For a lot of young actors, a major role in Bridgerton – Netflix’s most successful show of all time – would keep them busy for a bit. But not 24-year-old Ruby Barker. After 82 million households watched her play Marina in Shonda Rhimes’ diverse, sexually empowering period drama last year – the overnight star hasn’t paused for breath.
She’s about to lead her first feature film – Ed Morris’ taut family drama How To Stop A Recurring Dream – and is also developing her own movie about over-sexualisation in the film industry. Oh, and she’s mastering the drums to boot. Speaking from her home in Leeds, Barker talks to NME about her monster year.
What drew you to your character Yakira in How To Stop A Recurring Dream?
“I liked her rebellious streak. She does this really terrible thing to connect with her sister, which I could sort of see myself doing. It sounds extreme, but in a parallel universe it could happen.”
How was shooting your first movie?
“It was intimidating because it was my first big job as a leading character. It was crazy because we had a small amount of time to film, but it was also nice because we had a really tight knit cast and crew. It definitely boosted my confidence as an artist.”
Do you feel more confident after Bridgerton?
“I feel like a different actor. I still have insecurities, but the nature of those insecurities have changed. Now I’m worrying about living up to what I’ve managed to build.”
Where were you when you found out you’d been cast?
“I was actually about to go into an audition for a small role in Sex Education. When I got the phone call I didn’t care about the audition anymore; I was over the moon and so in shock.”
How did you celebrate?
“I went to Goldie’s Metalheadz 25th anniversary at [London venue] Printworks. Fabio & Grooverider were there, it was the best rave that I have ever been to.”
What’s your relationship with music like?
“I got my first drum kit last year; I’ve wanted to play since I was five but my parents wouldn’t let me. I wonder why? Then when I landed Bridgerton I thought, ‘Do you know what? I’m going to get that drum kit I’ve always been pining for’. The ultimate goal is to play a wicked drum solo like Benny Greb.
Did you have any idea how popular Bridgerton would become?
“Um, no! I thought that this would be the kind of thing that I’d watch, but I didn’t realise that it was going to be popular across every demographic. Most subscribers have watched it, which hasn’t quite sunk in.”
The show broke ground for its colourblind casting, how do you feel as a part of this diverse ensemble?
“It’s been incredible. I’m speaking for myself, but I don’t think a lot of the actors of colour were ever expecting to be in a period drama, and certainly not in roles like the ones given to us. I wasn’t expecting to be given Miss Marina Thompson, with all these things to say about the world and who she is. Shonda really gave me a voice.”
What have the fans been like?
“I’ve seriously connected with Brazil. None of us had any idea that Julia Quinn’s books [which Bridgerton is adapted from] had such a following in South America, so when the show got announced all of our Instagrams were popping with messages from people in Brazil. It’s nice to see how many people I’ve connected with through a performance.”
It’s made big strides in terms of showing female desire on screen. Why do you think it’s taken so long for something like this to be shown?
“It’s harsh, but because people are stupid. Like, why has it taken this long for a diverse cast to be able to show what they can do? Why has it taken so long for TV to portray women enjoying sex? It’s because of racism and it’s because of sexism. People are starting to see the light, and things are slowly changing. That’s why it’s important that we have producers like Shonda Rhimes at the top changing things.”
What can you say about Marina’s journey in season two?
“Not a lot, but in a dream world, I would hope that Marina finds love.”
You’re making a film yourself, what’s it about?
“It’s about a young actress in an overly sexualised industry who descends into psychosis. It’s based on true events very close to my heart. I wanted to pick up the pen because a lot of things have happened to me in my life and I want to do something about it. I want to share them with people and challenge people.”
Intimacy co-ordinators are being used more and more on set – are things improving?
“They are, but one thing that I think we need to consider is that when we hear #MeToo stories, they’re always from actors that are established. They have all the publicity around them and they feel protected. We’re not hearing from the actors who aren’t big names, which is an issue. I’m hoping that my film will give a voice to people like that.”
‘How To Stop A Recurring Dream’ is on digital streaming platforms now