Co-starring in one of this year’s biggest film franchises,gleefully embraced the thrill and fun of working on the FIFTY SHADES DARKER and FIFTY SHADES FREED films, based on the E.L. James novels of the same name. Recognizing that the FIFTY SHADES films are a chance to show off and get some great experience, Ashleigh jumped the chance to be a part of the franchise and has used that exposure as a means of securing more than a few cool upcoming roles. Her instincts have served her well and she is one to watch as her career grows. In an exclusive interview, Ashleigh talks about her cool role in FIFTY SHADES FREED and shares a bit about the key lessons she has learned as a working actor in today’s Hollywood.
What was the initial appeal for you about portraying Hannah and working on the film FIFTY SHADES FREED?
ASHLEIGH: I was excited to do a big budget film, especially one that so many people enjoy. When I read the book, Hannah came off as efficient and businesses-like and incredibly stern. But when I read the script, she seemed more like a friend. I was excited to see if I could bring both her efficiency and judgement, as well as her playfulness to life.
How would you describe who Hannah is?
ASHLEIGH: Hannah is very driven and will always go a step beyond what is asked for. She’s also professional and doesn’t let her ego get the best of her. I think she’s also very friendly and incredibly supportive. She keeps her emotions somewhat hidden at work, but she’s also open enough that if you asked her, she’ll tell you how she feels immediately. She’s also a masterful flirt.
What do you most admire most about her?
ASHLEIGH: I admire her ability to make the best of any situation and to remain positive. In the film, Hannah is just an intern who gets promoted to be Ana’s assistant, but initially it was written that she was a fellow co-worker. I remember asking the director if there was any resentment about Ana’s promotion and he replied that he thought Hannah would be happy for her friend. So in order to justify that, I decided she is the type of person who can feel slighted, but is unwilling to let it get in the way of her friendships or her work.
What was it like working alongside the talented ensemble on FIFTY SHADES FREED?
ASHLEIGH: Well, I was nervous before we started filming because it was my first big budget film. But everyone was so kind and friendly and genuinely happy to be there that I was immediately put at ease. The majority of my scenes were with Dakota [Johnson], and she is such a great scene partner. I always felt like we were having conversations instead of acting because she’s so natural and such a good listener. It was a joy to work with her.
To date, what has been your favorite part about working on FIFTY SHADES FREED?
ASHLEIGH: I think my favorite part of the experience was working on a set that was so collaborative. Everyone was always asking, “what is the best way to tell this story.” The director was always available to clarify an acting moment and that openness was found across the board. I had a line describing another character as a “hunk,” but it didn’t feel natural for my character to say that word, so I asked the writer for help. He wasn’t bothered by the question and amenably agreed to change the line to something more in line with my characters’ vernacular. I know that that sort of collaborative environment isn’t always the case.
What has surprised you about working on FIFTY SHADES FREED?
ASHLEIGH: The fans surprise and inspire me every day. They’re the best. I knew I was working on a film that’s based on a book that became a worldwide phenomenon, but I had no idea how beloved it is. When I went to the L.A. screening for FIFTY SHADES FREED, I met fans from Australia and England and Brazil and had some lovely conversions with them. Many of them mentioned they had flown to L.A. for the screening, and were preparing to fly to Paris over the weekend so they could be there for the premiere. I was so impressed with that. They are so dedicated to this film and it’s cool to witness.
What are you most proud of about working on FIFTY SHADES FREED?
ASHLEIGH: Honestly? I’m proud just to have been a part of it.
Then as an actor, what has been the one thing you haven taken away from the experience of working on FIFTY SHADES FREED?
ASHLEIGH: We are living in the age of ‘Me Too,’ so I’d say the thing I witnessed again and again on set was a high level of respect from everyone involved in the process, and what a difference it makes to filming. When doing a film with such highly sexual content, if that respect wasn’t there as a foundation, it would have been a nightmare. I can imagine a set where lewd jokes and inappropriate comments reigned, but that thankfully was not the experience. The respect on FIFTY SHADES FREED was present in the way cast and crew talked about the sex in the film, but also the way they talked to each other on a daily basis… I hope to always work on sets like that.
You will also be appearing in the series “The Kominisky Method.” What can you share about your role as Breana in that series?
ASHLEIGH: “The Kominsky Method” is about an aging acting teacher, played by Michael Douglas, and his relationships both inside and outside the classroom. I play one of his acting students. Breana is, or at least she thinks she is, the coolest kid in the room. She’s talented and smart, but she doesn’t talk much. However, she can’t really fix her face, so if you look at her she’s an open book. If you push her, she’ll let you know how she feels, but most of the time she’s very laid back.
What have you enjoyed and appreciated about working on “The Kominisky Method”?
