She may tell you she doesn’t know how to pose, but Ashleigh Lathrop is a complete natural in front of the camera. The Handmaid’s Tale actress is as humble as they come, talking to her mom on the phone during outfit changes, willing to sit on grass she's allergic to to get the perfect shot, never breaking a sweat under the sweltering sunlight for hours.
At the very beginning of what is going to be a marvelous, lifelong career, she is the epitome of a star on the rise. I had the opportunity to interview Ashleigh where we talked all things Handmaid’s Tale, her new upcoming projects, Utopia and The Komisky Method, how she spends her limited free time and her plans to adopt a dog and name him Snuffaluffagus.
Check out the interview below.
Could you give a little background on your road to making acting your professional career?
I always sort of loved acting. I was in school plays when I was little and I think my kindergarten teacher was really the one who inspired us to love acting. We would write out these stories and then every friday we would get to choose people to act out the stories that we had written. Ever since then I was like “Oh, I love this!”, I just never really thought about it as a career. I thought you see those people on TV and those are the movie stars and that's what they do, but I didn’t think about it for myself. Then I saw a play called Metamorphosis by Mary Zimmerman when I was in highschool, right when I was deciding what I wanted to do with my life. It was so moving, it was so beautiful and I knew that this is what I want to do. I want to do what those actors did for other people. I want to move people like that, perform like that and inspire people like that. I immediately decided I was going to be an actor.
That's incredible. So, you saw the play and that was it?
That was it. Truly, I knew that’s what I’m doing with my life.
On your website it says you love to dance in your free time, how do you channel your passions for dance and movement into acting?
That’s a good question. I don't know if it's necessarily my love for dance but I think when creating any new character one of the fun things is figuring out how they interact with the world, how they perceive the world, how they move through the world, where they hold their tension, how they hold their body - which I guess is my love of dance but I think that's also just a lot of movement too. I think sometimes it's a conscious choice but sometimes it’s just saying the lines, walking around and realizing that when I say these lines, I'm noticing that I stick my leg out because I feel like my character is better than people. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice and sometimes it just happens organically.
Your character in the Handmaid’s Tale, OfMathew is very passive juxtaposed to June’s involvement in the resistance, how did you go about learning her persona in order to play her?
I created a whole backstory for her, her physicality is not really something I came up with for her, that's something that sort of happened. Also, we filmed outside so that Toronto cold weather helped (laughs). I do have a backstory to tap into who she is and why she thinks the way she thinks. People don't react out of nothing, it's always based on some previous experience or previous perception, having a backstory is really helpful to figuring out how my character relates to the script.
What do you think of OfMathew and her devotion to Gilead?
I think it’s sad. I think OfMathew is a very tragic character, if I were just looking at it from the outside. I also think that she's infuriating. I find in playing her, what's interesting is that there are people in the world whose belief system clashes so spectacularly with mine. I tend to, until I played Ofmathew just be angry and think opposite belief systems were not right and not human. Playing a character whose beliefs also conflict with mine, learning to have empathy for that character and even pity for that character is really unique.
What’s it like playing a character who is fundamentally so different from yourself?
Oh it's really fun! What's interesting is watching the reactions from people who watch the show because they just loathe her. In reading the script I never did, which I think is helpful. I don't think you should ever hate the character you're playing because then how can you play them? I never really thought of her as someone hateable as much as just someone who’s annoying (laughs). She just believes what she believes and she believes that she's right; there's something really fun about digging in deep to someone that is so different from you. That's what makes acting fun and why I choose this.
You said you loved reading OfMathew in the script, and I know you love to read in your free time, what differences do you find in reading books versus scripts?
I think it's pretty similar in terms of the first time I read a book, I read it and get sucked into the world. The first time that I read a script I try to do the same thing, just read the script as a whole, as it is. On the second read through, I read the script from the perspective of my character. The first time reading the script is just enjoyable and fun, it's the same sort of role in building that you do with your imagination when you read books. It’s only on later readings that you start making up things and breaking things down.
And I know you read the book The Handmaid’s Tale before you were cast on the show.
I did, I did. It was one of my favorite books which I think is just so bizarre now. When I was younger I just loved that book, I've read it multiple times before the show was even created which is just so strange.
As an actor, what challenges do you face adapting the book into a show?
I think in some ways it's a lot easier if your character is based on the book because there's a lot of stuff to build off of. In terms of challenges, trying to stay true to the visions of the book and the world that's been created while making it your own and expanding on that world in a way that feels organic and truthful.
How is it working alongside Elisabeth Moss and the rest of the cast?
Oh they are great, they're great! That is one of my favorite groups of people. The whole cast is so heavily female based which is new for me, I tend to actually work on shows that are the opposite, that tend to have more men, so that was a new experience for me. I was a little bit nervous about it because women can sometimes be difficult, especially in large groups (laughs). I thought that could be a challenge and it was absolutely not! It is a lovely sisterhood of people and some of my dearest friends are from that show. Lizzie is just so wonderful, sweet and giving, she's a really giving person and team partner .
Aside from your incredible castmates, who are your role models?
Meryl Streep is my role model!
That was an easy answer!
It's an easy answer because it will always be my answer!
You previously acted in the award winning Netflix series The Kominsky Method alongside Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, what wisdom did you learn from working with such established actors?
I think one of the things that was most remarkable working with them was how humble they are and how grateful they are to be a part of the show. I think that was really inspiring to watch because they are these legends and they can do any project that they choose. They were so happy and honored to get to work on that show, it was a privilege for them. I think that humbleness and gratefulness is something I really took away from both of them.
You have also been filming the Gillian Flynn drama, Utopia in Chicago, what is it like filming in your hometown?
What's interesting is it’s really fun and it also makes me realize there are so many things that I don't know about Chicago, even though I grew up there. Sometimes we film on locations and I know the neighborhoods that we’re filming in but there are these beautiful landmarks I’ve never seen before. We were filming in one location and there was this gorgeous architecturally beautiful two story school that I've never even heard of. So it's really fun to rediscover my home.
Working on a multitude of different projects in a short amount of time, how do you separate out each character from one another?
I think it's just getting into the world that the character is in. One of the easiest things, at least in recent times, is that a lot of the characters are so different from each other. Ofmathew is fundamentally different from every other character that I've played. The character of Becky on Utopia is a little bit closer to who I am, but she is still obviously a different human being and relates to the world in ways that I don't. She's a lot more passive than I am. It's just that they are all so different.
What should we expect next from you?
We’re still currently filming Utopia and will be for the next couple of months so that’s my primary focus right now. I hope that people will be excited to watch the rest of The Handmaid's Tale, and my new projects that are going to come out (The Komisky Method & Utopia) as well. I am just very lucky!