Rising Star Rita Rucker: “You are where you are; don’t compare yourself to people”

PATIENCE. PATIENCE. PATIENCE. Be patient with your journey. You are where you are; don’t compare yourself to people. There’s a great chance someone already told me this but didn’t realize until actually trying to get my career off the ground. All the overnight successes we see today had a gestation period. You can’t get caught […]

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PATIENCE. PATIENCE. PATIENCE. Be patient with your journey. You are where you are; don’t compare yourself to people. There’s a great chance someone already told me this but didn’t realize until actually trying to get my career off the ground. All the overnight successes we see today had a gestation period. You can’t get caught into thinking someone else’s journey is better than yours, you can only focus on your journey; it is YOURS after all.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rita Rucker.

Rucker has had her eyes set on the limelight since a young age. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Film and Video from Georgia State University, Rucker landed her first recurring role as Chante in BET’s ‘Being Mary Jane’, starring Gabrielle Union. Filming took place in her native Georgia, which motivated her to make the move out west to take her career to the next level. Since making the leap in 2017, Rucker has trained with UCLA’s Professional Program in Acting for the Camera which helped her book the co-star role of Delores in the hit series ‘Snowfall’ on FX. She can next be seen playing the co-star role of Carrina in BET’s ‘Twenties’ alongside a cast that includes Jonica (JoJo) T Gibbs, Kym Whitley, and Parker Young. Outside of acting, Rucker is an activist part of the fight against human trafficking and regularly works with the LA-based charity, Artists for Change.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Igrew up in the suburbs of Georgia. Southside. Clayton County. Morrow to be exact. I grew up loving activity, loving arts, loving good music. I come from a heavily musically-talented family (on both sides). My grandfather was a saxophonist. My biological dad is a bass-player and I have uncles and cousins that are singers, songwriters, drumists, and saxophonists. In my family we appreciate Jazz, Smooth Jazz, and honestly every type of music!

I unfortunately didn’t catch that musically -talented bug! I was led to the arts and theater instead. Pirates of Penzance, Once on This Island, and Annie were some of my first plays. Ever. As a kid, I never thought I’d grow up to be an actress. My love for nature, outdoors, and animals lead me to believe that I would actually someday become a veterinarian. I was a GirlScout (Brownie, Junior, and Cadet), cheerleader at the YMCA and on the Varsity team at Morrow High. I also did the drumline dance team and marching band.

I grew up with very supportive parents. Parents who always spoke life into me and told me I could do it. Although their marriage didn’t work out, their love and desire for me to succeed at what I wanted to do never ceased and still hasn’t. I come from a very supportive family in general. All my cousins, aunts, uncles, are so overjoyed and excited to support me whether I have a couple lines or a big role and I’m so grateful for that.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

It wasn’t in my wildest dreams that I’d “actually” be a working actress in Los Angeles, not until I got accepted into UCLA’s Professional Program in Acting for the Camera. There I met so many people that laid the foundation for my Los Angeles trajectory. I still haven’t even taken complete advantage of the seeds that were planted in that program, but I’m finding ways to water those seeds with time and as I make more progress with my career. Recently I remember watching the feature film Hidden Figures and seeing myself through these Black women on screen, these full-bodied, complex and interesting characters, telling me, showing me my visceral history through this cinematic lens. I was moved and inspired by this film and told myself “I want to do just that”. If I can be candid, I came into this career path pretty selfishly. I came with the desire of just wanting to figure myself out and wanting to sort through my own emotions. In that selfishness, I realized what sorting through my own emotions did for other people. I’m an introvert so talking about my feelings with other people can be pretty challenging for me. I like to do things on my own. I’m a very solitary, independent, and even sometimes an aloof person, but acting has been that medium for me to relate to other people; it’s been the bridge. It made me empathize. It’s felt like a sense of servitude being an actor and expressing myself, because I’ve seen that it’s given people the liberty to do the same.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’m honestly surprised (and not surprised at the same time) with how much HAIR has been an issue since starting to work more at a professional level. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a lot of predominantly Black sets (especially doing a lot of work for BET) but what I’ve discovered is that when I’m not on those sets I’m likely to encounter a hairstylist who doesn’t know what to “do” with my hair. It’s happened before and it’s pretty uncomfortable. And it’s always a reminder that we’ve come far as an industry, but still not quite far enough. As Black people, we’re expected to conform to the needs of everyone else, in every faucet, but it’s not always the same energy when the tables are turned.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I make mistakes all the time! As an actor we’re expected to make “choices”. Neither are wrong or right, some choices for a character just end up being a better servant of the narrative than others. I’ve completely missed marks, stepped on my fellow co-stars lines, FORGOT my own! PLENTY of mistakes have happened. I remember reaching to shake the hands of a casting director (a common no-no in the industry) only to be met with a nod and a fist-bump. Classic.

