot of our 26 stars who have “made it” out of almost 8 billion people on the planet, there’s been a common thread in the way each and every star governs their thoughts. Naturally we’re curious about your thoughts Rutina, so we’d like to start the beginning. How did you get here to THIS life? Did you wake up one day and say I want to be an actress? Did you always know as a child? How did your journey start?
-Well you gotta be careful what you wish for! [lol] Little known fact, my first love was actually dance. My parents were dancers and so I grew up wanting to be a principle dancer at [Alvin] Ailey. And then, in Junior High, I started acting and went on to performing arts high school. There I danced and acted but knew when it was time to go to college I didn’t think I wanted to do both. It seemed hard to hone both acting and dance unless you’re doing strict musical theater, so that’s when I chose to focus primarily on the acting. I first attended Evansville University and from there went on to Julliard! Now Julliard was always a dream of mine. ‘Fame’ was the first musical I did in school and I remember being in rehearsals saying: “I am going to go to the Fame school someday”. I had completely forgotten about that –then cut to my first year of Julliard walking down 42nd street in New York talking to a friend from home and he says “Do you remember that you said you’re going to go there someday? Look at you, you’re living your dream”. -I had to stop for a minute.” I cried a little bit that day, really taking in “I’m here, I am here!” -So if you believe it, you think it, it is possible. I am living proof that it is possible! I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. But I had a lot of a drive, I loved being on stage, so I just sort of stayed in that mindset and set a very specific goal. It does take steps though, like you may not just end up famous over night and I think that’s a thing that people still don’t realize especially say in the music business. A lot of people think you make one big song and you’re set. In any industry honestly it’s about longevity! I’m looking at the Viola Davis’ the Angela Bassetts, the Meryl Streeps, the women I look up to, like how do I sustain my career? -And stay happy and healthy and all those things when Hollywood is this big sort of worldwind that’s often chaotic.
It’s different these days everything seems so instant. Literally ‘insta’ everything so it’s awesome that you understand that the work, the steps, they’re important, a lot of people miss that. One of the things we always try to talk to our readers about is that they can absolutely achieve any dream, but it’s awesome that you made that point. That you have to work towards it and often times there are specific steps you’re going to take when your big picture goal is longevity. But if you have an intention, all of the steps, whichever wacky way they may take you, WILL lead you to your goal eventually.
-Yes like for me at eighteen [going to Evansville first] if I’d gone to Julliard right out of high school I think New York would’ve ruined me. Like, I am kind of glad I got to New York later in life. By the time I got to that step, I was ready for it THEN. I guess I just I needed a little more time, maybe I was a “late bloomer”.
Well, it worked out perfectly. So, here’s another question to compound upon that previous answer; was fame the goal? Or was being an actress the goal?
-Right lol, that’s why I said you’ve gotta be careful what you wish for: I think I may have wanted the fame when I was younger. Now, it’s kind of like ‘are you sure about this?’ Lol. Only Because what happens is that your anonymity goes away. It’s just really tricky sometimes to sort of stay in your own lane, in your body and yourself when you’re constantly surrounded by images and people and things like that. –I can DEFINITELY say though that I always wanted to do good work and to just be a great storyteller. To be a vessel that characters can come through and be created, I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t had to be desperate for the next job and that I’ve had good jobs. Jobs with good stories, so I’ve been kind of spoiled. Sometimes you get a script that’s not so great and you’ve got to make it work. THAT’S where the training comes and sometimes when it’s not right, you got to be able to balance it out.
Can we backtrack and chat about ‘Tara’ for a minute? -This one is for all of our True Blood fans out there. What was it like the day that you got the final call that said: “Rutina, you’ve been casted as Tara”?
-Oh Tara, Yes. I was in LA actually, at a Starbucks on Venice in Culver City. I was pulling out of the parking lot when my manager/agent at the time, called and was like well – [this is going to be funny; considering I’ve since been divorced and am now engaged again] – but they were like: “You can go on your honeymoon now!” and I’m like “What are you talking about?!” At that time I had just gotten married and so now they were calling saying “you got the part, you can now afford your honeymoon!” lol. I was so excited I literally almost ran into somebody, so I just pulled back into my parking spot to absorb it all. After the call, I was kind of in waiting for like a week or so now wondering why they hadn’t called again [to confirm everything]. I guess my tape had to travel around you know, it’s a process. Again, people think you get a job at the snap of your fingers. Honestly there are so many people that look at your tape to decide whether or not you get a role. Obviously everything worked out, True Blood was a BIG blessing for me! Big thanks to Alan Ball who met me in New York and found my little self lol. Ironically, the pilot of True Blood was initially casted and filmed with a different actress and afterward they ended up recasting again for Tara. Funny thing was that I ’d actually auditioned for the pilot too so its crazy how it kind of came back around FOR me.
