Going with God: Interview with Actress Ashley Bratcher

This article was originally published on January 11, 2019 on Cinephile's former website.

In our latest Artist Talk Cinephile had the pleasure of speaking with Ashley Bratcher, the lead actress in the upcoming film Unplanned.

CP: The last time I saw you in person was at Kimmie Stewart’s house when we watched the premiere for the Perfect Summer.

AB: Yes, I was literally just thinking about that. I think that was my first speaking role. My first SAG speaking role and it was just that one line and I was like, it's so crazy to come back full circle from that one line and talk to you today.

CP: I think it's amazing how God can take you from one place and then just being, I don’t know who you are now; it’s amazing to witness.

AB: Oh! Thank you. It's amazing for me to be on the journey, I can tell you that much.

CP: So what made you decide to get into acting, I saw that you used to be a teacher?

AB: Yeah! I did. I actually got into acting back in high school. I was a part of the drama club in junior, senior year of high school but I never thought that that was something I could actually pursue. It always interested me, but it was just a pipe dream because I grew up in rural North Carolina and there was nothing going on there. Instead, I took the traditional route and I went to college, at Campbell University and I studied graphic design.

And in my senior year I went to the state fair, and at the state fair they had this little booth set up and it said, “Do you want to be an actor?” And I was like, yeah! Why not? I went in and I auditioned for this local commercial and ended up booking it and getting a small talent agency to sign me, from going to that fair booth. During that time, I was finishing up my last semester at Campbell and I thought, you know what? If I don't try this and go for it, then I'm probably going to regret it for the rest of my life.

I enrolled in an acting class for one of my electives, and then after I graduated from Campbell I went straight to New York City. I worked for a little while in New York City and trained, but I absolutely hated it. Not only that but I was really young, I had just graduated college, I was away from home for the first time and I was just way out of my element. I mean, the city will eat you up if you are not ready to be there. I was just living it up, living a life that was very different from what I have now.

I went home with my tail between my legs, I had to have my mom and my family help me get back home. And I just thought, I don't know if I can do this. My husband David, he was my fiancé at the time, we ended up together and life just kind of happened. We had a kid, we got married, we settled down in our hometown. I was teaching middle school art in the same middle school that I went to {and} the teacher who’s place I took was my middle school art teacher.

It was life in a small town and I was content.

I remember I would tell my students, "You can make a living out of art because if you love the art and it's your way of communicating and expressing yourself then you're going to be able to reach other people." I thought, What am I doing? Why am I sitting here telling these kids to follow their dreams and I know that I’ve put mine on the back burner. I taught for about three years, and then David and I had a discussion, because Wilmington at the time was starting to blow up and I was like, "I really want to get back into acting, I’m scared that if I just keep teaching, I’m never going to have the fulfilling life that I want."

He was supportive, and it was a really difficult thing at first, but I think within a year or so of moving to the coast, [...] I ended up booking that role in the Perfect Summer where…I met you.

CP: Oh!

AB: Yeah!

CP: You know how you run into some people on set, from especially in the talent department, where there may be attitudes or certain expectations; do you think your life lessons have set you up to be a better person on set? AB: Oh! my gosh, of course. Also I think that every single actor should work behind the scenes. I think that everyone should be an extra at some point, they should be a stand-in, they should be a P.A., like do as much as you can. If you want to be an actor, then you should know everything about every position. Some people who have never experienced the other jobs seem to have this sense of superiority.

I'm not saying all actors are like that, but they don't understand, if they're complaining about having been on set for 12 hours, they forget that the crew got there two hours before them sometimes and they're going to be there way after. I think that it's easy to forget when they're in that position that there's so many other spinning wheels behind you.

I think because I started doing extra work in Wilmington and also growing in my faith, in humility [...] of learning to serve as a Christian, effects your attitude on set. I'm human, I mean there's still some times I'm on set where conditions are just...You know how it is on set? And sometimes it doesn't go right, so you have to fight that battle of the flesh and say, "Okay keep it together, because look I'm living the dream." I try to remind myself of that all the time, my worst day on set is somebody's dream life.

CP: You're right, a lot of talent aren't like that, but sometimes you do come across some and it’s just like, you have to remain humble with them.

AB: Yes! Yes.

