VOICE-OVERS, EXORCISMS, AND MARSHMALLOWS:|
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEY BELL
(PART 1 of 2)
Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
June 4, 2010, introduction updated August 24, 2010
A fellow native of Southern California, Ashley Bell has spent much of her young career as one of the hard-working, unheralded heroes of the entertainment industry: the working actor who quietly researches, studies, and practices their craft while diligently pounding the pavement from one casting call to the next. After years of flying under the radar in supporting roles and voice-over work, Ashley's persistence has begun to pay off in a big way, as she takes a prominent step in front of the camera and slips into the lead role of this year's supernatural thriller The Last Exorcism for director Daniel Stamm and producer Eli Roth.
Just prior to the world premiere of The Last Exorcism at the Los Angeles Film Festival, we had the opportunity to speak to Ashley and learn about the journey of her career to this point. (And as lifelong fans of classic cartoons from the '80s, we also had to steal a moment to talk about her dad, actor Michael Bell, whose hundreds of voice-over performances put him in the same hallowed class of prolific, beloved actors as contemporaries Peter Cullen and Frank Welker.)
In this first half of our exclusive two-part interview with Ashley, she talks about her background in the business. What was immediately striking in the course of our conversation was her remarkable enthusiasm. In case it's not clearly evident in print form, we wanted to point out that she is constantly speaking with a vibrant giddiness and genuine excitement for her work. It's a refreshing, infectious energy that makes us thrilled for her success to date, and eager for her success to come.
RadioFree.com: Where did you develop a passion for the performing arts, and how early did it start?
ASHLEY: Well, both of my parents are actors, actually. If you like cartoons, my dad is a huge voice-over actor. He was on The Transformers and was Duke in G.I. Joe, and The Smurfs and The Snorks. So I kind of have always grown up surrounded by acting and theatre, and playing characters and everything. My mom was one of the founding members of The Groundlings. So in a weird way, it's kind of like a family business, I guess. [laughs]
As a child of the '80s, let me say that your dad is awesome...
Oh, cool! I will pass that on--he'll be thrilled! [laughs]
You're obviously more a child of the '90s, but when you were growing up, were you aware of the influence his shows had on a whole generation?
Yeah, absolutely. I think I truly realized it when I was in college, because I'd go to college parties and everything, and these big, strapping guys would come up to me and they'd be like, "Hey..." I'd be like, [says in a flirty voice] "Ooo...Hey, what's going on?" And they'd go, "Is your dad Duke in G.I. Joe?" It's like, [says in a dejected voice] "Yes. Yes he is." [laughs] So I think that's when I kind of understood, you know, the power associated with being a cartoon action figure. [laughs]
I also remember some of his live action work, like his role in the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation...
I remember that. When he was filming that episode, my mom and I actually went to Paramount to go visit him after school. And he was walking down one of the streets on the lot...He did, I think, several of them. One of them, he was covered in this huge, green mask. He had like lifts on his shoes. He was about 6'6" or 6'7" in this outfit, and covered in this full body make-up. And we were walking down the street, and my mom went, "Michael?" [laughs] And he's like, "How did you possibly recognize me? How could you possibly, out of everyone here, know it was me?" That was one of my favorite memories of going to visit my parents when they [were working].
Did your parents encourage you to get into acting?
They were a little bit hesitant, actually, just due to the nature of this business and the rejection and everything. They kind of held their breath. But I started getting involved in theatre in high school, and started really studying it. And they had always insisted going to college to study the craft of acting in order to have kind of a longevity in this career. So that's when I knew, through theatre and playing characters roles, that acting was really something I wanted to do.
When you're doing voice-over performances and coming up with characters, what archetypes and dialects are you most comfortable with?
I love that question. Something as far away from me as possible! I just love working on dialects for a role. I love researching for a role. In The Last Exorcism, I had about a month of time to prepare before filming started, and I read everything I could possibly find on exorcism, and interviewed people, and tried to listen to dialects, just to get a feel for the culture down there (it was being filmed in Louisiana). And I went to Baptist churches and just immersed myself in it. That's the most exciting part of acting for me--researching enough to be able to completely transform.
Researching is one thing, but putting it into practice can be quite another. Is it helpful to actually use the dialect in your own life for a week or two, just to immerse yourself in it by routine?
Oh, yeah, sometimes. [But] I have to be careful not to do it around my friends. [laughs] I'll get massively made fun of! But yeah, it does help. I just get obsessive when it comes to work or something like that. Even doing the auditions, I would just lock myself away and just work on it, just purely for the love of it.
Even though you're a total professional, you still can't escape the criticism of close friends when doing voices?
Well, in terms of doing accents around them. I actually have a really supportive group of friends, but I wouldn't whip out an accent around them. [laughs] But I briefly read some of the comments under some of the videos [for The Last Exorcism]--like hundreds of comments. I was like, "Wow, now I've made it! There are comments under videos saying everything [in] the world about me in the film! I've made it!" [laughs]
In today's internet age, that is sort of a strange measure of fame...
Yes. [I had] to brace yourself for that. [laughs] I read a couple, and then I proceeded to not read any more after that.
[laughs] Some of the comments can get unfoundedly harsh...
Yes, they can! [laughs]
When you're recording a voice-over, does physical gesturing and contorting help your performance?
Oh, absolutely, yeah. You know, voice-over requires a whole other kind of technique and set of skills. As physical as you are in the booth in respect to the mic, it's very, very helpful, and it comes across in a massive way. I visited a set where Mark Hamill was doing one of the voices for a show my dad was in, and he's just hugely physical. And it's what makes his acting and the voices he does just come alive that much more.