Right now, Ruby Rose is one of the most prominent action heroes in the world. Following her breakout role in Orange is the New Black, the Aussie has cemented her status as one of cinema’s most badass combatants as a zombie slayer in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, a sharpshooter in XXX: Return of Xander Cage and a mute assassin in John Wick: Chapter 2. Of course, Rose also starred as the titular hero in The CW’s Batwoman, which she left after one season. Although the star has garnered a reputation for her on-screen ass-kicking, her character in SAS: Red Notice is a whole new ball game. ‘Despicable’ is a harsh word, but it fits.
Based on the novel from the same name by Andy McNab, the Sky Cinema blockbuster stars Outlander fan-favourite Sam Heughan as Tom Buckingham, an ex-Special Forces soldier who comes face-to-face with a team of mercenaries – led by Rose’s character Grace Lewis – who intend to blow up the Channel Tunnel. Although it would’ve been easy for Grace to be a one-note villain, due to her aforementioned love for explosives and destruction, she’s just as multi-faceted as Heughan’s protagonist, maybe even more so.
“The challenge was making her likeable and understandable, or even if you don’t understand her, fascinated behind what’s going on,” Rose tells GAY TIMES ahead of her virtual, at-home red carpet event. “I loved that you have Sam and myself as a good guy and a bad guy. But really, who’s to say which is which? Both people believe that they are doing the right thing for the right reasons.”
Read ahead for our full chat with Rose, where she discusses her ‘psychopathic’ SAS: Red Notice character, whether Hollywood has made strides when it comes to female representation in the action genre, her love for Angelina Jolie and if she’ll ever follow-up her Batwoman role as another groundbreaking superhero.
Ruby Rose! How are you?
I’m good! How are you?
I’m great, thank you. It’s nice to meet you, virtually! This is the world now, right?
This is the world now! We’re basically best friends.
The only way we communicate now is through a screen.
Yeah, it’s true. In fact, I’m doing a red carpet later, as you can imagine, in a pandemic. So, it looks a bit different. I have a giant poster of myself in my living room, and they’ve given me a square of red carpet. It’s so funny, it’s like they’ve gone to Home Depot and purchased a one metre by one metre AstroTurf red carpet. Setting this up in my living room and pretending to be on a red carpet, with my dogs running around… It’s just hilarious.
Oh my god, that sounds brill. Have you got anyone else there with you?
I can’t have anyone else see this in my life! No way. It’s so weird. I have my assistant coming over later to take a few pictures in front of the photo wall, because I have to, right? I wouldn’t have anyone else around to witness what is going to be the saddest, smallest red carpet.
So your assistant will fill the paparazzi role then?
Yeah! He’s a great photographer. He knows my angles. I don’t, so I’m grateful.
I loved this film. Watching SAS, I felt like I was going to have heart palpitations because it was so suspenseful.
Good. Not about the heart palpitations, just that you enjoyed it!
What drew you to the film?
At the beginning, the way I read the logline, I wasn’t thrilled. I wasn’t like, ‘I can’t wait to read this,’ because it sounded like an action film where I take over the Channel Tunnel and then a train… I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll give this a read.’ It came with a book called The Good Psychopath. I was like, ‘That’s a weird reference for an action film… but okay!’ I realised and put it all together with Andy McNab having written this book and many other books, including The Good Psychopath, explaining what psychopathy is; being on the spectrum and how there are many functioning psychopaths like brain surgeons and people in the military. The military is a great place for them to be because they’re not going to come back with PTSD and can do their job, but also switch that off and be regular. Then, there’s lawyers. There’s a bunch of people that just live. I thought it was going to be a unique challenge because she’s a psychopath, she doesn’t have emotions or feelings, and a lack of understanding about what’s right and wrong, but not to an extreme where you go to the Jeffrey Dahmer’s and the Ted Bundy’s, where it’s a completely different type. I thought, ‘Interesting how I’m going to have this portray this character with all this complexity, but without really showing emotion,’ which isn’t what you want to do when people are like, ‘You always play action stars! Where’s the emotion?’ It’s like, ‘Now I’m playing a psychopath, this will be fun! I’ll really show my range!’ But, the challenge was making her likeable and understandable, or even if you don’t understand her, fascinated behind what’s going on. I loved that you have Sam and myself as a good guy and a bad guy. But really, who’s to say which is which? Both people believe that they are doing the right thing for the right reasons. So, I loved that it’s more complex than what I thought was gonna be another action film. It’s a really interesting story, also with Sam’s character and my character not understanding why he wouldn’t wanna be with another person that’s like him and understands him. There’s a huge character arc with me and my father, the enemies, Sam, and the growth and relationship with my brother. It’s really interesting having to pinpoint what each of these people mean to me when they can’t mean what they usually mean.
Reading the synopsis or watching the trailer, you would expect Grace to be a one-note villain, but she’s not. She’s a war criminal, but somehow – at times – likeable, because we come to understand her relationship with her father and her brother, and there’s obviously that moment on the train with the child. Do you think it’s important to depict villains as multi-faceted and not just a typical baddie?
