interview by JANA LETONJA

Actress, writer and producer Ashlei Foushee most recently starred in drama ‘On Fire’, based on the real-life story of the Paradise fires, which premiered on 29th September. Before becoming an actress, Ashlei trained classical ballet. When she is not working, she enjoys giving her time to help those in need with being a part of the nonprofit organization ‘Kids in the Spotlight’.

Ashlei, we’ve just been able to see you in the drama ‘On Fire’, which is based on real-life story of the Paradise fires and highlights the sesperate attempt of a family to survive the wildfire. How has the experience of filming this drama been for you?
Filming ‘On Fire’ was my most challenging on set experience to date, simply because of the schedule and the intensity of the scenes. We shot six scenes a day. Anyone who’s in the industry or has experience in production knows that is a tall task. I really had to focus and protect my energy in order to give my best. Looking back, I think of it as a blessing, like when you apply intense pressure to a rock only for it to become a diamond. I’m very proud of what we created.

What drew you to acting in the first place? How did it become your passion?
I think I came out the womb dramatic. It’s just in my blood. My dad always used to tell a story of when I was a little girl and would stay up past my bed time, putting on one-woman shows in front of an audience of my stuffed animals. My parents recognized that early passion and put me into dance. I’ve been performing since I could walk.

What do you love the most about acting and being able to embrace all the different characters and stories as an actress?
I love to tell stories. I think stories are so powerful and truly connect us all. That’s what I love most about being an actress. I get to use my body, my voice and my imagination to tell stories that hopefully bring people joy and healing.

Which role so far has taught you the most not only about acting, but also about yourself as a person?
A few years ago, I did this film called ‘Jinn’. It’s a beautiful coming of age story written and directed by a the super talented Nijla Mu’min who soon became one of my closest friends. That experience gave me such confidence in my abilities, but also inspired me to just go out and create. You don’t need a bunch of bells and whistles to create meaningful art, you just need a team, a dream and some elbow grease. 

Before becoming an actress, you’ve trained classical ballet and performed professionally with the Moscow Ballet Theatre. What would you describe the hardest part about ballet?
The discipline. Ballet requires an extreme amount of dedication, practice and more practice. I’m so grateful for all my years of dance because it taught me how to work for something. It also helped me become aware and comfortable in my body, which has only helped me in my acting.

Why did you decide to stop ballet? Do you ever miss it now?
Sadly, my body decided to stop ballet. I got in a car accident when I was 15 and suffered a back injury that took me out of physical activity for almost a year. When I recovered, I decided to start exploring other things. I do miss it. I’m just getting back into class and I’m excited to buy new point shoes when I’m ready.

You’ve received your B.F.A in Theatre Performance from Chapman University and your B.A. in Screenwriting from the Univerity’s prestigious Dodge College of Film and Media Studies. Is screenwriting something you would like to explore in the future of your career?
Oh, absolutely. I’m always working on scripts. I just need to move forward in getting my projects produced.

Besides acting, you are passionate about helping those in need. Why is this something so dear and important to you?
At the end of the day, serving others and doing my part to make the world a better place is where I find true meaning in life. I feel most fulfilled if I can do something to help someone else.

You joined the nonprofit organization ‘Kids in the Spotlight’, a program that provides film and arts education to foster children in the LA area, right after graduation. Can you tell us more about your work with the organization and how does a day of work with them look like?
‘Kids in the Spotlight’ is such a phenomenal organization. We work with foster youth and help them develop and produce their own movies. I was involved as one of the team actors. We run it like a real set. Call sheets, last looks, our director calls “Action” and “Cut”. It’s the real thing. At the end of the program, there’s a premiere and an award show.

photography TIM SCHAEFFER