Unlike some actresses who must work their way up to lead billing, Rutina Wesley started out on top. A native of Las Vegas, Wesley graduated from the University of Evansville, and then landed a coveted spot in the acting program at Juilliard. From there, Sam Mendes (American Beauty) immediately discovered her and tapped her to star opposite Hollywood luminary Julianne Moore in The Vertical Hour on the Great White Way. Wesley kicked off her tenure in film with a lead portrayal of Raya, an ambitious inner-city teen who enters a step-dancing competition to try to raise money for her tuition in director Ian Iqbal Rashid's inspirational drama How She Move (2008), a smash critical and box office success, and one of the best-received films at Sundance 2007. The following year, Wesley signed on to play the aggressive, short-tempered bartender Tara Thornton on the Alan Ball-created HBO vampire drama series True Blood.
Biography by Nathan Southern
- Decided to pursue a performance career after taking part in a production of Fame during her freshman year of high school.
- Filmed a scene for Hitch (2005) that was cut from the final version, but made a splash in her big-screen debut in How She Move (2007).
- Sang "I'm Not Afraid of Anything," from Jason Robert Brown's 1995 musical, Songs for a New World, at the funeral for friend and Juilliard classmate Sarah Fox, who was found murdered in Upper Manhattan's Inwood Hill Park in 2004.
- Made Broadway debut in 2006 at the Music Box Theatre in David Hare's The Vertical Hour, which was directed by Sam Mendes and starred Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy.
- Studied Shakespeare during a summer at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she played the titular role in Romeo and Juliet.
- Was the second actress cast as Tara Thornton on True Blood. The original actress, Brook Kerr, played the role in the unaired pilot.
- Active in Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), a non-profit organization that utilizes the arts to help disadvantaged children worldwide.