HELLO AMERICA!—I would like you to meet an extraordinary lady who is so honest and upfront, one has to sit back and take a breath. Her name is Ashley Spillers who is a Texas girl who understands that things one dreams about doesn’t come easy. It takes work, preparation and a clear sense of reality. It is clear that Ashely Spillers is a survivor and Hollywood is definitely the place where she should be.
MSJ: Ashley, when did you first discover that becoming an actress is something that you wanted most to do as a career?
ASHLEY: As long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actress. Really, I was so small that I didn’t even know what the word “career” meant! I just loved being in front of my family, dancing, performing, you name it. And I grew up on movies. Not too much TV, no video games, not great in the sports arena, but MOVIES were just my favorite thing. And I supposed I wanted to be a part of something I loved so much. I remember watching the “Wizard of Oz,” “E.T.” and another favorite, “Gorillas in the Mist.” I watched them until the tapes fell apart. You know, those things called VHS? haha.
MSJ: What actors influenced you most during those early years growing up in Texas and why?
ASHLEY: I watched so many movies, and I was influenced by everyone I watched in a way. Every actor is so different, each bringing something unique to the table, so for a long time I don’t think I played favorites, I just soaked everything in, and went on that ride, along for the story they were telling. Judy Garland was someone I watched over and over, in the “Wizard of Oz” of course. And that woman was ahead of her time, I guess. Who am I to say that, but, I guess I mean, I watch her now, and her performances are so raw and human and real. I don’t know that I truly understood that as a kid, but I sure do now. She was special. I mean, “A Star is Born?” So good.
Sigourney Weaver made an impression on me as Diane Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist.” Her work in that is fierce, and she told Fossey’s story in a beautiful way. She also instilled in me, from such a tiny age, a real love of gorillas, and an interest and dedication to them remaining on this planet. Thats something I think every actor aims to do through their work, make a difference somehow, and she did for me. And now I care very deeply for and have come to know the struggle of a species that otherwise I might have not.
From the moment I saw “E.T.” I started to feel a real kindred connection to Drew Barrymore – her spirit just radiated off the screen, and I think I felt like I was like that, or hoped I could be like that. I felt she made people happy through her work, made people smile, and that was something I really admired.
As I got older I fell in love with, well of course Meryl Streep, she just has to be a given. I don’t think the woman can hit a false note. She is just phenomenal. And from what I hear, she is a very generous actress to work with. Meaning, she gives so much to her fellow actor, every time, and makes it about them, not herself. That really impresses me and its something I strive to do. Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News,” Frances McDormand in anything, Melanie Lynskey, Diane Wiest in “Hannah and her Sisters,” Toni Collette in “Muriel’s Wedding,” let me think.. DIANE KEATON. She’s brilliant. These are all really unique women, who stand out in their own way, and have made names for themselves. And they aren’t traditionally, “Hollywood beautiful,” but they are interesting, unique and stunning in their own way. And the truth that comes from some of these ladies just inspires me in a very real way.
MSJ: In your town, were there small theatres and workshops for training young people interested in theatre or films? If so, how good were the teachers or directors in preparing the students?
ASHLEY: I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, and I didn’t really become involved in theatre until I was about 11 or 12. I took kid’s acting classes in Houston at the Town and Country Playhouse with a woman named Barbara Lasater. She was grand and wonderfully theatrical, and she really drove it into our heads that you do not act to become famous, you act because you have to, to tell stories, and for the craft. Before that I probably did think all actors were famous. Then I learned. I know that now more than ever, ha! I also learned to NEVER mess with props placed on the stage unless they belong to your character in some way. NEVER!
MSJ: How did you see the world growing up in Texas at the time?
ASHLEY: My world was Texas! It was what it was, and I loved it. My Maw Maw lived 5 minutes away, I’d eat pickled beets and chocolate pecan pie at her house. Lots of pecan trees, comfort food, big trucks, BBQ, guns – ha. I mean, its Texas. I was happy. I was an only child in my house, so ya know, things tended to revolve around me. haha. I raised a pig in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) in highschool. The barn was at school!
I had big dreams though, of traveling to Paris, going to Hollywood, seeing parts of Asia and Africa. I still have those big dreams. I did feel different from alot of the people around me though. That’s for sure. I never really felt I found my “tribe”. I had wonderful friends though, they are still friends to this day. My dad traveled the world for his work, he was a deep sea commercial diver, so he went everywhere, had some real adventures. So even though I was in the heart of Sugar Land, Texas, I knew there was a big world out there that I wanted to explore. Of course, movies taught me that, too.
MSJ: When finally coming to Hollywood, was it very difficult from what you had heard or imagined it to be like? How did you handle the first few months in your attempts getting an agent or even becoming a part of a theatre group?
ASHLEY: I came to Los Angeles, Echo Park, to be exact, almost 2 years ago. It’s of course very different from Austin, Texas, where I’d spent the 9 years prior to moving out here. It’s hard sometimes, and wonderful other times, I don’t know that I had crazy expectations coming out here, but its surely been an adventure. I did alot of work in independent film while living in Austin, so the film world wasn’t too new to me, and I knew some of the ins and outs of the business already. But it certainly has its challenges. I am lucky though. I worked on a film called Last Vegas, opposite Robert De Niro, before moving here, and that opened some doors for me.
I’ve also got a lot of wonderful people on my side, who have been in the business a long time, and have taken me under their wings and guided me a lot. That’s been the most incredible thing in my opinion. I feel so humbled that these older, well established, respected, KIND people have taken notice and taken the time to give me advice, guide me, and love me. They are all mentors in a way, and I think every artist needs that, no matter your craft. You learn from those who have come before you, and they teach me patience. They remind me that its not all going to happen right now, that anything great takes time, learning, practice, growth, marinating, but also, drive and confidence and a good work ethic. Because man I’ll tell ya, it can be hard out here. And daunting. And you can feel lonely. You look around and feel like everyone is moving and shaking and doing this or that, and its easy to feel like you’re on the outside looking in. So the support of these friends is invaluable. I’ll do anything for them too. LA is full of wonderful people, you just have to find them.
MSJ: What are the career realities have you learned since being a part of the industry?
ASHLEY: That it’s hard. You can’t be lazy, yet you have to be patient. Anxiety gets you nowhere. That there are ALOT of talented, wonderful artists out there, trying just as hard as you, but rather than compete or feel jealous, its far better to be inspired and support, and cheer them on. Everyone has their own timeline and their own battles. I’ve learned there are some real jerks in the business too, that have power and will use others for their own gain, so you have to trust your guts. But that there are incredibly kind, empathetic, generous people in this business too.
MSJ: How have you changed since coming to Hollywood as an actress? Has the challenge been worth it?
ASHLEY: It’s all worth it. Don’t get me wrong: I am human and I have definitely let the city and the business get me down at points, or question my worth as an actor and artist and [a] person. But those are fleeting moments, thank god. At the end of the day I am one lucky and grateful gal, because I am working toward a dream that I’ve had for a very long time. And thats special and something to be cherished, even when things don’t work out the way I want them to. I am very humbled to even have the opportunity to try this out at all. Look, it’s a big world, with a lot happening right now, good and bad, some extremely heartbreaking situations, and the fact that I’m in Los Angeles to be an actor,and that you even want to hear what I have to say, sometimes feels almost selfish or insignificant, but I know I am doing it for something much bigger. Sometimes I am not sure exactly what it is, but its bigger than me, and I know it will serve the world somehow. I have to know that, or else I couldn’t keep at it. Thank you, by the way, for wanting to talk with me. It’s really an honor.
By Michael St. John