A funny mistake I’ve probably made too often is spending too much time in my trailer instead of getting out there, meeting people, planting seeds. Yes, rest is required as an artist, lots of it even. Our bodies are our instruments. BUT so is our network! We have to do our due diligence and get out there and MEET people. Being an introvert, this is something that can be painfully dreadful for me. Talking gets exhausting, but it’s something we must do.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I just wrapped on a short film for AspireTV that will be shown at the ABFF in Sponsorship with McDonald’s called ENDANGERED written by Nakia Stephens, directed by Kiana Woodson. Endangered follows this Black couple Malik and Chanel, expecting their first child. Birthing a child of color comes with struggles and a weight of its own in our society; being born into a world that has a history of discriminating you because of the way you look. I think this film will beautifully showcase the thoughts and worries that every Black parent may have experienced getting ready to welcome their first child, be it a boy or girl. My character is Nicole, sister to Malik, sister-in-law to Chanel, and celebrity nutritionist. Malik is played by Abdul Quddus. Chanel, played by Biana Bethune from Bad Boys 3. I’m super excited for this film’s premiere.

My next upcoming project will be Young Wild Free directed by Thembi Banks and written by Juel Taylor. This feature will be Thembi’s directorial debut. I play Mrs.Auckland, Brandon and Cassidy’s tireless high school English teacher. Brandon is played by Algee Smith from The Hate You Give and The New Edition Story and Cassidy by Kiersey Clemons from Dope.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Cinema, Film, Television is all a MEDIUM. Literally the word “medium” can be found in the word “media”. It’s a portal to what is reality and how we perceive reality and how we perceive reality directly effects how we see ourselves. Important is an understatement, it’s imperative that we see ourselves represented on screen. Especially in recent times like now where we are socially distancing and confined to our own individual spaces, there isn’t much to do but maybe eat, clean, and watch television. It’s imperative for us to know that our stories are heard and valued in the same way that other stories are heard and valued. If we don’t have a face or lightstand to look at it can be easy to start believing that the stories of Black and Brown people are less important. Black stories are powerful and actually just universal standing next to the White stories we’ve seen and heard told throughout cinematic history. LBTQIA stories are valid and just as important as the heternormative stories we’ve seen over the years. The stories that come from the mentally ill, the handicapped or disabled MATTER and are also important and teach us to care for the people that may operate differently than the masses. Valuing one over the other isn’t necessary and you don’t have to be a part of all or any of those communities to hear and validate them; all we have to do as a society and as a people is LISTEN to them, support them. It affects our culture because we look to film, to television, so that we can feel something. These emotions remind us that at our core, regardless of our differences, our ability to emote and emotional intelligence is something unique to our species. This emotional understanding not only of ourselves but how we relate to other people. This coming togetherness is the heart of culture. THIS is why diversity is important.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be TEACHABLE. As actors we are embodying characters, other people all the time. These characters have ancestries we don’t know about, languages we’ve never spoken, traumas we may have never experienced firsthand. It’s so important as an artist to be fluid, open, and willing to learn something new. Also it’s important to accept that this knowledge and insight may come to you in a way you may not expect; from someone younger than you, someone seemingly less experienced. I’ve learned that people really adore other people with this openness and teachable quality. There’s no way you can know everything and acting like you might know everything has proved to serve me in no situation ever. Even if you may know the answer, you give another person the opportunity to feel good about themselves for enlightening another person. We all need that.
  2. What’s FOR YOU will NOT pass you by. This comes with trusting and knowing your purpose and understanding your own worthiness and that you “belong”. The earlier you really know this and have that understanding, living in a space of happiness and gratitude becomes so much easier. You begin to approach things (auditions, table reads, networking events, etc) with clearer understanding, with ease, and a sense of playfulness. There’s no “getting it right” it’s just doing it; doing it fully and truthly. Being yourself, being generous with all that you truly are. Again, What is for you will not pass you by.
  3. PATIENCE. PATIENCE. PATIENCE. Be patient with your journey. You are where you are; don’t compare yourself to people. There’s a great chance someone already told me this but didn’t realize until actually trying to get my career off the ground. All the overnight successes we see today had a gestation period. You can’t get caught into thinking someone else’s journey is better than yours, you can only focus on your journey; it is YOURS after all. It takes time, energy, diligence. And it applies to everything in life; the med-school student on her way to becoming a doctor, the lawyer trying to pass his Bar Exam, being an actor is no different. I’m learning to be more patient with myself and ENJOY every part of my journey.
  4. Be willing to make sacrifices. Like anything, sacrifices will have to be made if you really want it. I think the hardest part about this is deciding which sacrifices you think are worth it. Sometimes you don’t really understand what this means until you have to make one. For me it’s been working on birthdays and missing weddings. It’s unfortunate, but there’s even a potentiality that relationships may suffer or strain from it. This is always painful but you eat it and hope for the opportunity to sincerely make up for it later.
  5. I wish someone would have told me that you may have to have a funeral (or two) for the parts you didn’t get. You will have to allot some time to get over it. Most people get jobs and get to prove most of their value to a company “on the job”. Acting is unique in the sense that you pretty much do 90% of the work before you even get the job. When you audition or self tape, you are embodying and bringing your interpretation of this character as a bid. You’ve become invested whether you intended to or not. When you’re met with a character you feel that you’ve lived, embodied, and understand so well it sometimes creates this weird attachment to a job that isn’t yours just yet. As an actor, you will mourn “that one role” and it’s gonna hurt. It’ll break your heart. Period. But even still, we rise and we say “YES” to another chance to live in a character, to another possibility of heartbreak, to another chance to audition. Only those who truly love it can do that over and over again.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’ve been attending a lot of panels recently, and a common theme I’ve been hearing over and over is don’t wait, create. As actors especially, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of trying to get people to notice you, to like you, to remember you, etc. The list goes on. But how empowering is it to sit in the driver’s seat, so to speak, and just create your own sh**?! In the era of hyphenated EVERYTHING why not be that actor-director-writer-producer. I think as artists we have a tendency to feel like we’re not verified as “real” artists unless we’re working in our field full-time.This couldn’t be further from the truth. Every waking moment we have is a moment to create, to embody, to inspire.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What immediately comes to mind is the idea of neurodiversity. I have a brother who’s Autistic. My brother is absolutely my soft spot and I appreciate his uniqueness in every single way. Educating people on mental disorders/disabilities “different-abilities” as I like to call them, is important. There are people who don’t relate to or concern themselves with neurodiversity, maybe because the topic isn’t within arm-reach for them, but I truly feel that more of that education and more of that kind of conversation will bring us a lot of good.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mom. She’s just always been there. Always there to support me, to encourage me when I’m feeling less than worthy. She is my biggest fan. She reminds me that I’m special, that I have purpose. She’s just always been in my corner, breathing love and life into me. She’s my best friend and I love her so much.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have so many. But the one that comes to mind immediately is, “Live light, travel light, spread the light, BE the LIGHT.” In so many ways this quote is my anthem. It teaches me how to live and how to “Be the change I want to see in the world” another one of my favorite quotes by Mahatma Gandhi. Working in the entertainment industry, you are unknowingly sometimes the role model for other people, these quotes remind me of that.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Michelle Obama, do I really need to elaborate or say more? She is just a phenomenal woman; not just because she’s the first Black First Lady, but because of everything she’s done leading up to that position and after. Whenever I look to see what she’s been up too lately, I’m always moved and inspired. Also Ellen Degeneres. She’s someone who truly understands her privilege and always respectfully finds a way to give back. She’s such a kind and warm-hearted person and makes me forget about the wrongs in our society when I look at her. I also admire the lightstand she’s been for the LGBTQIA community; her boldness has led the way for so many others.

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This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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