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Self Taught Filmmaker and Actress Ashley Versher is Compelling and Cool and Gets Candid On Her New Role in Jennifer Lopez's “This Is Me…Now”

Ashley Versher’s face may be familiar to you already because the multifaceted talent that spans acting, filmmaking and writing has already graced the screens in hit TV shows like American Auto and cult favorite ‘Law & Order SVU’. In addition to excelling behind the camera as a director, writer, and producer. ‘Brief Exchanges,’ her self-written and directed short film, earned critical acclaim and multiple awards at the 2023 film festival circuit, proving she is definitely one to watch out for in Hollywood. Versher’s collaboration with Jennifer Lopez in the film “This is Me…Now,” where she plays The Idealist, who is one of Lopez’s best friends, marks a significant milestone in her career. Disrupshion got a chance to chat with the rising talent, as she spoke about her love for her advocacy for filmmakers of color and her compelling hustle of creating and being a part of projects she can be both passionate and proud of.

Photographer: Jared Schlachet

Interview: Angel Neal

Copy Edit: Diamond Johnson

Cover Design: Ziara Ravenell

When did you first discover your passion for acting, having already explored movement-based physical theater, violin playing, writing, and filmmaking? 

When I was young, I attended a Black private school where we had performances at the end of each semester. For example, during Christmas, we would put on a big show that included singing, dancing, and a play about baby Jesus. Later, in middle school, I became very interested in musical theater and took an elective class to explore it further. Despite limited funding, we were able to put on some impressive numbers - most memorable being the market scene from Oliver!. However, I was not able to fully commit to theater as I was also playing sports and the violin at the same time. 

Do you remember your first cinema memory, like a show or a film that resonated with you and sparked your interest? 

One of my first memories of cinema was watching the movie Tombstone with my dad. It’s such a fun and passion driven film and who doesn’t love a Western. At the same time I have very fond memories of watching all things Disney - That’s So Raven, Even Stevens, and Lizzie McGuire. That’s So Raven made a huge impression on me. Raven was a young Black girl like me - I don't think I realized it at the time but it made me feel seen and in such a fun way.

During an Interview, you mentioned that your introduction to the entertainment industry was quite harsh. Are you now more comfortable navigating the actress part of your career? You mentioned transitioning from theater to scripted acting. Do you feel like you are finding your way with that transition? 

Starting out as an actor, there’s a lot of pressure to audition for everything and take on any job that comes your way. This is because these experiences are seen as learning opportunities. However, I’ve had some experiences that were not just learning opportunities but also very toxic, unhealthy, and dangerous. When I first started in New York City, I would receive audition invitations via email. Sometimes, these auditions would occur in someone’s home, making me uneasy. Initially, I took everything that came my way, but I soon realized I needed to prioritize my safety and well-being. For example, I've been in situations involving stage combat, but there was no choreography or safety precautions, which is just dangerous and not okay. Unfortunately, this kind of experience was quite common for me in the beginning. 

It’s always fascinating to see music and filming come together, as we saw in The Color Purple adaptation. Have you ever considered being part of a musical or live-action film that combines your love for music and acting? For instance, a Broadway musical or a movie adaptation?

When I was a teenager, I had a great fascination for musicals. I spent my entire summer watching the film version of Chicago as I grew up in California. I used to create choreographed dances to some of the numbers in my living room. But when the film Rent was released, I was utterly obsessed. I know all of the songs of that musical, and I would love to be a part of that show. So, the answer is a definite yes. Pursuing such goals is a part of my aspirations. 

Let’s talk about This Is Me Now. Tell us about your character and the experience of filming the project.

It was a fantastic experience. My castmates were awesome and very talented. Meeting Jennifer Lopez was a dream come true. She is someone I’ve always looked up to and admired for her work ethic and talent. Playing The Idealist in the film gave me a very specific perspective on the story. The film is a love story about finding love and believing in forever love, as well as the importance of self-love. The Idealist believes in all of that. She believes that anyone can find and have true love. She is a positive person who believes that everything is possible and tangible. It was so fun to interact with the other characters from such a unique perspective. Also, I have to say I absolutely loved my wardrobe. I wore so many different looks I would never wear in my day to day life. Overall, it was an incredible experience. 

Since we are a fashion-based entertainment publication, can you tell us about your relationship with fashion? Do you consider yourself a fashion enthusiast? What styles do you like? 

I used to be obsessed with fashion. I would watch all the fashion shows from Vogue’s app and check out all the looks. I wanted to be in the know of all the fashion news. My favorite fashion designer is Alexander McQueen, even though he has passed away. I used to watch these fashion shows and cry because of how beautiful the pieces were. Clothes are an expression of who we are. They are the ultimate opportunity to show the world who we are without saying anything. It’s a way to find our identity and understand ourselves at any age. Sometimes, when we’re having a horrible day, we can decide to put on our favorite outfit and do our hair and makeup. Even though it doesn’t change the day, it can give us a little lift. Our clothes can be our armor, our shield to protect ourselves. 

As an actress, you always write, produce, and direct. What do you love most about being able to utilize all of these talents?

I love the fact that I can offer some of my production skills to my friends who are doing projects. It feels great to be able to share my skill set with others. Making something independently, especially without money or crowdfunding, is incredibly difficult. So, if I can help in any way, I’m happy to do so. Writing, on the other hand, is something that just sort of happens to me. Sometimes, I feel like stories, ideas, scenes, or pictures just pop into my head at the most inconvenient times. I have to get up and write them down. Writing feels like something I have to do, it’s always a story I must tell. Sometimes, I get ideas from big life moments, but I find that writing comes together when I have those magical moments in the middle of the night. It’s a special feeling when something just comes to you - Elizabeth Gilbert talks about it in her book Big Magic (one of my favorite books). As for directing, I’m obsessed with it. I love it. I didn’t think I would, but I do. I remember finishing acting school and feeling unsure about my next steps, but now that I’ve done it, I can’t get enough of it. 

