Ashley Romans started her formal acting training at Pace University School of Performing Arts. She moved to Los Angeles immediately after graduating in 2015. Los Angeles theater credits include: Celebration’s Charm (Beta), Rotterdam (StageRaw and LADCC award recipients). Film/Television credits include: “I’m Dying Up Here” and “Shameless” (Showtime), “Are You Sleeping?” (Apple TV), “Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis” (Sunshine Moxie), “NOS4A2” (AMC new series).
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
I’m an actor. I create by acting. Collaborating with writers, directors, designers, and visionaries in whichever medium possible to hopefully create an honest reflection of a being’s life experience.
BGC: How do I create?
I suppose my entire creative process begins with healthy self trickery. Not quite deception but more healthy, playful, self manipulation. Naturally as creators we have a way of resisting and fearing whatever it is we most want to bring about into the world. Similar to a mother’s fear of giving birth or raising a child, we think “what if the world doesn’t receive my creation well? What if people are mean? What if it’s not healthy or ready?” I often find myself trying to bribe or trick my way out of this fear. I trick myself into going into my next audition as confidently as I can, or preparing for that day on set when I really don’t want to, or finding some connection with a character trait I find reprehensible.
I also think it is very important to stay relaxed and loose so one can reach a playful and spiritual place of creativity. So I try and keep myself healthy; mentally, spiritually, and physically by reading, eating healthy, journaling, praying, meditating, and exercising.
BGC: How did you get into acting?
I would say my professional pursuit officially began when I went to study theater at Pace University in New York City for my undergraduate degree, but for as long as I can remember I always had an interest in acting. I loved watching ‘90s action/drama movies with my father and “I Love Lucy” reruns with my mother as a child at all hours of the day. I became even more interested in theater and performance through high school choir, joining community summer camps, and doing the spring high school musical.
Even as an adolescent I felt it was best to keep my professional aspirations to myself in fear of naysayers. In retrospect, I understand now that high school is a time a lot of young people are dealing with self doubt and insecurity. Considering that I was far from the funniest, smartest, or most talented individual in the theater department, I, unconsciously, kept my performing ambitions quiet even from the people closest to me because I didn’t want to risk someone rubbing their self doubt on me. I worked up the courage to audition for a couple of acting schools but I told no one except my acting teacher Douglas Hooper and a few very close mates.
I still abide by this privacy philosophy even now and it hasn’t steered me wrong to this day. I still feel that speaking one’s dreams and aspirations among chaotic or unsupportive energy environment would most likely dissipate or poison their own source.
Eventually after graduating from Pace University through a couple months of tumbling I landed representation for acting with a management company and I moved out to Los Angeles. I’ve been able to land some great acting opportunities and gain a supportive team of people and I could not be more grateful.
BGC: What has been your favorite role so far?
I have so many favorites. The roles that stand out to me as my favorite are the ones that have most challenged me and allowed me to explore a different aspect of life, and explore and connect to the full range of the human experience. I’ve received some of my most valuable acting lessons in various roles in the theater. I played Inez, a red dressed-vixen-leading lady with a passionate, deep-seeded hatred for her ex-husband in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Our Lady of 121st. Two years ago I played Beta, a young teenage gang affiliated boy in Chicago with a secret in Phillip Dawkins’s play Charm at Celebration Theater. This coming March I will be part of the Kirk Douglas’s production Rotterdam by Jon Brittain. Set in the Netherlands, I will play Fiona/Adrian, one half of a modern London couple who decides to make a huge change in their life. My experience acting in these productions specifically has been positively nurturing. Throughout our rehearsal process, I learned what it means to be not just a more nuanced and skilled actor but also a more supportive and capable teammate in the creative process.
In terms of film/television world, my work as Hermione Granger in Sunshine Moxie’s Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis remains my greatest acting lesson in the film/television/on-camera discipline. Eliyannah Yisrael, Megan Grogan, Alice Pierce, other writers and producers leveled up my game up. I’ve never before been number one on the call sheet and I’m not sure if I ever will again, but having that responsibility was so enlightening. It was also an invaluable learning experience getting to work with those amazing creators and seeing those women just get shit done. It was truly an honor being chosen to play such an important and monumental literary character in this version. I remember reading the Harry Potter series as a little girl in London and thinking how much I wanted to be part of and live in that magical world. Playing Hermione in the HGQLC series was by far the best artistic adventure I’ve ever had. Exploring moments, scenes and how far we can bring characters all felt like adventures. Even our trip to Dublin, Ireland this past year felt like one big adventure. I’ll be forever grateful for that experience.
BGC: Why do you create?
I enjoy acting because I love being seen and getting to disappear. It’s a paradox but it’s my truth. I enjoy exploring the range of human experience. I love that I get to feel connected to people in the safe incubator that is pretend. I love that I get to feel and say all the things I’m afraid to feel and say in my real life. I still never get bored of going to the theater, movie or stage, sitting in a dark room with other people and watching performers simply tell us a story. I hope to serve God and the people around me through my creativity and acting. I always hope to truthfully represent a human experience no matter how high or low the stakes it might seem to us at first. Losing your phone and frantically trying to find it can be as exciting and dramatic a story as losing one’s job or finding out your spouse is unfaithful. It’s all in the storytelling and truthfulness of the moment and I love as an actor I get to explore that.
