The Transformation Of Julia Garner From Childhood To 28 Years Old

Julia Garner loves her line of work. The star of "Ozark" and "Inventing Anna" told The Gentlewoman, "The thing I liked most about acting is that I was saying someone else's words, but it was my emotions. I could just say it through someone else." And act she has. She's been in the industry for a little over a decade, but she's already developed an impressive list of credits that stretches from beloved indie films to mega-hit streaming shows, and she shows no signs of slowing down. 

One of Garner's defining features is her ability to shape-shift, to change her appearance and voice to fit whatever the role requires. She's been a cult member and a cannibal, a granddaughter seeking an abortion, a beleaguered assistant, and a ruthless con-woman. She loves that about her career, telling Vanity Fair, "I want to try every sort of character that there is because that's learning something new." Read on for a look at the transformation of Julia Garner, from childhood to 28 years old... and stay tuned for the always-surprising star's next act.

Her childhood was dynamic

Though she would later rocket to fame for playing a Middle-American character in "Ozark," Julia Garner was raised in a very different environment. She grew up in New York City; according to The Hollywood Reporter, she lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the Bronx. Her father was an artist from Ohio; her mother was an Israeli comedian who starred on a show similar to "Saturday Night Live." Their house, she told The Gentlewoman, was full of "books and rugs and the philosophy and the paintings... just cactuses and books and, like, old electronics and a Matisse poster."

It sounds like her upbringing was hectic, but in a positive way. "I feel so lucky that I grew up in the house that I did," she said in THR. "It's crazy — don't get me wrong — but it's good crazy." She described hours-long family arguments that wound up feeling extremely productive, as everyone in the family got to have their issues aired out in the open.

She also struggled in school as a child, and her doctors were concerned that she might have a learning disability when it took her until age 10 to learn how to read. "If you can't read, there's not a lot you can do," she said to The Gentlewoman. "Reading is everything." However, there was another side effect. "I almost had to learn how to act even from that age," she later reflected to Rolling Stone, "act like I knew and I could understand what everybody was talking about."

Her hair wasn't always so curly

Julia Garner's beautiful shock of curly hair is one of her most recognizable trademarks, but she didn't always look that way. In a throwback photo shared to Instagram, in which she compared herself to spiky-haired "Stuart Little" star Jonathan Lipnicki, Garner's baby pictures show that her hair used to be straight — and used to stick out from her head adorably.

The change, she told The Cut, happened when she was a preteen. "Suddenly my roots started growing out curly and the ends were straight," she recalled. She took a trip to the hairdresser to get it cut and shaped properly, and her peers' reactions to her impromptu hair transformation have stuck with her. "That was one of the weirdest experiences that I've ever had in my life," she said. "I went to school the next day and everyone was looking at me like, 'Who's the new girl?' My best friend didn't recognize me."

A photo shared by Garner on Instagram reveals that her mother sported a very similar mop of curls to what Garner is now known for. In other words, when it comes to Garner's iconic curls... she got it from her mama.

She started acting because she was shy

Julia Garner cultivated an appreciation for old cinema at an early age. "When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Turner Classic Movies," she later told Vanity Fair. "I remember loving 'All About' Eve because it was the first time I saw Bette Davis. And later I became really passionate about films from the 70s." She channeled her love of old films into early experiments with acting, later sharing on Instagram that she performed in a grade school production of "The Wizard of Oz" as Glinda the Good Witch.

She revealed in an interview on BUILD Series that acting when she was younger helped her find confidence. "I started in this business because I was very shy," she said. "I started taking acting classes to overcome my shyness." In The New York Times, she elaborated. "I was 15 and I wanted to keep myself busy. I really liked how it felt," she said.

While still a minor, Garner went out for parts in student films at Columbia's film school, according to The Gentlewoman. Her hobby of auditioning got her in the door at a casting call for the American version of UK hit teen show "Skins," and she nearly got the part. "It finally came down to me and another girl out of the 1,500 kids. That was my first professional audition," she recalled. It didn't work out, but Garner had been bitten by the acting bug.