Many Black web series were being developed and released on platforms like YouTube when I finished at my conservatory. People were getting their series picked up by HBO or BET Plus, which was great. I received my first opportunity to direct from my friends, Ronisha and Caleb Davis who had already had a very successful series Tough Love, and I was thrilled to co-direct an episode of their then newest series Pillow Talk. The episode turned out to be the season finale, which was terrific. Later, I decided to create my first short film Brief Exchanges. As the director and executive producer I was involved in every aspect of the production. Taking on these roles really felt meant to be. Everything I know about acting, music, fashion, project management - everything that I have studied and learned in life thus far I put to use. While I may be just beginning and have much to learn, I am made to do this. 

In addition to that, we are witnessing an increase in the number of women, especially women of color, who are taking up roles as producers and directors. We can also see the great work that has been done by Gina Prince BytheWood. As a collective, what can we do to support women and black women in our industry? What are your thoughts on this? 

There are various ways to answer that question, but the first thought that comes to mind is mentorship. Although many programs and labs are available, most require you to have already created two films, written a pilot and a feature, or possess specific skills, making it difficult for aspiring directors to break into the industry. While it’s true that some people have made impressive films using just an iPhone, it’s still a challenging feat to accomplish. I think there’s a significant need for mentorship and pipeline programs that allow aspiring directors to learn, develop, make mistakes, and get hands-on experience. Such programs should provide opportunities to work with experienced directors, observe their work, and learn from them. Pipeline programs can help aspiring directors make connections and gain the skills required to create films and TV shows. 

How do you maintain motivation while building necessary relationships in a highly competitive industry? 

Tracee Ellis Ross recently posted a quote on Instagram: "It’s not a competition because everyone’s assignment is different.” I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, which I try to remind myself of when I’m feeling negative. I find inspiration in the work of others, including TV shows and films, and my friends and family. Speaking of which, I’m fortunate to have such amazing people in my life. I make an effort to stay focused on the purpose of everything I’m doing and to find joy and gratitude in every moment. Even when things get overwhelming, I think it’s important to take a moment to be grateful for how far I’ve come and all the hard work I’ve put in. I remember ten years ago when I was just hoping for an audition, and I’m grateful for everything that’s come my way since then.

Discussions around diversity have become increasingly relevant in the entertainment industry. Can you share your thoughts on why it is crucial to have diverse representation in film and television? 

It’s important for people to feel seen and feel like their stories are being told; it changes your viewpoint. It changes what you can do, who you can be, and what’s accessible to you. For me, Grey’s Anatomy was a big deal. I was very young and thought, “Oh my God, I could be a doctor. There were multiple Black doctors on the show. I could get that job”. It was incredible to see that. I’ve always felt that way about anything I do as an actor. There are components of success, like a little girl in the front row of an audience who was so inspired by seeing us on stage. That’s what diversity can do. Those tiny things that are so small to some people they’re not. They’re huge, and they make such a difference. They make you believe that you can. Diversity in film and television is crucial in terms of storytelling. We must learn and develop empathy for everyone’s experiences because they’re all valid. We can learn and process so much by watching films and television. For instance, you can learn so much by watching Lulu Wang's film The Farewell. Even though the film is about a Chinese American and Chinese family, I felt so connected to the story. There is a wedding scene in The Farewell that mirrors a scene in the show Sex Education on Netflix, but in Sex Education the scene takes place in Nigeria at a Nigerian wedding. These are two very different cultures and countries, but the same scene occurs in both. There is so much we can learn from each other, discover our similarities and differences, and appreciate their beauty. 

Every passing year requires us to work harder, and our passions become more evident. I know you have various talents, such as acting, directing, producing, and more. What’s next on your to-do list? What are you working on at the moment? 

I am primarily focused on the field of acting and directing. Acting and filmmaking are my true passions, and I believe that writing comes under the umbrella of filmmaking. Currently, I am working on writing my next film and hoping to shoot it this summer. We will see what happens. 

What advice do you have for little ten-year-old Ashley at home? Like, how can I accomplish this? How do I break into this?

I would suggest you get involved in theater, especially if there’s a youth theater in your area. Ask your parents if you can join. If you’re ten years old, I think it’s the best thing you could do right now. Have fun with it. If you don’t enjoy it, that’s okay. But if you do, keep at it. 

What advice would you give 25-year-old Ashley?

Find an acting class you’ve heard is good and take that class. It’s essential to see if you like it before committing to it. Additionally, I would recommend taking an improv class. These are great starting points for anyone interested in acting. Remember, pursuing a career in acting is a long and challenging journey. It can be scary at times but also be beautiful and rewarding. It’s essential to love what you do, so if you don’t have a passion for acting, it may not be the right path for you. Everyone should do what they love if they can.

Besides having a knack for acting and storytelling, what character trait can help with longevity in this career field? 

I am a hard worker and believe that work ethic is the key to success. If you can cultivate a strong work ethic and healthily reach your maximum potential, there’s nothing you can’t achieve. Everyone I know in this business who is successful works incredibly hard, and they’re also very focused and resilient. Rejection is a real part of this industry, so resilience is important. Hard work and resilience go hand in hand.

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