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The Surprising Reason Ozark's Julia Garner Became An Actress

For many people, Netflix's original crime drama Ozark was their first introduction to actress Julia Garner, who plays feisty teen criminal Ruth Langmore. Garner's Emmy-winning performance is extraordinary, so much so that the actress often has to clarify that, in real life, she's nothing like her character. She explained to W Magazine, "I'm from Manhattan. I'm some Jewish girl from the Upper West Side ... I'm so different from Ruth."

Those who have followed Garner's career know that the young actress already has an impressive résumé of roles that could not be more different from Garner, herself. For many, taking on parts that are so outside their wheelhouse might be a daunting prospect but, for Garner, the chance to slip into an entirely different character has major perks. Her chameleon-like talent is not only one of her greatest gifts as a performer, but also directly related to the unexpected reason that she turned to acting in the first place.

Julia Garner got into acting to get over her extreme shyness

While some people get into acting to chase fame and accolades, Garner was drawn to the craft for a very different reason. In an interview with BuildSeries, she explained exactly why: "I started in this business because I was very shy, so I started taking acting classes to overcome my shyness."

On paper, performing in front of others might seem like the polar opposite of a good career choice for someone who suffers from extreme shyness. As Garner explained to The Cut, however, it actually made perfect sense. "That's why I liked acting...Because I could say other people's words."

As Garner explained in her BuildSeries interview, her acting classes led her to appear in a number of short films made by students at Columbia University's film school. From there, she met a casting agent who helped her get an audition for what would become her film debut. Garner's first feature film not only instantly put the shy teenager in the spotlight, but it also set the tone for the roles she would land throughout the rest of her career.

Julia Garner's first film role put her on the map

For her first non-student film role, Garner was cast in indie movie Martha Marcy May Marlene, which was also the debut of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's younger sister, Elizabeth Olsen. The film is a nervy thriller about a young woman named Martha (Olsen) who escapes a cult in upstate New York. Garner, who was just 16 at the time, played a young recruit to the cult.

The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was a massive hit, garnering rave reviews. When Garner left high school to attend the festival, her friends assumed she was lying. During an interview with Seth Meyers, the actress said, "In high school, everybody thought that I was, like, a pathological liar." It wasn't until they saw their shy classmate in the film's trailer that they realized she was telling the truth.

In later interviews, Garner spoke highly of her experiences filming Martha Marcy May Marlene. She revealed to Interview Magazine that, despite her bashfulness and inexperience, she felt at ease on set. "From the actors to the PAs, it seemed like most of the people were just starting; it was a lot of people's first big thing, really," she said. "It was really special. For me, I learned how to be on a movie set ... Basically, everything that I learned, it's from that movie."

The experience would prove to be useful, because Martha Marcy May Marlene was the last time Garner would be considered an up-and-comer.

Even before Ozark, Julia Garner was stepping outside her comfort zone

Following her feature film debut, Garner would go on to star in more indie films about young women on the fringes of society. In 2012, she played a teenager from a fundamentalist Mormon community who believes she became pregnant by listening to a cassette tape of rock music in the movie Eletrick Children. 2015 saw her star alongside comedy legend Lily Tomlin in Grandma, a dramedy in which she played another young woman dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.

TV roles followed, as well. On The Americans, she had a recurring part as the daughter of a CIA agent. A few years later, she took on another role as a cult member on Paramount Network's dramatization of David Koresh's deadly confrontation with ATF agents, Waco. By the time she landed the role of Ruth on Netflix's Ozark, she already had a long history of playing roles that took her far out of the comfort zone of her Manhattan upbringing. It's safe to say that Garner's trick to overcome her shyness worked like a charm.