As the Gotham City crime fighter Kate Kane in “Batwomam,” Ruby Rose’s character is one for the history books, as the first lesbian superhero in a leading television role. It’s been a fast-moving ride to the top for the young Australian actress/model, who caught everyone’s eye back in 2014 when she created “Break Free,” a short film on gender fluidity.
The YouTube video has been viewed more than 51 million times. Rose had no idea the impact it would make on her career.
“I honestly thought that I would do that film, that it would feel good, that it would be special to me and to maybe a couple of fans that I have accumulated over 10 years in Australia,” she told the Blade at the Television Critics Press Tour.
“And that was sort of it. I just needed to get it out and maybe one person will watch it, 10 people and when it got to the point where it was 30 million, 40 million, 50 million I had no idea what even to do with that. And then obviously, that led to ‘Orange is The New Black’ and even then, I didn’t think that was going to be as much of a big deal and as well received as it was,” she said.
“Since then, I’ve just been like, ‘OK cool, so what’s next?’ This is a wild ride. But yeah, that’s like one of the things I’m most proud of.”
Looking back, Rose, 33, understands the cultural relevance the film has had.
“I could have made that video 10 years earlier, five years earlier, a year earlier and maybe it wouldn’t have had the same impact. It was like at that precipice point where without knowing; just timing, serendipitous, Laverne (Cox) was on ‘Orange’ that was about it. I don’t think ‘Transparent’ was even out. You know, like Caitlyn Jenner, all these conversations hadn’t been had yet. They were kind of Laverne and ‘Orange’ was what was sort of starting it. And then I put that video out and then other things were happening. Other people were becoming big parts of that conversation and suddenly it just catapulted into something much bigger than myself and much bigger than what I could have imagined. If I knew it was going to become that big, I would have done some more editing.”
Rose, a lesbian who has spoken of taunts for being gender nonconforming in her youth, is grateful the film touched many.
“I’ve had people even now talk about how that is what led them to either transition or take the step, come out to their family. There was a 42-year-old female to male that literally was wanting to transition their entire life. I read a newspaper article which said that video made them say, ‘That’s it, I’m doing it.’”
Rose has been hard at work, creating a strong connection with her character, whom she perceives as vastly different from her. The character was introduced in DC Comics in 2006 as Kate Kane, who began operating as a similarly caped and cowled Gotham City-based vigilante. She’s a cousin to Bruce Wayne (though she works largely independently of Batman) and although not the first LGBT character in the Batman universe, she’s considered the “highest profile” queer character ever to appear in comic books.
“I don’t brood as much, I really don’t,” she said. “I smile a lot. I feel like I was more like her when I was younger, you know, the hesitation of trusting people, letting people in, feeling like I could do everything on my own, not having a big family. Being gay, obviously, but it’s not the biggest part of the show. But there’s a lot that I definitely experienced throughout earlier teens, maybe even early 20s, but that now I don’t share with her. But I can see why she feels the way that she does.”
The legendary Batman city has helped inform her approach.
“Living in Gotham it’s so different. When you live there and the world is like that — not that we’re far from it — it’s a heavier situation. Whereas I feel like my life is pretty well put together, unlike Kate, who is figuring it out.”
Still, Rose “owns” her version of who Batwoman is.
“I’m sure there’s going to be many other versions after this and different actors that play it, it’s an entity far bigger than me. But in the version I get to play, the Kate that I’ve sort of developed and love, she is a certain way. … I mean who knows when I’m 60 and I’m like, ‘Hey kids, I was Batwoman!’ And they’re like, ‘Whatever, Selena Gomez’s great-granddaughter is Batwoman now,’ I’m sure there will be many reincarnations and I’m excited about that. But it’s definitely like a legacy piece that I really think is important and I dedicate all of my time to it.”
Rose drew upon the defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that’s in a lot of the comics for her role.
“That was important to me that we did that in the right kind of way, just because of the gravity of that. And I believe we did and I think we probably touch more on it, we try to fit as much as we can into the pilot, but it’s not a lot of time.”
While Rose is a badass, (check out her work in “John Wick” if there’s any doubt) she recently had to undergo emergency surgery from doing her own stunts.
“To anyone asking about my new Pez dispenser scar on my neck … a couple of months ago, I was told I needed emergency surgery or I was risking becoming paralyzed. I had herniated two discs doing stunts, and they were close to severing my spinal cord. I was in chronic pain and couldn’t feel my arms,” she wrote on Instagram, posting a video of the operation.
“And to anyone asking why I let them video it. Did you not watch that ‘Greys Anatomy’ episode where they left a towel in a patient?” Rose said. “Also I wanted to see what happens when we go under.”
This month, Rose will receive the Create NSW Annette Kellerman Award, which celebrates a screen industry figure who has been a trailblazing role model for Australian women.