Who’s Watching? introduces a rising screen star, who details their latest role, and how they got there, in their own words. Kicking it off is the actress Ella Rubin, a filmmaking major who is balancing college with concurrent roles in Netflix’s drama The Chair, about the faults of academia at a university’s English department led by Sandra Oh’s Professor Ji-Yoon Kim, and HBO’s Gossip Girl reboot.
Name: Ella Rubin
Astrological sign: Virgo
Born in: New York, N.Y.
Where she lives now: I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and still live there. But I’m in college right now, studying filmmaking, so during the year, I’m there.
Her first gig: I started acting when I was 11, and the first thing I ever did was a movie called The Rewrite where Marisa Tomei played my mom. That ended up being a funny, full-circle story because, seven years later when I made my Broadway debut in The Rose Tattoo, she played my mom, as well.
Her breakout moment: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve had one. But The Rose Tattoo was the first big role I had. I was a senior in high school, so that was really interesting because I was so excited to be embarking on this challenging job. It felt like I was almost living a double life, going to high school in the morning. It was an interesting dichotomy but definitely felt really big and exciting. I never had something that I could sink my teeth into so much.
What she turns to for inspiration: I always struggle a little bit with process because I don’t have one that is the same for every single job. When looking for inspiration, I go more specific to the character. I’ll journal in character, I like to make playlists, and I watch other performances. Like how reading makes you a better writer, by watching films and TV, I feel like I become a better actor. And also, looking at art — visiting museums can unexpectedly draw out a spark. I love the photographers Nan Goldin and Guy Bourdin.
Who she leans on for support: I definitely have a really supportive group of friends, and it’s extra helpful that a lot of them are actors. On The Chair, specifically, most of my scenes were with Jay Duplass, who was crucial in my not melting into a puddle of anxiety every day.
Eliza Morse / Netflix
Her latest role: In The Chair, Dafna’s main motivation is to befriend Jay’s character, Bill Dobson. She’s his biggest fan. She’s a determined, tenacious person who has a plan for her life. She knows that she wants her book to be published, what she wants to do, and how to do it. Sometimes, in her attempt to make what she wants happen, she can be a little bit neurotic. For Gossip Girl, it’s this very mean character, kind of like a comedic relief along with Katherine [Reis]. And I think Katherine and I being such good friends in real life is a huge part of that, trying to develop a mean girl who was funny and could be catty but also wasn’t completely outlandish.
What she’s streaming: I’m watching The White Lotus right now. I was on set for Gossip Girl yesterday and my dresser and I, the entire day, were talking about what happens, just in-between takes.