You may know her from the cult horror classic, The Human Centiped, but Ashley Williams has gone onto bigger and better things. I recently had a chance to speak with the lovely Ms. Williams who has been getting rave reviews for her performance in the title role of Julia.
Follow Ashley via twitter at @AshleyCW
Follow her latest film Julia at @JuliaTheMovie
You’ve been involved in acting for most of your life. Was there a role or a show that made you say, “I want to do this?”
I was twelve years old. My mother started taking me to auditions at like ten years old. I just had a lot of energy around the house that she needed to find some sort of outlet for me. She saw this creative, very dramatic side, and started taking me to auditions. I ended up booking a few. I played Tiger Lily in Peter Pan. That was the first play I ever did.
About two months later, I booked the role of Annie in the musical. When I played her, there was something that happened inside me. I was on the stage with the lights on me, and darkness over the audience. All eyes we’re on me. I was performing for two hours. I was in this world that we’d rehearsed and created. That world became apart of me. I was really young to think that way, but I knew that acting was what I wanted to do from then on. Eventually I started doing films and not just theater. I started getting older, and watching movies, and really, really started to just dig deep into that.
You’ve done a lot of theatre, what were some of your favorite roles?
I played Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. I think that was probably one of my favorites. There was just something about the role. Getting to know who she was and playing that part really empowered me. It inspired me in my own personal life as well. I gained the stamina and drive to just keep going in life, no matter what it throws at you. Being Anne Frank on that stage turned me into the actress that I am today. It helped me learn why I do what I do, and the kind of roles that I should take.
That’s an incredible story and play. Moving on I have to ask you about The Human Centipede. What was working on that like?
It was difficult. It was really emotionally and physically challenging. I think none of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into at the beginning. Even the director didn’t fully know. I think nobody knew what was really happening. We had this vision and brought everyone in that we knew would be able to give their all to this project. On set and there was this electric vibe. This excitement going around. We were like “Oh my gosh. What are we creating?” It was fantastic in a way. It was really long hours and tiring. Like when there was rain machines and our faces were in the mud. Our necks were really tired from being in that formation. For when we eventually became the human centipede. It was pretty grueling, but exciting at the same time! It was my first film ever! So, I learned a lot from that movie.
Wow! That must have been exciting that it was your first film.
Let’s chat about Julia.
Yes! It’s been my favorite role to date!
Tell us about the film and about the title character Julia.
Julia is about a girl who starts off the film as a very meek, shy, cute girl. She works as a nurse in a plastic surgeon’s office in New York. Something brutal happens to her at the beginning of the film, that propels her to try and seek out something to help her cope with it. She falls prey to a very unorthodox form of therapy to restore herself. Basically the film propels. It climaxes from there. She goes on this crazy journey with this therapy that she’s fallen into, and becomes this woman of vengeance.
She completely does a one-eighty into this gothic, kick-ass, goddess character that takes back control of her life. It’s a revenge thriller, and it’s really stylist. It has a lot of neon colors, kind of like the movie, Drive. The musical score is incredible too. It’s very kick-ass, European, techno music. It feels like you’re in a club the entire time while watching the movie. It’s throbbing throughout the film. It’s a pretty stylish flick, and a bit brutal as well. Some of the things that her therapist instructs her to do, and what she herself eventually does, are pretty controversial. It can be hard to watch for some people. I’m very excited about this one!
It looks great. The trailer looks amazing. I heard that you read Saint Genet to prepare for the role. Is this true?
I did, yes. It’s a book called Saint Genet. I literally only had about four days to prepare for this role, because I actually had to be replacement for a girl who dropped out. I started reading Saint Genet, but I wasn’t able to get through the whole book during the shoot. What I did read, definitely helped me get into the mindset of seeing the beauty in evil. It really helped me, as the character, be okay with what I was doing.
Julia ends up going crazy. So it was a pretty complex character to dive into for such a short time. I think a lot of her was already in me, and that’s why I was drawn to the character in the first place. When I was reading the script, I was like, “Oh my gosh. What a character! I have a lot of this is inside of me!” Especially the part of her that is empowered and doesn’t give a fuck about anybody. Julia just lives life moment to moment and in the zone. That’s something I definitely aspire to in my own life. It’s something Julia just naturally fell into unfortunately, because of this brutal act that happened to her.
Did you question Julia’s actions? Or we’re you able to just justify them because you’re portraying her?
I literally had to just throw myself in there and just be her. There was no time for questions. That made it so much better because I wasn’t really allowing myself to sit back and look at it from another viewer’s perspective. I couldn’t do that.
I actually wouldn’t allow myself to do that in any other circumstance either, because you agree to play a certain character. My job is to be her. To just go in all the way, balls to the wall. I think when I first read the script, I was like “Oh my gosh.” I’m attracted to crazy films like this. Those controversial, in your face, no holding back, brutal circumstances. I think the unique aspect of her journey is what drew me to it. I was just excited to be a part of it. I didn’t question it.
Because this is so dark, do you have any funny stories from the set that you’d like to share?
Yeah, you’re correct that it was pretty brutal every day. We actually shot the film in the dead of winter in New York City. It was just pretty brutal weather the entire time. (laughs). I mean, we all had a good time just laughing, joking around on set. I think the only thing that comes to mind is Brian Spears. He did the FX makeup, so the film used one of his many prosthetic penises that were just lying around in his house for some random reason. It’s for a certain shot for the film. On set, there’s just a couple of these prosthetic penises lying around. One of the girls in the film, she plays one of the disciples of the therapist (a hooded figure), she was playing around with it in the dressing room. She asked the director if she could take it home with her, and we just had fits of laughter. (laughs). She was like, “Oh this is just so cool. I’d love to just have this sitting in my house.” It’s just moments like that, that you really cherish, for me especially, playing this dark character. It was important to be able to laugh like that.
I bet. You’ve won a ton of awards for Julia. Congrats, that’s got to be thrilling for you!
Yeah. About time, actually. (laughs). I definitely think that this is my best work yet. I’m super proud of this film. I think this is definitely a role that not a lot of actresses get a chance to play, so I’m really, really grateful for the recognition that I’ve gotten. It’s definitely helping my career move forward. The film, in general, is also winning awards for cinematography, directing, music, editing, all that. All of us are just really proud of each other for being a part of it.
Congratulations to all of you. How long was the shoot?
About twenty-four days. Pretty much a month, with a few days off in between.
Was working primarily at night?
Yeah. There’s a moment in the film where I’m dropped onto the bank of the East River in a tarp. It was the second or third day that we were shooting, and I wasn’t really sure how they were going to do it. In the script it says they just dump her in the river. I was reading it like, “Hmm. Wonder how they’re going to do that?” It’s the East River, it’s the dead of winter, obviously they’re not really going to do it, right?” (laughs). I wasn’t really too worried about it, so I got on set, and then we were just rehearsing and blocking out the scene.
The two guys who were supposed to carry me to the river during rehearsal accidentally … They were supposed to put me right on the shore, not in the water. It was dark out and they were rushing the scene. They were supposed to just drop me and run back to their car. They accidentally just dumped me right when a small wave was crashing onto the shore. This is before they gave me a wet suit to put on.
Basically, they were just worried that I was going to get hypothermia. (laughs). We figured all that out later. I was really pissed off that they did that and went to the director like, “Listen, this is the East River, there’s probably a lot of dead body juices all over me now.”
The other thing about the story was that this is actually the one day where it was not cold. I was so dreading the scene because it had been super cold, like negative temperatures the week beforehand. The gods were on my side! It was only like thirty-five degrees, but that was warm!
Do you have any upcoming roles?
I’ve got a couple of films in development right now, but I’m not really able to talk about them because they’re just still in development. I can’t really say what they are. I’m also writing my own film at the moment, as well!
I was going to ask you if you were writing.
I’ve been writing and creating some cool roles for myself. (laughs). I’ve been collaborating with a few friends on too. That’s something I’m really into at the moment. I’m also working with Matthew, the director of Julia, again. He’s in the midst of writing a role for me for a film that he’s got in development, but I can’t really talk about that either. But yeah, big and better stuff is coming next year!
Julia comes to select theaters nationwide Friday, October 23.