Her early roles risked typecasting

Julia Garner's first big role came in 2011's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," a film about a girl (played by future MCU star Elizabeth Olsen) who escapes a cult. Garner played Sarah, one of the other girls on the commune. "I didn't really know what I was getting into," she admitted on the red carpet of the film's premiere at Lincoln Center, talking about acting in her first film. "It was completely new."

She followed "Martha Marcy May Marlene" up with a role in "Electrick Children," a film about a fundamentalist Mormon who believes she has immaculately conceived a child. As she noted in The New York Times, it was a bit of a strange experience, considering the star herself is Jewish and the director of the film was raised Mormon but not fundamentalist. Still, though, the roles began to give Garner a "type" that she would be known for early in her career. "A journalist once described me as 'go-to cult girl Julia Garner,' and I thought that was really funny," she told The New York Times. "Those are the interesting parts! Everyone is interested in cults." Can't argue with that.

A colorful girl in a black and white world

In 2014, Julia Garner appeared in Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," playing Marcie. Her casting shows just how much her star had risen in the few short years since her debut; her name is on the cast list alongside mega-stars like Josh Brolin, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, and Lady Gaga. She played the girlfriend of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Johnny, and as such, her character was one of the most important things in his life. The stylization of the film meant that, while most of the world appears to be black and white, Garner herself was shot in desaturated color, her bold lipstick and her blonde curls popping off the screen. She particularly liked acting alongside Gordon-Levitt, telling Collider, "He's honestly such a wonderful guy and he's great to work with so I was very lucky that I got to work with him."

The other major difference with Garner's performance in the film is that it required to act against a green screen, which was the first time she had done so. "For the first day, it was just very strange," she told Filler. However, like the professional she is, Garner found a way to get herself into the right headspace. "I thought, what's the difference between this and going into an audition and imagining everything there when there is only the chair, the reader and the camera?" she recalled.

She became a television star on The Americans

Though the first few years of Julia Garner's career were spent in films, she set her sights on conquering the world of television in 2015, joining the cast of "The Americans." She played Kimmy, a young girl with a crush on "Jim," one of Matthew Rhys' character's aliases. However, when she first went out for the part, she was initially unfamiliar with the twisty world of the show. "I didn't see the show before auditioning for it, so as soon as I started doing the auditioning process for it, I decided I had to see the show and I ended up loving it," she told IndieWire

Her research worked. In addition to finding a new TV show to be a fan of, she wound up playing Kimmy in ten episodes across several seasons of the show. When the character first appeared, she was only 15 (though Garner herself was 21). "The way I approached this role is that she has daddy issues," Garner explained to Vulture. "Her dad's not in the picture very much. ...That's how I tried to balance it out: by sympathizing with Kimmy. It was obvious that she's dealing with a lot." After "The Americans," Garner would go on to appear in eight more television shows in the next seven years.

She dyed her hair tomato red

One of Julia Garner's biggest transformations was for the little-seen film "Tomato Red: Blood Money," a role that feels in retrospect like a precursor to her Ozark character. In the 2017 flick, she plays Jamalee Merridew, a young woman living in poverty who gets caught up in a dangerous situation. "It's from the guy who wrote 'Winter's Bone,' Daniel Woodrell," Garner explained to IndieWire. "It is about a family in the Ozarks. It's kind of the same tone and feel of 'Winter's Bone.'"

For her role, Garner dyed her trademark curly blonde hair a shocking shade of red. While her hair didn't stay that hue for good, it sure sounds like she connected with the cast and crew. Ahead of its release, she Instagrammed clips of the team at the Dublin Film Festival and wrote, "So much love for these people!!!"

