Rutina Wesley Biography
Birth Name: Rutina Wesley
Birth Place: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Birth Place: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Wesley was born in Las Vegas, NV, the daughter of Ivery Wheeler, a professional dancer who appeared in such films as "The Cotton Club" (1984), and Cassandra Wesley, a showgirl who performed on the Las Vegas Strip. Following in their footsteps, Wesley studied dance at Simba Studios and the West Las Vegas Arts Center. But she felt the itch to see other parts of the country, so upon receiving her high school diploma in 1997 from the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts, she left for Indiana's University of Evansville to earn her BFA in Theatre Performance.
From there it was on to the New York's prestigious Juilliard School, where she graduated from in May 2005. During her time at Julliard, she also spent a summer at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art studying Shakespeare and performing the lead in "Romeo and Juliet." It was at Julliard that she met her husband, actor Jacob Fishel, later commenting, "We thought, 'if we could spend four years together at this crazy school, then we can make it the rest of our lives.'" Wesley also became close to another Julliard classmate, Nelsan Ellis, who would go on to play her cousin on "True Blood."
On the stage, she appeared in the pre-Broadway workshop of the Tony-nominated musical "The Color Purple." In 2006 she made her Broadway debut in "The Vertical Hour" by playwright David Hare, acting alongside Bill Nighy and Academy Award Nominee Julianne Moore. Directed by Sam Mendes, the play focused on characters with conflicting views of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Wesley's performance earned praises from The New York Times' chief theatre critic, Ben Brantley. The following year, Wesley performed in The Public Theater's production of "In Darfur" by playwright Winter Miller, co-starring Heather Raffo and Aaron Lohr.
Meanwhile, she began making inroads on the silver screen with a minor role in the 2005 film "Hitch," but ended up on the cutting room floor. However, in 2007 she won the lead in director Ian Iqbal Rashid's dance drama "How She Move," playing an inner-city teen who enters a step-dancing competition to raise money for her tuition. To prepare, Wesley rehearsed the dance routines for five weeks and studied with a dialect coach to master a Jamaican accent. The Hollywood Reporter praised, "Young Wesley displays an intense charisma and powerful moves in the central role." After premiering at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, the feature was picked up by Paramount and MTV.
On television, she guest starred on the CBS drama "Numb3rs" (2005-2010) in 2005, but her big break arrived when "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05) creator Alan Ball selected her for "True Blood." Adapted from "The Southern Vampire Mysteries" novels by Charlaine Harris, the series takes place in a Southern town in which vampires and humans live side by side after the invention of synthetic blood frees the undead from having to prey on mortals. Raised by an abusive mother, Wesley's hard-edged bartender Tara Thornton had lost one boyfriend to a mythological maenad before becoming the obsession of a psychotic vampire detective. The actress was given plenty of opportunity to showcase her well-honed dramatic chops, and she performed her own stunts along with the steamy nude scenes de rigueur for HBO. For her efforts, Wesley was nominated for a Scream Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009, and in 2010 she and the rest of the cast were nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama Series.