I think any great villain that we watch on our screens, and I’m not talking about real life villains like when you’re watching Ted Bundy documentaries, is a complex person. If you look at Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, or Heath Ledger, there are many levels to different kinds of villains and villains in all different films. I think in this one, in particular, you’d be amiss to not include the fact that they’re both the same in so many ways. She made a decision earlier on in the film, as part of her job, to make certain calls. She makes a call, people die. Then, with the similar situation on the train, she never made a decision that she’s going to kill children, or this or that, so when a kid accidentally gets injured… Because she’s not on this end of the spectrum where she doesn’t know right from wrong, and she doesn’t know how to control her urges, she just knows. ‘That kid shouldn’t be shot, that’s annoying.’ It was a different line and I ended up changing it to, ‘Can you fix it?’ There’s no passion or care towards it, but she just isn’t that kind of villain. It’s almost annoying for her, like, ‘Ugh! Now I have to fix this…’
Red Notice smashes stereotypes because it still feels rare to see a layered female villain, let alone leading a team of male mercenaries. Would you say Hollywood has improved in how female roles are approached within action films?
Yeah, I do absolutely. I think that there was a time where you could count the amount of women that did action films on one hand, and now that’s grown exponentially. Whether it’s a villain, hero, anti-hero, whatever that is, they’re realising more and more that everyone – well, not currently! – wants to go to the movies. Wherever that is, they want to watch films and television, whether you’re a woman, man, gender non-binary, Black, white, Hispanic, everything. I think we’re doing diversity across the board a lot better, but obviously we have so much further to go because we’re still asking that question. Once we don’t have to ask that, we’ve probably solved that conundrum. For now, people are doing their best and that’s why whenever there’s an action film, or any film, where a female is playing a role that is a new thing that the studio is trying, I’ll make sure I see it and buy it so we can support all those roles.
You’ve famously done 99.9% of your stunt work on previous films. On a lot of those films, the stunts are quite intense, for example John Wick 2 and The Doorman. Does anything surprise you anymore when you’re on the set of an action film?
That’s a good question! No, I guess not. I did learn a very cool move on SAS where I got to jump down on Sam, grab his ankles, roll through the ankles, come up and stab him in the leg. I watched the stunt person do it and went, ‘How on Earth?’ It was in the snow, we were freezing and I’ve got guns and all these things on me. I thought, ‘I can’t do that,’ but I insisted. I refused to have that one stunt I couldn’t do! I eventually figured out that Sam’s calves are too big. He’s too strong! But, nothing surprises me. That was a snowstorm we weren’t expecting, and even that didn’t surprise me.
Who are your favourite female action heroes, past and present?
Ooh. Angelina Jolie was one of the first for me, where I watched and went, ‘Could I do something like this? This is so cool.’ She was also very verbal about doing her own stunts. There was a whole big deal back then, where the studios hated that because they have to get extra insurance. I was watching Tomb Raider, which I watched again semi-recently, and went, ‘I really thought this was a great film!’ I could watch it all day long, I love her, it was life-changing for me. But, I think she has four lines of dialogue in the whole thing! She kicks ass, and I think that was one of the first people where I went, ‘I wanna be able to do that.’ Also, Charlize Theron. She’s always been a big part of it, but I love that she’s continuing to do it and people are giving her those roles, and she’s nailing them. Milla Jojovich was also one of the first people ever to be the female lead in an action franchise with Resident Evil, and I got to work with her, so that’s amazing. There’s a few of them out there.
Charlize recently said she’d like to do a female remake of Die Hard. If you had to give a queer female spin on an iconic, male-led action franchise, what would it be?
People have tried to do it with John Wick, and if I get one more script that says, ‘This is a female John Wick,’ I will stab myself with a pencil like he does because there isn’t a female John Wick. There’s John Wick, and you can make someone else who is just as amazing with a great story. Whenever I see, ‘It’s a female version of,’ I lose interest. No one says John Wick is a version of Mission Impossible but with a dog, you know? If I had to choose an action franchise, the Bourne Supremacy would be interesting, if you gender flipped that. I just want new and original material.
There’s been talks over the years for a female-led Expendables too. Is this something you’d want to be part of?
That would be so much fun! The thing is, it has to be done well. It has to have a lot of thought put into it. I think there’s so many possibilities of female action heroes and villains, teams, and all those things. I just think we need to give them the same amount of time and prep and thought as we do for a male franchise.
In recent years, there’s been commitments from several studios to deliver more authentic representation when it comes to female superheroes and LGBTQ+ stories. Would you ever consider doing another superhero role if the character was right?
Of course! Everyone wants to play a superhero, and I had a fantastic time playing one. You feel invincible. You get to live out this dream of saving people and making a difference in the world. In a way, you are by playing the character on the screen for people at home, especially if you’re a female playing a superhero. It’s something for kids to watch and feel strong and empowered by. I would play a superhero again, or I’d play a villain. I’m still yet to play a villain villain, and I feel like that would be fun.
Well, you’ve definitely proven with this film that you can be absolutely despicable.
Aww, thank you!
SAS: Red Notice is now available to stream in the UK on Sky Cinema.