30 Under 35 2020

Ruby McCollister Isn’t your Average Aspiring Actress

Audrey Wollen

Photography by Aubrey Mayer

Ruby McCollister

Ruby McCollister wants to know the ultimate goal. “Tell me! What is it!” she exultantly proclaims. “We need to know! We need to have a total demand!” McCollister speaks in a frothy atmosphere of exclamation points, urgent and gleeful. Her hands swim through the air like an Esther Williams routine. She is an actress, but in a way that seems to transcend categorical activity or profession. It’s more of an existential situation, or a language, complete with its own grammar, etymologies, poetics. Her kaleidoscopic web series, Zhe Zhe, co-written and co-starred by Leah Hennessey and Emily Allan, is a study of fame from the vantage of those who desperately seek it, and McCollister’s character, the reliably hysterical Mona de Liza, is a virtuosic diva in a melodrama of her own imagination.

Similarly, her solo work circles the character of Aspiring Actress, an ongoing performance or “a living thesis,” as she calls it. Aspiring Actress has been described as “a daily practice, an auric expression of your mother’s negligence, your pillow talk, my unemployment check.” It is an abstraction of all our most beloved abstractions, the women who constellate our inner cosmologies of desire, vulnerability and success. The project began through a movie McCollister made in college, which she is now remaking six years later, developing research in the form of the spectacle. It’s “a project of fantasy, a project of humiliation,” she says, as are all good jokes. McCollister gushes about glamour, “I want to talk about class and also preserve and maintain and build up from desecration, snobbery, as actually the antithesis of everything we are experiencing. Snobbery as the elixir to all this mundanity!” She goes on to explain, in a fascinating monologue, Nixon’s over-use of the word ‘elite,’ how he merged ‘elite’ and ‘intellectual’ to create a false paranoia, how that traces back to the mythology of California, a site of McCollister’s expertise as a Hollywood native (Nixon grew up in Whittier, a city in Los Angeles County). Transfixed by the performance, it’s a while before I realize that she’s already answered her own original question.