Wow, so, Tara was absolutely meant for you!
-You just never know. And I was glad that I’d let it go so that when it did come back to me, I wasn’t as nervous about it. It was very much like “Okay, well I’d already let that go, now that its come back, I can just go in to it calmly.
Well, you know the main mechanic of manifesting is all in the detachment!
That’s exactly what you did. You set an intention, you did the work and you let it go. The detachment is when manifestation shows up.
-That’s very true. Sometimes when I let things go, like after that audition things just easily come back!
On where she is now:
So, let’s fast forward now. I’ll preface this with saying that many tuned in to Queen Sugar because YOU were on it. Seriously! It was a new show and there were faces that we may or may have not seen but we KNEW your face and it really led us to deciding to watch this show. To that end, can we get PLEASE get into NOVA?!
-Oh Nova Bordelon.
Yes! Miss Bordelon!
-She’s a beautiful mess.
She’s a masterpiece, that one, I mean seriously.
-She kind of is!
As an actress, where do you go for her? We watch you in some of those scenes and well, first of all, we don’t even see Rutina which is a true testament to your talent. We only see Nova Bordelon, where do you go to find her?
-I listen to a lot of music sometimes to get into a headspace for a character that I’m playing. I do that for Nova a lot, but Nova also just fits me. She’s easy to attach myself to but challenging because she’s unpredictable. I can never guess where she’s going to go, who she’s going to be with. It’s a beautiful mess but I’m like that is life, that is humanity, that is [a part of] the fluidity of sexuality and how everything sort of intertwines in the world. I love that Ava [DuVernay] kind of puts it all out there for people to think about. -Like here watch this; this is also real life!
Yes and you all are sparking discussions and causing needed conversations.
-Yeah, it’s a reality, people are experiencing this, some people would sleep with their sister’s ex and some people wouldn’t [referring to her character’s current storyline]. We had that initial conversation and I was like: “This is not right, we can’t do this.” But it happens! Also, I love how love is love no matter what it is. I love how they never really make it intimate between the Remy and Nova characters. What we saw was just an energy and also the connection they both have with Ernest [Nova’s late father]. So, I thought it was kind of well taken care of how they navigated that even though some people just do NOT like Nova right now. Some people are ready for her to go sit down somewhere! Lol.
The thing about it to be honest, as a viewer, they gave us a perspective of the relationship between the characters that made some of us root for you guys, like we knew in theory “it was wrong” but...
-Right! I totally see that.
Like yes, That’s Nova’s sister’s ex! But Nova and Remy had this energy that made more sense than Remy and the sister character. But I digress. Lol.
-Yes, lol It’s so interesting embodying Nova. I remembered when I got my locks in and looked in the mirror and was like: “Oh wait, here we are. This is her.” I have fun playing her because like I said, she’s unpredictable so as an actor she keeps me on my toes!
It’s interesting that your pivotal roles so far keep taking you back to Louisiana.
-Yes, New Orleans has become my favorite city -the culture, the history, the people, the food and there’s an energy there that you can’t really put your finger on. It’s dark and its light.
That’s what we all are; duality.
And so maybe that’s why a lot of people are drawn to the city in that way.
-Yes. It just has a vibe. You can get lost and then the next thing you’re surrounded by some big magnolia tree on a plantation with sugar cane and you’re going: “Hmm.”
And you’re feeling all that energy!
-You can feel it! When we shoot out there, it’s not acting. There’s no acting. There’s no pretending.
You guys are in that energy. There’s energy there. There’s still that energy from the ancestors, all of that is still there.
-And there are historical places out there some with marked signs that say, “ticketed area”, where you can’t go beyond certain points to the old slave cabins and things without tickets, but honestly I usually find myself marched way past the signs lol. You know, if those things weren’t still there, we wouldn’t know and be able to see how far we have come and also how long we still have to go.
-So, I am happy to be a part of a show like Queen Sugar that’s set in a place that deliberately shows and sort of reminds us visually that “wait a minute, we’re not [completely] there yet.”
The way things are these days we’re getting huge reminders of how far is still left to go as a society. For a while it seemed like people stopped fighting for things. Everyone got pretty comfortable and removed from a history not so far gone.