ASHLEIGH: The cast is a dream. I think the show is going to be great, but I’m most excited to go to work everyday because I get to hang out with my new friends.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
ASHLEIGH: I’m surprised that a lot of the things I book tend to be comedic. Before I moved to L.A., I had always been drawn to drama over comedy. I didn’t think I was funny. I actually still don’t, so it’s fun and kind of weird that I’ve been doing comedic roles.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you have worked on?
ASHLEIGH: Hmmm, that’s hard because I feel like I’m always learning, but the lessons are all different. I guess a universal thing I’ve learned is to stay open to being taught.
What is your proudest achievement from your career so far?
ASHLEIGH: My proudest moment was moving to L.A. I had been doing theatre in Chicago and was feeling stuck. I decided I needed a change and moved to L.A. because my heart told me to. I’m proud because I was dissatisfied with something and immediately took steps to change it. The move was rather spontaneous. I’d spent my entire life in Chicago and it took me about a month to pack up and leave it. But I’m also proud because it marked such a shift for my career; a new chapter.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
ASHLEIGH: I think the biggest perk is getting the chance to audition more. I was already lucky when I moved to L.A. because I’d had a recurring part on a TV show in Chicago so people were more willing to give me a chance. I know a lot of actors have a hard time just getting their foot in the door. But now that I’ve done a couple more high profile projects, people are even more willing to let me audition for things, and to let me audition for a wider variety of characters and projects. I’m starting to be seen as someone able to do more than one thing, which is awesome.
If there were one previous role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
ASHLEIGH: (D) All of the above. I mean it’s an impossible question for me because I’m a perfectionist. I’d revisit any of them in a heartbeat because there’s always something you missed, a line that didn’t click for you then but makes perfect sense now. Or a moment you could have explored more. Or maybe you’ve just gained life experience so the words would resonate differently.
Do any of your characters and the situations they find themselves in ever leave a lasting impression on you?
ASHLEIGH: Oh definitely. Especially characters whose lives are based on actual events. I played a Rwandan refugee once and script was based on interviews collected from actual survivors. Her eloquence, and the way she spoke of the genocide — not with rage but deep sadness and confusion — that’s stayed with me to this day.
Do you find any of you character’s habits manifesting in your own life? Like what?
ASHLEIGH: Usually if I learn an accent for a character, I’ll unintentionally say certain words in that accent for a few days afterwards. I also sometimes pick up physical mannerisms of a character and those take a bit longer to drop because they’re often very small tics. I can stop once I realize I’m doing it, it’s just a question of when I’ll notice. But then, I tend to do that in my normal life as well. I remember I was face-timing my mother once and she asked me why I kept covering my mouth when I laughed. I hadn’t even realized I was doing it, but I’d just gotten back from a month long visit to Japan the week prior and a lot of the friends I’d made over there do that. Somewhere along the way I picked it up.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten about working as an actor?
ASHLEIGH: The best piece of advice I received is to remember that everyone is somebody. By that I mean to remember the humanity of everyone you come into contact with. Actors are treated so special on set and you see people become divas because of it. There are jobs on a film or TV set that are thought to be less glamorous than mine, but are just as important, if not more so. For example, the production assistant that holds an umbrella over you when it’s raining is doing it because it’s their job and they get paid to do it. They’re doing it so the costumes that the designer picked out, and the tailor fitted, and the costume assistants spent time ironing, don’t get ruined. They’re doing it so the expensive makeup on your face, that the makeup artist bought and then spent 20 minutes applying, doesn’t run. They’re doing it so you don’t hold up production and waste thousands of dollars because you got sprinkled on. They are not doing it because you’re a princess. So treat everyone kindly. Plus, you never know, that PA may be an executive on the next show you work on.
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
ASHLEIGH: Besides being kind to everyone, I’d also say be kind to yourself. This career isn’t easy and you’re going to face rejection. But take the criticism that is useful to you and apply it where it’s needed and keep on moving. It’s necessary to pause and have self reflection, but don’t stop to beat yourself up about a bad audition or losing a part.
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans do to lend support in that endeavor?
ASHLEIGH: I see a lot of people shut down because they feel attacked or they feel like the conversations happening aren’t about them, so they don’t need to participate. I think that sort of thinking is incorrect. The best thing you can do is listen. Listen openly to what other women are saying, and if you see an area in your life, or a situation where you can take steps to implement change, do it.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
ASHLEIGH: I’m appearing as a guest star on a couple of shows: REVERIE on NBC and THE NOISE for Sundance channel. Both have premiere dates sometime this summer.
To see more of Ashleigh’s deft and delightful performance as Hannah, be sure to check out the film FIFTY SHADES FREED currently out in theaters near you. For more information about the FIFTY SHADES film series, you can follow it on Twitter @FiftyShades. Then to follow what Ashleigh is up to as her career grows, be sure to follow her on Twitter @AshleighLaThrop. Also be on the look out for the premieres of “The Kominsky Method,” NBC’s REVERIE and Sundance’s THE NOISE as they premiere on television later this year.
interview FIFTY SHADES DARKER premiere:
CelebMix interview with Ashleigh: