Written, directed and produced by Tyler Perry, Ruthless follows Ruth (Melissa L. Williams) as she becomes entangled in a sex cult led by The Highest (Matt Cadeño). Inside the cult’s compound there is Tally (Yvonne Senat), who desperately wants to escape with her daughter, and outside there is Lynn (Nirine S. Brown), who is intrigued by what the cult has to offer. The cast of Ruthless recently shared how they prepared to play the roles of cult members.
If you aren’t familiar with Ruthless, let me put you on because you need to watch it. This show is like Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale meets HBO Max’s documentary series The Vow - and it is absolutely insane in the best way.While acting is all about becoming someone else and bringing characters to life, it can be more of a challenge to get into character when the focus of the character’s life is something the actor has never experienced. In an interview with CinemaBlend, Melissa L. Williams (Ruth) admitted it can be difficult. In her words,
It’s so opposite of our personalities in our real lives, so it’s like, for me, Yvonne Senat who plays Tally, we relied on women who have escaped cults, been in cults, and just really grounding ourselves with the fact that this is a reality for some. I watched shows, I have certain music that puts me in a very solemn mood, so I would bring my headphones on set, and especially on scenes that were really heavy, try to separate myself so that I could stay in a moment and remember the meaning behind what I’m doing. Because it’s easy to fall out of the darkness of it all because we’re not generally like that, but for me I definitely use real interviews from cult members or ex-cult members, and that puts you in right away.
Melissa L. Williams’ character Ruth begins the series happy to be part of the group led by The Highest, but soon learns secrets that change her mind. Yvonne Senat’s Tally is aware from the beginning that she needs to get out. Senat echoed Williams’ approach with how she prepares to film, saying,
For me, first off it’s memorization, memorization, memorization. So then I can forget about that and those one-takes and just go straight into it. And then I actually watched a couple of documentaries on cults to see what they were really about.
Sounds like a lot of research was involved for this show, which makes sense. Although Ruthless is a work of fiction, it does draw from an experience that many people have lived and are living through. The cast is working hard to authentically tell those stories.
Many of the cast members said it’s actually very easy to stay in character because of Tyler Perry’s shooting schedule. According to Deadline, he completed 22 episodes of The Oval in just ten days. Here’s what Ruthless star Matt Cadeño told CinemaBlend:
Tyler’s shooting style, first of all, it’s a very compressed one. I don’t know if you’ve heard how many episodes he shoots in such a little amount of time. So it feels like there really is no break from reality as soon as you’re in it. So from the moment that we got the scripts back in like, six weeks I think it was before we started shooting, for me it was a breaking down of the material, really understanding where my character was coming from, from a humanity perspective, working it out with my guru - I really like to work with somebody that offers another perspective as to what my character’s true intentions are, where I’m at psychologically, my intentions, my justifications for everything - and then as soon as I get there it’s just about plugging it into the story with my other fellow actors like Melissa really help bring it to life. For me it was just living, breathing and truly feeling what this guy is going through and making it just a part of myself.
Filming so many episodes in such a short amount of time sounds draining and energizing at the same time. From speaking with the cast I gathered that it allows for them to keep up their energy and play off one another and try new things when there are less breaks. In the words of Lenny Thomas (who plays Dikhan, The Highest’s right hand man):
Memorization is my number one. To repeat and learn these lines the way we have to, you’re kind of forced to be in that world, like right away, you don’t have a choice. So it kind of comes out of the writing also and then when you get around your cast mates it’s like, ‘Oh wait, we’re really doing this. We’re on the compound. We’re in The Highest’s trailer. Okay.’ And you really kind of just snap into it.
Newcomer Colin McCalla also chimed in with how he feels filming so quickly is helpful. His character, River, first appears the second half of Season 1 which drops today. Here’s what he told CinemaBlend:
There’s so much preparation, but once you’re on set, at least for me, it didn’t feel like I had to act very much. Because everything felt very real and very intense and very like, you know it didn’t feel that hard to get there in my head because everything was just right there for me to react off of.