CP: Because they’re stretching you as well. So when it comes now to choosing a role, do you only choose roles just in the faith base or are you...I don't want to use the word secular but…

AB: Right! No I get kind of what you're saying because I mean there definitely is an image for the faith based market, it does seem to be like its own thing. I live by my faith in my career and my personal life. So the way I see it is I take roles that I feel called to, and that doesn't mean that it has to fit in a specific genre. I gave my career to The Lord a long time ago, and I think that's why I have so much peace about it. I just say, "Okay God, if this is for me then bless it, if it's not then block it."

I lay it at His feet, and I trust that if it's meant to be, it will be and if it's not, then it won't. Sometimes I do come across other auditions that I just immediately get a red flag and I'm like, no, no this is not good for my spirit, this is not good for me emotionally. I think that even if you aren't a believer, you need to have that boundary to say, "This role is not going to be an emotionally fulfilling role for me to take on, it's going to hurt me mentally or emotionally and I need to step away from it."

I think that knowing your boundaries as an actor is really important, but I continue to pursue roles across all genres. I don't want to limit myself but I do want to make sure that the message lines up with what I want to put out in the world. I don't want to do something just for the sake of being gratuitous. I really believe in making films that impact people's lives.

CP: I don’t know if you know the filmmaker Nakia Hamilton?

AB: The name kind of seems familiar.

CP: He based in Wilmington. He said something to me that just hit me; He was like, if it's not doing good for the world, then there's no point in making it. And I was like, you know what? That's so true.

AB: Yeah!

CP: You're living by that same thing as well. I'm learning so much from everybody that I've talked to, you're teaching me lessons that…I've never had this perspective of doing good for the world. I just wanted to be an artist.

AB: When someone is identified as a Christian in the industry, it seems like people have a tendency to judge them when they do a project that is considered secular. I hate using that word like you said, but I think that you can't judge someone else's path because you don't know if that person was sent to that set for a divine appointment. Maybe they needed to be there for someone on their first day. So regardless of what the project is, you don't know the reason why that actor was there.

So I think it's important for people to remember that you can't judge someone else's journey, you just have to trust that they're going to live their life in the way that hopefully puts good into the world.

CP: There's always purpose. We have so many things that we do in life that God has given us gifts for and we all operate in different areas. We have a purpose to always serve to Him and if we're doing that, wherever we are, I think that's the purpose to our life.

AB: Yeah! I completely agree. You're spot on. I just love it.

CP: Your audition process, like things that you go through before you even want to audition, do you audition for every role that comes your way? Or do you just pass on some before you say yes to the audition?

AB: Even from the very beginning when I signed with my agent, my current agent is Vanessa Adams with Sol Talent [...] I’ve been with her for years now, I was up front with her and I said, "Look, this is who I am and these are my boundaries." So she knows me well enough that there are certain roles that she doesn’t even send to me, that she’s not going to submit me for. So I don’t even have to worry about it.

Every now and then, a role will come along where it might be right on the line and we'll have a discussion about it. She'll give me her opinion about what she thinks of the project and who’s attached to it, and I'll make a decision prayerfully as to whether or not I'm going to audition for it. Sometimes I do decline it, and sometimes I do it just based on how I'm feeling lead.

I have a really amazing relationship with my agent, and I think because from the very beginning I was forthright with her and said, "This is who I am and this is how I want to represent myself." I think that a lot of actors are scared sometimes to draw those boundaries because they think, Oh! This isn’t going hurt me or my agent’s not going to respect me or so and so is not going respect me.

I think when you're honest with people they respect you more because you're not wasting their time and you're just being honest with yourself and being authentic.

CP: What has been your most fulfilling role today that you've played? AB: The movie that’s about to come out is definitely by far the most fulfilling experience I've ever had as an actor. Getting to play Abby Johnson in Unplanned is a dream role. I mean, because this movie it hits every genre, it's funny in parts, it’s dramatic in parts, it’s gritty, it's everything I could have possibly wanted in an acting role.

Just to really test my range and to dive into something that was a true story. I love true stories, as a member of the audience anyway, because it's so cool to see someone else's life play out on the screen, but to have the opportunity to portray someone's life is really incredible and also a huge responsibility. You want to make sure that you're doing that person justice and that you're being authentic to their life and what happened.

