Julia Garner Went Through An Intense Process To Understand Her Ozark Character

Julia Garner won two consecutive Emmy Awards for her performance as Ruth Langmore in Netflix's "Ozark." With a spitfire Missouri accent that permanently bonded itself to the character by accident during her audition, Ruth is a role Garner fully inhabits, so much so that it might surprise some viewers to learn the actress grew up in the Bronx.

To get into Ruth's headspace, Garner did more than just adopt an accent. According to Rolling Stone magazine, she also wrote a diary from Ruth's perspective, as she had done with her Mormon teen character when she had her first lead role in the 2012 independent film, "Electrick Children."

For Garner, an important part of unpacking her characters' psychology is getting to the root of their formative childhood experiences. She consults psychology books her own mother had given her and comes to imagine the characters as real people she had met. In the context of "Ozark," a crucial bit of backstory is Ruth's mom died when she was little, leaving her in the care of her uncles and male cousins after her father went to prison. Garner told the magazine:

"I feel like, when a child goes through something, the first heartbreak, they lose their innocence, and they're stuck at that age. To me, trauma is trauma. With Ruth, her main thing is she doesn't have women. She only knows how to be with men. But she's not with men who respect women, or they're not good men."

Marty Byrde as father figure

Knowing this part of Ruth's psychology — that she grew up surrounded by misogynistic men — makes her relationship with Marty Byrde, played by Jason Bateman on "Ozark," more understandable. Marty recognizes how capable Ruth is and eventually makes her the manager of the casino he's using as a front for money laundering. Throughout the series, they are sometimes at cross-purposes, which leaves Marty manipulating Ruth and her need for approval, treating her as a surrogate daughter, but only when it suits his agenda.

In his real family, Marty takes a backseat to wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and her dominant personality as the series goes on, but just because he's willing to step aside and let a woman take the lead doesn't mean his relationship with Ruth is any healthier. Garner herself acknowledged:

"Ruth doesn't know what a normal and healthy relationship is. She doesn't know what unconditional love is."

The ultimate tragedy of Ruth Langmore is that as tough as she is, there's still a part of her that is just the young girl who was left to fend for herself among men after her mother died. Getting involved with the Byrdes winds up testing the limits of even her capabilities. Yet the fact that we're able to speak of Ruth this way — as if she were a real person and not a fictional TV character — is a testament to Garner's acting, which was so committed it saw her writing that diary in character behind the scenes, even as the "Ozark" writers' room remained hard at work penning her tortured character for four seasons on Netflix.