BGC: Who do you hope to reach through your work?
Honestly, the most important people I aim to ultimately reach and impress are my nieces and nephews. Yes the public, my agents, and producers are all important but I feel as though they are a means to an end. Right now my oldest niece is 10 years old and she loves the Hermione series and is always pretty excited to see me act on TV. At the moment she still thinks I’m pretty cool and I hope to keep it that way.
If this was a decade ago and you asked 16-year-old Ashley the same question I probably would have said something like “I want to be a voice for the voiceless and the underrepresented… blah blah blah.” Truthfully, I don’t think I ever really knew what that meant. I mean, I knew what it meant on a superficial-runner-up-in-Beauty-Pageant kind of level but now that answer doesn’t resonate with me as the gutter truth. Whenever I’m working on scripts, deciding on content to create or post etc, I ask myself “Is this something I would be proud to let my niece see? Is this the kind of work that can help make the world even the tiniest bit better for her?” Eventually, she’s going to grow up and have a voice in this world and I hope that her seeing me embrace mine will give her the courage to embrace hers. My nieces and nephews and all the children like them are who I hope to reach.
I really love seeing how the world is changing now. Representation in the media was so limited even 10 years ago but now it’s getting more and more beautiful by the day. With so many platforms, works such as Pose, Glow, Fresh Off the Boat, Chewing Gum, Masters of None, Eighth Grade, and more, so many beings who have been underrepresented for years are getting a chance to reach their audiences and tell their stories. And we all get to identify and see ourselves in each other. I don’t have to reach out and save the world because it kind of starts with myself and our own backyard.
BGC: Who or what inspires you to keep creating?
Oh geez, that’s a loaded question. My peers are my first and foremost inspiration and motivation. Again Eliyannah Yisrael, Megan Grogan, Alice Pearce, Jessica Jenks. It’s remarkable to watch those ladies do what they do. I love being in acting class and witnessing breakthroughs or being in a really great rehearsal with a cast mate. That’s always promising when you get to be part of the creation of something honest and true. Even if it is just a great moment in a scene. Actors who inspire me are endless. Octavia Spencer is a fantastic actress and creator who I adore. I had the blessing of working with her once and she’s an even better human. Lovely doesn’t do her justice. I love watching Regina King. There’s a great example of an honest to God creator and storyteller. She’s accomplished so much in acting, directing, writing, and producing. That’s also how I feel about Shonda Rhimes, Boots Riley, Jim Carrey, Maggie Gyllenhaal. There are many more. I’m sure as soon as you publish this interview I’m going to think of more.
BGC: Why is it important as a Black person to create?
As Black people, we have such a specific and loaded way we walk through the world. The Hermione Series has such a beautiful tag line. It says “HGQLC – Write Your Own Ending.” I’ve always loved that because it gives power to the subject. As Black people it is our responsibility to take control of our story the best way we can. We must feed our communities the best and most honest images of ourselves to ourselves because images and representation matters. In the area of cinema, for years non-Black people have told their version of the Black experience and it has left us misrepresented.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
It’s always a struggle to keep a balanced life. I have a tendency to obsess and quickly lose perspective but when I want to regain balance I plan my day to make sure I get everything I need in. Luckily for me in my particular art form, acting is about living so I know I can’t be a good actor if I’m not allowing myself to experience life and fun.
BGC: Have you been able to build a support system around yourself? What does that look like?
I feel so grateful for my support system. I have amazing representation, an amazing day job with super awesome and motivating coworkers who are actively pursuing their life goals. I also have super supportive family and friends who tell me they’re proud of me just for being myself. My sister is also a great support system, someone I can speak and think out loud with no fear of judgment. I could not be any luckier.
BGC: Any advice for young creators/ones just starting?
It takes 10,000 hours to be a professional at anything. So just put in the hours, however that may look. Either do it, read about it, watch a YouTube video on it, whatever you have to do to learn about your craft and get better.
BGC: Any future projects?
I’m going to be doing a remounting of the stage production Rotterdam at the historic Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City. It’s a short run, performances run from March 28 – April 7th, but it’s such a blessing to revisit this work with such a remarkable group of people. It’s a super funny and insightful play about gender and love.
In the television world I just finished wrapping a new AMC series starring Zachary Quinto and Ashleigh Cummings called NOS4A2. I don’t know the exact date it is to be released but it’s happening soon. The series is based of the hit novel by Joe Hill and it centers around a teenager (Cummings) who uses supernatural abilities to track down the seemingly immortal Charlie Manx (Quinto), who steals children and deposits them in “Christmasland.” I play a Detective Tabitha Hutter trying to suss out the truth. This series has supernatural fantasy, horror, action/adventure, procedural, and family drama. Everything you want to see.