Ashlei’s multifaceted career in acting, writing, and producing has positioned her amongst the industry’s emerging talents that has up next.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Tim Schaeffer
INTERVIEW BY ANGEL NEAL @ANGEL_STYLISTBEHAVIOR
Things aren’t slowing down for Ashlei Foushee as she’s determined to make her mark in the industry of film. Her recent feature film, ‘On Fire’, is based on the real-life story of the Paradise fires from 2018 in California, which saw wildfires completely destroy an entire town, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes, while 85 people tragically died. Foushee plays the role of Kayla, starring alongside Peter Facinelli, Asher Angel, and Lance Henriksen.
So growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, how has that influenced your interest in everything from Ballet Theatre to acting?
St. Louis is actually a very creative town. We have a lot of local legends. Maya Angelou, Josephine Baker and Chuck Berry are all from St. Louis. I mean, the list goes on and on. Jon Hamm, John Goodman, Evan Peters and Sterling K. Brown as well. I think St. Louis gets slept on because we're so close to Chicago. People expect great talent from Chicago but we also have amazing creativity in St. Louis. There's lots of free art programs that are cultivating the talent of the next generation of creatives. The St. Louis Forest Park offers free workshops for kids. We also have this thing called the Muny, which offers a park musical theater program in addition to putting on amazing shows and flying out actors from New York. So I think I just grew up in a very creative environment that fostered my creativity and made me feel like I could pursue anything.
Do you remember your first cinema memory or TV show that resonated with you?
Yeah, absolutely. It would have to be the 1980s version of Annie. Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters did such an amazing job. I had a VHS tape of that movie and I would just run it back. I would watch it repetitively and it's funny because nobody in my family can watch a movie more than once. I know I have watched that movie probably 1000 times. I know it word for word. I just wanted to be one of the little orphans, screaming out ‘It's hard not life. I wanted to insert myself into the TV and dance with them. I think that's what really started my interest in pursuing acting.
What makes you say yes to a project?
I think I just have to resonate with the writing. Sometimes you get scripts, and you're just like, oh, this is corny. So yeah, I like to look over the project and find out who's the producer and director. I do research on what they’ve previously done. If it's a good vibe, I'll do it. Usually, you know, I'll be like, I'll audition no matter what. Because you never know, sometimes what seems like it could be just ok, might actually end up being a great experience. But usually, if the script is just like, flat out bad, I'll be like, nah. But if it's cool, be like, Yeah, let's go for it.
You play Kayla, and the recently dropped gritty drama film ‘On Fire’? What was it like preparing for a role based on a real life story of the paradise fires?
It was crazy. I think the main thing is I just wanted to honor real life first responders and real life emergency call operators. I have a really good friend who used to work in an emergency call center in Texas, and so she was the first person I called. I needed her to give me the full rundown. She told me so many stories from you know, the typical help I have fallen to women trying to get out of domestic situations or people stuck in trenches in the street. So you run through a gamut of emotions all day, every day, it takes a very strong and emotionally censored individual to be able to do that day in and day out. And I, you know, a lot of times, I am an emotional wreck, so I could never do it in real life. But I have so much respect for people who do that, and especially since, you know, there's no sense of closure when you hang up the phone. It's done. You know, so I just really tried to watch as many documentaries and read articles and things like that, just so that I could understand the responsibility of a job like that. I just really wanted to honor the people that do that because I have so much respect for them.
What do you hope viewers take away from the film in general?
I think it's just a heartwarming film in the sense of the power of community and the power of family. The film is inspiring, it's not a movie that you walk away from and go home without feeling the emotion. It's a film that has the power to restore faith and just the strength of people and the love of family and community and even in the face of terrible circumstances there's good in the world.
We believe in manifestation, are there any genres that you're dying to get casted for?
Oh yes, I’d love to play Storm of X-Men.That's what I'm going for.
So speaking of mentorship, when we want to do multiple things we will sometimes need cheerleaders around us reminding us we don't have to just box ourselves in. So for you, who has had the biggest influence on you and your career so far?
In my career so far, I have two stories. When I was in school, I had a mentorship with a producer named Cathy Schulman and she won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Picture for the movie ‘CRASH’. She’s also the creator of the film and has directed a few episodes of the First Lady's mini series with Michelle Pfeiffer and Viola Davis. Mrs.Schulman was just a great early cheerleader for me, she would always let me know I can do this. She told me, you can tell stories that mean something and don't take no for an answer. So she really gave me that push to go strong after college and a lot of people, you know, graduated from the program that I was in and decided to do something else. She was really one of the people who gave me the push I needed to pursue an entertainment career. And then a couple of years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in Burbank and in walked Denzel Washington. He ordered a salad. And the lady at the cash register was just trembling because she had to tell him, oh, we just dropped chicken and it will take about 20 minutes. Mr.Washington looks around and sees all the people looking at him and I see the panic register in his eyes, like, what am I gonna do for 20 minutes? Like, can I walk back to the car like, what do I do? My mom and I were sitting at the bar. He made eye contact with us. He slid in so smooth into the third seat. And he was like, Ya’ll, come here often. We talked to him for the next 20 minutes. He asked me what I did. And I told him I was an actress and he just poured so much into me. He was like, you can do it. He told me to never stop. At one point. He asked me how old I was. He's like, Oh, you're too young for the project that I'm casting but I'm gonna look you up, I'm gonna see you at work, young lady. He gave me the biggest bear hug when he left and yeah after that I’m like I'll never quit now. I've been told I could do it, by the goat.
Read the full interview in the Fall issue of Disrupshion Magazine Next Gen, available now, Disrupshion Next Gen Vol.1 .
Where can we follow you?
You can find me on all platforms @afoushee .