The role helped her develop an Ozarks accent, which would come in handy on her next audition. She told Vulture that when she went out for her part in Netflix's "Ozark," she realized that her character Ruth would speak just like she had in "Tomato Red: Blood Money." However, when she got to her audition, she noticed no one else was using the accent she had perfected on her last film. "I had memorized my lines with an accent, and I just couldn't do it without it," she reflected to Vulture. "I thought that I wouldn't get the job because of it." Luckily, the opposite was true; without "Tomato Red," we might never have seen Garner as Ruth.

She's an Ozark breakout

Julia Garner's biggest role to date was her part on Netflix's mega-hit "Ozark," where she played the cunning Ruth Langmore. She told Screen Daily that she'd never wanted a part as much as she wanted to play Ruth, and the desire to nab this role unlocked something within. "I am only competitive with myself, not with others," she said. "But if I saw somebody else get this part, I was going to have a hard time watching it."

While acting out one of the show's most viral scenes — a TikTok favorite where Ruth screams, "If you want to stop me, you're gonna have to f***ing kill me!"— Garner drew from an unlikely source for inspiration. "I really kind of just wanted the spirit of, like, a Caravaggio painting," she revealed on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." "I feel like Caravaggio paints intensity and chaos so well."

Garner sure captures intensity and chaos in her performance, thanks in part to the regional accent — quite the transformation for the star, who doesn't normally talk like that. Per IndieWire, Garner explained at an Emmy's event that nailing the dialect took a bit of Method acting. "I would only speak in the accent. I would walk around everywhere... I'd order my food with the accent. You kind of get a sense of the character [that way]." It worked; at her audition for the part, producer and star Jason Bateman knew they'd found their Ruth.

Dirty John required yet another accent

Julia Garner appeared without her trademark curls to play Terra Newell in the first season of "Dirty John," wearing her hair in long waves in Bravo's thriller based on the hit podcast about a con man who wormed his way into an unsuspecting family. Newell is the daughter of the woman who finds herself in a relationship with a man who claims to be a doctor; she is suspicious of the man's credentials and wary of the way he seems to be controlling her mother, even as her mom falls more and more in love. As Decider noted, this required yet another distinctive voice for the star; she perfectly mimicked the idiosyncratic lilt of Newell herself, who narrated part of the podcast. Garner devoured the podcast when she learned the role was available, telling Vanity Fair, "I heard they were making it into a series, so I listened to the whole thing in one day and did not stop—I'd never heard anything like it before!"

On the "Watch What Happens Live" after show, Garner confessed that she was spooked while listening to the podcast and watching the series. "It's really scary... It could happen to anybody," she said.

She married a musician

Julia Garner first met Foster the People frontman Mark Foster at Sundance, according to Vogue, and they realized their families were from the same area in Ohio. They got engaged on a 2019 trip to Yellowstone, according to sources who spoke with People, who noted that Garner flashed a beautiful diamond ring while speaking on a panel for her show "Dirty John." Garner later revealed details about the romantic proposal to Vogue: "He read me a poem he had written to me, and when he finished, he dropped to a knee and asked me to marry him."

Garner admitted that they considered eloping, but they wound up having a more traditional wedding at a courthouse. Designer Zac Posen was the first to break the news on Instagram, sharing a snap of the happy couple and wishing them congratulations. Foster announced the wedding a few days later on social media, posting a beautiful black-and-white snapshot of himself and his new wife.

Their first dance, Garner told Vogue, was to a new song her husband wrote called "Lovers in a Stream." She recalled, "It was very surreal, and the most beautiful present I've ever received. It felt like I was floating up in the air—it was the most magical moment I've ever had."

She became an Emmy winner

Her role in "Ozark" is perhaps Julia Garner's most recognizable work, and it's certainly been her most critically acclaimed. Her colleagues, too, have heaped her with praise. Co-star and executive producer Jason Bateman told The Gentlewoman that he was blown away by her audition. "As soon as Julia started, we were like, Oh, this is going to be a much bigger character than even in the [show] bible," he recalled. Co-star Laura Linney added, "The minute she cocked her head and a piece of hair sort of juggled in the wind and that voice came out, you were like, Oh, wow. Well, hello."

