Ruth has had a history asserting herself with men. She’s been struggling to keep her family — two uncles and two male cousins — together now that her father Cade Langmore (Trevor Long), the patriarch of the clan, is behind bars. As if to prove her toughness, she curses as if the words were punctuation, and sometimes has to get creative to make her point, such as when she tells one uncle to “shut your fuck-nugget mouth.”
“I yell a lot in the show, so if someone’s like, ‘You were yelling in the scene,’ I’m like, ‘Which one?’ I never want to change any of my lines, ever, because they’re so good,” said Garner. “But everyone on set makes jokes with me, even the script supervisor. He’s like, ‘Ruth always has the hardest lines because you have to say it in the accent, and you have to say it fast, and they’re the big tongue twisters.’ But you have to say the lines fast, otherwise, it’s not going to work as well.”
The other scene that Garner feels epitomizes Ruth is when she actually outsmarts her uncle Russ (Marc Menchaca) when the FBI makes him wear a wire to extract some sort of confession from her so that they can apprehend Marty. But she can tell what Russ is up to and doesn’t give him anything that can be used against her. Instead, she devises a plan to protect Marty.
“She figured it out quick and then she’s 10 steps ahead,” said Garner. “The other person doesn’t know what she’s thinking, but she knows what she’s going to do. When she knows something she always kind of smiles because she now has power. Ruth just wants power, really, that’s her downfall. She always has to have the upper hand in everything.”
When it comes to interacting with her father, however, she seems to lose all of her confidence. Even though he’s behind glass when she visits him, she becomes a quieter, more compliant woman. In these scenes, Garner played Ruth as if she had regressed.
“You really see Ruth becoming like a little girl, you really see her vulnerability, and you really see what causes her anxiety, and that’s her father,” she said. “She wants her dad’s approval so much, and I think, in a way, that’s why she likes Marty. I don’t think she’s aware of it because she has daddy issues for sure. She has no strong male figure, she has no strong female figure even. And she wants her dad to be a back so badly, but he always disappoints her, and she gets heartbroken by it.”
Marty the Mentor
When Marty blows into town with his family in tow, he seems like a tantalizing surrogate father for Ruth. As a financial investor, he gives off the buttoned-down air of an upstanding citizen, but due to dire circumstances, is now forced to wash $8 million in the Ozarks for a Mexican crime lord. This makes him particularly suited to see Ruth’s criminal potential. While her family bends the law quite frequently, she’s usually the one sees the bigger picture, and therefore the flaws in their thinking.
After Marty hires her as a dishwasher at the Blue Cat Bar, one of his Ozark investments, he’s also the one who gives her the task of robbing Bobby Dean. The combination of legitimate employer and crooked boss, the loving family man and desperate white-collar criminal, the perceptive father figure and business-like negotiator – he’s all that Ruth has ever wanted from her absent father.
“I kind of viewed Ruth’s relationship with Marty, I think she’s a little confused by it, to be honest,” said Garner. “She’s never met someone that acknowledged her or listened to her and didn’t dismiss her, except for Marty. He really acknowledges her in the way that she’s not used to, and she really, really cares what he thinks. I think she’s just confused about the whole relationship, and she really cares what he thinks in every level.”
Marty isn’t just offering her paternal approval though, but something better: a way to escape the contempt in her community who are familiar with the Langmore’s less savory ways.
“Ruth is trapped. I think she’s a dreamer in her own way, that a lot of people kind of dismiss, and she always wants something better, but she never seems to get there,” said Garner. “That frustrates her. She wants to move on but she doesn’t really know how because a lot of people dismiss her. And she’s always around men, she’s always around men that are dismissing her in a way, except for Marty. That’s why she loves Marty.”
While Garner wouldn’t reveal too much about what’s ahead for Ruth in Season 2 — check out IndieWire’s report on the FYC panel for minor spoilers — she did drop some hints.
“The character’s only going deeper and growing,” she said. “It’s much clearer why she is the way she is. And this season, she’s going through a lot of emotional, internal turmoil. She’s kind of collapsing and she’s just trying to regain herself, in a way.”
”Ozark” Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix. Season 2 is expected sometime this year.