-Comfortable or silent?
-Because I think some people find a freedom in not saying anything.
For sure, the younger generations had gotten comfortable.
Now that realities of injustice are front and center it’s like, oh wait you all are out here killing people just because of how they look, the energy is coming back to protect rights and stand up for equality.
-Right. Exactly. It’s so inspiring to witness millennials using their voices to affect change. Not only millennials, but witnessing the entire nation on some level, banding together, arm in arm, standing together, joining in the movement and fight for just justice and equal rights in this country.
What’s your dream role? Do you have a dream role?
-I did, but I think that I might be too old for it now but I’ll tell you… it’s Juliet [from Romeo and Juliet]. I kind of played her once, but I had to share her with 2 other girls. She’s always been my... ‘I’m a flower with hard edges on the outside’ character. The rose that grows through the concrete, you see my petals but they’re damaged character. So Juliet; definitely a dream of mine. I also want to do a romantic comedy like I’m really funny and silly which some people know. But most people like when they think of Rutina Wesley they think of roles that are dramatic, intense, focused, but I’m actually a craze ball, I love to be silly.
Well, we are big fans and big believers in creating the content you want to see. So let the people know that you’re funny, go create your own content put it out there in the universe.
:-) All right [Universe]. Can I get a romantic comedy, please?
Right! lol Come on Ava, come on Oprah. Let’s write it and make it happen!
On [not-so intentionally] coming out:
As you know, in this industry as a public figure little pieces of your real life will sometimes slip through. With that, some of the things that we’ve seen recently that you’ve tweeted and some special photos you’ve instagrammed [expressing love for your new fiancé] we just want to say thank you for that. Because your personal, public declarations are setting people free, you’re giving people courage, you’re giving people hope. Maybe that’s why the fame also comes with the talent; because there will be people along the way that will inadvertently need you, that will need the inspiration and will need to see themselves in you. Representation on numerous levels really does matter.
-It Does. And sometimes you get to the front and you’re not ready to be at the front. You don’t want to be there but sometimes you get there and you realize how important it is that you are there. Even as Nova [who we’ve seen in relationships with both men and women on the show] sometimes the young women I meet, who connect with Nova say things like “I never thought I’d see myself so honestly portrayed in a character on TV this way”. So I realize that I am somewhat reflecting women to themselves. They’re seeing themselves in all of our characters. I didn’t know there were that many Nova’s in the world. So, it’s beautiful to find that there are women who are like: “Yeah I like a little bit of everything.” -They’ve never portrayed us like that [with so much depth] before.
Do you think Nova was at all helpful/responsible/instrumental in your deciding to not so much come out, but live your life and love out loud?
-Absolutely. When I first read the pilot for Queen Sugar, Nova Bordelon is described on the very first page of the script.
“A bathroom bathed in the blue light of early morning.
Two entangled lovers. One sleeps. The other, NOVA BORDELON, 37, gazes out of the window into the dawn. She looks to the man beside her, watches him with affection for a moment. Then rises, and saunters across the modest room, gathering her clothes. The tattoos and piercings that adorn her body are on full display. As is her confidence. Even when no one is watching.”
The very tail end of that description stopped my breath when I read it. I paused and thought, sounds like me lol...cut to actually watching the pilot for the first time after filming, and I remember literally being in shock. I sat there for a moment after the credits rolled and I said to Ava, I’ve never seen myself look so beautiful.....I was in tears, I felt an overwhelming sense of finally being seen for who I am and all that I am. Honestly, it just took my inner spirit some time to catch up. And now, it has been so freeing being able to express myself in my fullest self. To always walk in my truth....I’ve found that there is always someone out there is this world who needs exactly what you’ve been through to encourage and propel them into a healing part of their own personal journey.
Was there anything else that inspired you to go public with your beautiful new relationship?
-Honestly, what inspired me to go public about my journey and my relationship, was thinking of my dear brother Nelsan Ellis....he always saw my fullest self. My light. My joy. My passion for the arts. He always saw my truth. With that I thought, it’s time to walk with my head and spirit held high. It is time to move, to encourage, and to have the faith that you already have everything you need in this life. Just live it....
Ah so. Rutina, thank you so much for being our first female cover. Thank you for sharing your energy, your talent, your light and your gift with the world. We appreciate you, we love you.
-Oh I love you back.
As told to: Corey S. Guevarra
Wardrobe: Michelle Wu
Makeup: Starlynn Burden
Hair: Tallulah Marcelin