'Ruthless' star Michelle Nunez reveals she learned to be 'part of a dark space' to prepare for her role
Michelle Nunez talks about her new character Zane, and what preparing for a show as dark as 'Ruthless' has been like
Tyler Perry's 'Ruthless' is one of the darker shows on TV today, following the intimidating Rakadushi cult. The newest season is introducing several new characters to the series, including Zane, who is played by Michelle Nunez. In an exclusive interview with MEAWW, Nunez talks about her character, what it was like preparing for the show and what fans can expect in the episodes ahead.
Zane, the new character that Nunez will be playing, apparently did not have much in the way of a backstory before Nunez sat with the producer to help flesh her out. "Zane didn't necessarily have a huge background," Nunez said, "So then when I met with the producer, Mark Swinton, we talked about Zane and I needed clarity on her character so that I could start building on her." Together they worked out the main reason why Zane was so attracted to the Rakadushi cult. "We came up with this backstory, just that she, she doesn't necessarily have a lot of family," she said. "And that's what she was looking for and searching for. She needed this family and, a reason to believe in God again."
Meeting with Ruth (Melissa L Williams) is going to give Zane reason to pause. "As she's getting closer with Ruth and a couple of the other new characters," said Nunez, "She starts realizing slowly but surely that it's not everything that she thought it was, but she's holding onto this idea that this cult is her family."
Nunez did a lot of work to prepare for the role. "I did quite a bit of research on just cults and Jim Jones and different cult leaders from the past," she said, in addition to going through the first season of the show. "From there, I took three days and read all the scripts with my coach and sort of digested the entire story and then went back and realized, okay, what are my thoughts in each of these situations?"
"The preparation for that, was just learning," she continued, "being a part of this dark space, this dark mindset, while also realizing that Zane is this vulnerable kind of brave young girl who's new to this. So she doesn't necessarily have this darkness to her just yet. But as the series continues, she starts realizing and developing this understanding for what the Rakadushis are about."
Of course, landing the role in the first place was no easy feat, especially amid a pandemic. "I moved to LA kind of like right at the brink of all of this craziness happening," she said. "I started building a really amazing, incredible team who has my back. And as soon as I came back, we hit the ground running." Zane was one of her first auditions on returning to LA. "For the audition itself, my coach and I worked for hours - we watched this series together, because it was such a different audition that I've ever gotten and we realized that it was such a dark show."
The audition threw Nunez right into the deep end. "On set, when we actually shot the scene, that was my audition scene," she said. "In the actual audition, when I'm taping, my coach and I realized that the stakes were high," she said. "We had a lot of moments before where I was jumping and we were...having an entire conversation in character - not even saying the lines - and then we just recorded everything. Then we went in and we did the lines, because we were already at that 10 of 10 level of intensity."
Nunez then talked about some of the challenges she's faced shooting this kind of show. "I think the biggest one is staying in this certain mindset that is for me, not necessarily a mindset that I've ever been in," she said, referring to the cult and the dangerous position its members live in. Nunez said the cast members helped her get into, and stay in, that unique mindset - especially Melissa Willians. "Whenever I would have scenes with her, we would go back and forth, saying our lines, just looking each other in the eyes and like really getting into it," Nunez said. "The biggest challenge is just staying in that mindset, because when Tyler yelled cut and then you can go back to the waiting area for a little bit before you have your next scene, you're with everyone there, and you want to hang out and talk to everyone. But at the same time, you're like, 'Wow, I need to stay in this dark place, because in 20 minutes, when I'm called up to shoot again, I have to...be in this intense state of mind."
She's not going to be in that mindset alone, however, as she believes the new episodes of 'Ruthless' are going to pull the audience right there with her. "It's insane what Zane goes through," she said, adding that while the show carries the same level of intensity as in Season one, there's a lot more to go look forward to as well. "The series is totally reimagined in the sense that there's so much more depth to it."
"What Mr Perry did with this show is he created a cult classic," she joked. "The topics that we get into are real topics like sex trafficking, child trafficking, drug trafficking, insane cult leaders thinking they're God - all of these things are things that have happened in the past and...unfortunately happen even today. We've also taken this world of TV and film and we have expanded it to reflect the real world" she said, then added, "but then Mr Perry turned it up a notch, you know, and he knew that based on the response to that first part of the first season, the second part needed to be even more intense."
"The feedback he was getting was that our audience wanted more of the Rakadushi compound," she explained. "They wanted to see more of how we live, how we interact, how are we going about our day to day? And so Tyler definitely gives that and brings that into the second season."
In addition to 'Ruthless', you can also see Nunez in 'God's Waiting Room' and 'Gray People'. Season 2 of 'Ruthless' airs November 26, on BET+.