Ruby Barker ascended to global stardom after her performance in the wildly popular Netflix series Bridgerton.
The Shonda Rhimes directed period drama signalled a professional coming-of-age for the young actress who played Miss Marina Thompson. Barker’s career began as a child actress appearing in a number of TV commercials. She then went on to star in the CBBC show Wolfblood.
Now, Barker will soon be seen in the upcoming feature film How To Stop A Recurring Dream that has been met with praise from critics after its successful run on the festival circuit. Starring in her very first leading role as Yakira, Ruby’s moving performance earned her recognition in the form of the Best Actress award at December’s British Urban Film Festival.
We spoke to the rising star about adjusting to her newfound fame, the techniques she’s adopted to recover from emotionally taxing roles, and the importance of Black representation in period dramas.
Please introduce yourself…
I’m Ruby Barker, I’m an actress, artist, and writer. I’m twenty-four years old, born in London but grew up in Glasgow and York. Currently, I’m based in the North. I started acting professionally in 2016, my first major role was in the critically acclaimed York Minster Mystery Plays directed by RSC director Phillip Breen. After starting in the theatre, I joined the CBBC in the hit teen fantasy drama Wolfblood before shooting my first major lead role in the independent feature, How To Stop A Recurring Dream. Outside of acting, I’m an abstract painter and writer. I also enjoy indoor bouldering and playing the drums.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now?
Congratulations on your role as Marina Thompson in Bridgerton. The biggest talking point about the show was the diversity of the cast. Did you ever have ambitions of starting in a period piece or did you believe that this was outside of the realm of possibilities for a Black woman, given the nature of the stories being written?
It’s always been a dream to be in a period drama, it’s one of the many reasons I became an actress. But it definitely felt outside of the realm of possibility because of the colour of my skin. I think it’s stunning what Shondaland has done.
Before you filmed Bridgerton I’m assuming that you were able to travel around without being recognised, the popularity of the show will definitely mean that that is no longer the case. I’m sure that social media has given you a taste of how famous you’ve become but nothing compares to real life. How are you feeling about life after lockdown as a world-famous actress?
I look forward to life after lockdown, I hope to embrace it fully and not let it scare me. Nevertheless, it is intimidating and a bit weird to say the least, but I won’t let my anxieties get in the way of me enjoying this whole experience.
You were able to convey trauma and grief in such an authentic way in How To Stop A Recurring Dream. I’ve heard you speak on meditating to help you get into that mode. I imagine that a role like this stays with you when the cameras stop. What do you do to get out of that mode?
I’d find different ways to decompress but mostly I’d be focusing on what I had to do the next day on set, how was I going to play the next scene? I was just in work mode 24/7, I am when I’m on the job. I can get pretty obsessed with my characters and I enjoy the process.
How To Stop A Recurring Dream is your first lead role in a film and you were amazing. How different was the preparation for this role from your previous roles from your time in York and on CBBC’s Wolfblood?
Really different because I finally had a character with a major story arc that I had to portray. Which was amazing, really exciting, and had been everything I was hoping for in an acting opportunity. It’s a scary transition as well because I never went to drama school so I was just kind of following my instincts.
In the film, your character Yakima has a recurring dream about the passing of her mother. Do you experience recurring dreams too?
I have this recurring dream where I can’t speak, and my tongue’s all swollen, it freaks me out. Then this kind old lady pours this thick honey down my throat and I can talk again.
People see the successes that you have achieved now and many don’t know about your journey (hosting at the Royal Ascot, cocktail waitressing, etc). How did you manage to not become jaded and not get stuck doing something you weren’t passionate about?
I managed to not get stuck doing something I wasn’t passionate about because I was crazy enough to dream big in the first place and everyone I worked with was super supportive of my ambitions.
I’m from Sierra Leone and I was really taken aback (and proud) when you said in an interview that you would love to be in a film like Blood Diamond. What is it about that film and those types of roles that speak to you?
I watched Blood Diamond when I was about 15 years old and it shook me to my core. I not only fell in love with the acting, the power of film but I fell in love with a whole continent. It became my dream to go to Africa and help my people in some way, so I volunteered when I was 17 years old, with the sustainable development charity Raleigh International. I had the best experience of my life with Raleigh, and in Africa, I’ve never felt so at home. And this all came from watching a film that made me want to make a difference and feel like that’s possible in this world. I love that film.
I’ve heard you speak fondly of your time in York as part of the mystery plays and also how inspired you were by your director Becky Hope Palmer. What type of stories would you like to tell if you become a director?
If I became a director I would like to tell coming of age stories, it’s one of my favourite genres. When they’re good they’re great. I love Stand By Me. If I could direct one it would be The Catcher In the Rye by J.D Salinger.
Getting To Know You…
- A book you have to have in your collection? – A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Where Is The Love – The Black Eyed Peas
- A film / TV show that you will watch whenever it’s on repeatedly? – Girls by Lena Durham
- Something you saw on stage that left a lasting impact? – Ben Johnson’s The Alchemist at the RSC directed by Polly Findlay. It was amazing, I’ve never experienced an audience laughing so hard before in my life, it was phenomenal.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – Sad – Sarah Everard’s disappearance. Mad – Anti-vaxxers. Glad – Every day I have with my old cat Mr. Morse
How to Stop a Recurring Dream is available to watch on Amazon Prime
After Mum and Dad announce an imminent, split custody separation, Yakira, the oldest daughter in a broken family, kidnaps her estranged younger sister and takes to the road, in an attempt to reconnect before they part.