Garner has racked up two Emmys for the role, winning in both 2019 and 2020. She delivered a delightful speech her first time at the podium, exclaiming to the crowd, "This looks kind of like a piece of chocolate, wrapped in a candy wrapper!" This was intended to be a metaphor about sharing a piece with each person who helped her get there, she laughed, but she admitted to being so nervous that it didn't come out quite right.

It seems that her awards run shows no sign of slowing down; the star was nominated for two Emmys in 2022, for both "Ozark" and "Inventing Anna." She signed a deal with a production studio called Tomorrow Studios; exec Becky Clements told Variety, "She is so bright, so prolific... oh my goodness, that woman is going to be an Oscar winner."

Julia Garner: style icon

As her acting career has taken off, so too has Julia Garner's profile in the fashion world. Her own style icons, she told Vanity Fair, included "Audrey Hepburn, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, [and] Diane Keaton."  She has since become a style icon in her own right, appearing in a short film for Prada and serving as a Met Gala muse for Zac Posen. In 2020, she looked back at the previous year's Met Gala experience on Instagram and explained Posen's references for her glittering, starry dress, complete with golden headpiece. "Zac was inspired by ziegfeld girls," she wrote. "His brilliance and kindness inspires me so much."

After a few years away thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Garner attended the Met Gala again in 2021. According to The Daily Mail, however, she was nearly turned away from an afterparty hosted by Rihanna when bouncers didn't recognize her. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe reportedly had to convince security to let Garner into the party, proving that although Garner is now a bona fide star, her star is still on the rise. 

She nailed Anna Delvey's accent

In 2022, Julia Garner showed off another side of her acting chops on Netflix's "Inventing Anna." The actor underwent quite the transformation to play scammer Anna Delvey, aka Anna Sorokin, a woman who managed to convince a ridiculous number of people that she was a socialite and that they should send her money. The role required Garner to ditch her trademark blonde curls in favor of a series of wigs. She also showed off her ease with accent work, perfectly imitating the German-born woman's idiosyncratic purr. When the series was released, she posted a timelapse video to her Instagram showing off her physical transformation, giving a shoutout to the glam squad that made it happen each day on set.

When the Shonda Rhimes-produced series dropped on Netflix, all anyone could talk about was that accent. Garner broke down her process for Elle, explaining, "It's German, but then she grew up in Russia, so you hear a little bit of the Russian inflection alongside the German. But then the musicality of it is more American." However, she noted, the accent also revealed something about the character. "She's struggling a lot with her own identity, so you see her pick up on traits from whoever she's hanging out with."

Whatever she was doing, it worked; Garner was nominated for a 2022 Emmy for "Outstanding Lead Actress In A Limited Or Anthology Series Or Movie."

She's been cast in a Madonna biopic

Over the course of her decade in Hollywood, Julia Garner has proven herself able to reinvent and transform her look to meet what the role requires. That makes her the perfect person to tackle the role of iconic pop star Madonna in an upcoming biopic about the singer, who is also known for overhauling her image every time she emerges in public. The Material Girl is co-writing and directing the movie about her own life, telling Variety, "I've had an extraordinary life, I must make an extraordinary film." She also added that "mostly misogynistic men" had tried to adapt her life story in the past, which simply wouldn't do.

The casting process was apparently intense and demanding, according to sources who spilled the tea to The Hollywood Reporter. Actors in the running for the lead role were reportedly made to attend eleven-hour choreography sessions and had to sing for Madge herself. It seems that Garner is the one who came out on top; Variety reported in June 2022 that she had been offered the coveted role.

News of her casting was met with excitement on social media. "Perfect Choice," one fan tweeted. "Was so rooting for her." Needless to say, nabbing this gig is Madge-jor.