I got to talk to Abby a lot and did a lot of research, and because the book is already out, that she wrote, that this film is based on, I was able to research it. A lot of people who worked on the set actually worked in abortion clinics, some of them had worked in Planned Parenthood. Sitting down and talking to a doctor who was a former abortionist was, I mean, it blew my mind to be able to have that resource right in front of me.

The message, this is a really tough topic to talk about, it's controversial, people have a lot of differentiating opinions on it, but to witness someone’s life change so dramatically, for them to have been so convicted in a moment of their lives. They flipped from being this incredible feminist, pro-choice advocate to all of a sudden joining 40 days for life and becoming a pro-life speaker across the nation.

That's a pretty pivotal thing to happen in someone's life and you {have} to be curious, no matter where you stand on the issue, you {have} to be curious like, what the heck happened to change her mind? Abbey was on the ladder to take over, if she had stayed on her path I feel like she’d probably be at head of Planned Parenthood right now. She didn't, she walked away. I think that it’s such a compelling story no matter what you believe, whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, just to watch it and understand it from an insider's perspective, to me is just incredible.

CP: Yes, she sounds like a Paul of our day, you know?

AB: Oh, yeah.

CP: Yeah! God just took Saul and changed him to Paul. He persecuted the church and now he's preaching. It’s just amazing; only by the power of God

AB: Yes. I hadn't even thought about that, but I'm sure she's probably heard that before but, yeah! You're so right. She definitely is.

CP: I wanted to ask about your transition, because I know it's different, we touched on it a little bit, like you say, you were an extra. Going from being a supporting role to a lead role, do you feel like you carry a heavier weight when it comes time to acting or do you just treat it both the same way?

AB: Well, I think it's just a matter of serving in a different way. When you're a supporting actor, of course you need to be doing your research, you need to do your script analysis, your character development, you need to know your relationship to the other characters and you need to be there to support the other characters. Your job as the supporting actor is to make the lead actors look as good as possible; to give them all you got, so that they can give their best performance. A strong supporting cast will make or break the film in my opinion. Your lead actor can be amazing but if the supporting cast isn't strong, then I feel like you're missing the mark.

As a lead actor you have a huge responsibility to show up every single day prepared, from the beginning of the day to the end of the night. With this project in particular I was working 24/7 honestly, I was learning my lines for the next day, I was working on set that day because I didn't have a lot of times to prepare, I only had like a day notice before I got on a plane to leave for the film.

CP: Oh! Wow. AB: You got to be on your A game and make sure that you're bringing everything you have to every scene. It's important to make sure that you're staying healthy, that you're eating enough, you're drinking enough water. There are so many other external factors to take into consideration so that you're not getting burned out and you can give your best performance.

Definitely I think it's a greater responsibility with playing a lead role, but I think that everyone should approach every single role with the same level of responsibility. If the writer wrote just one line and you're there to say one line, it’s in that script for a reason, they're not going to pay you to come on set and say one line if it doesn't mean anything. Even with one line I think you have a responsibility to show up on time, to know why you're there, to know the story forwards and backwards and to really bring your all.

CP: That really shows a lot of integrity on your part; the respect that you have for anything you take on.

AB: Thank you.

CP: You're welcome. So with Unplanned I know you're busy with this, but after Unplanned what else do you have...planned?

AB: Well, I have a couple of projects that are due for release this coming year, and I do have another project that's in the works that I'm not at liberty to discuss yet, but the other projects will be announced soon. I don't want to blow the whistle too soon yet because I want them to have their own time to make the announcement, but [...] Unplanned is taking up a lot of this year for me.

Just because I'm so passionate about it and I have my own personal story, so I'm spending a lot of time going across the country and talking to pregnancy centers and just working in ministry. Being able to travel and tell my story has just been incredible. I'm just kind of laying it at God’s feet [...] if another opportunity presents itself I will shift when that time comes, but right now it’s just been on my heart that Unplanned is really where my focus needs to be.

CP: Well, Ashley it was great talking to you.

AB: You too, thank you very much for calling me. I really appreciate it. It’s so good to hear from you after all this time.

CP: Same. Hope you have a blessed day.

AB: Okay, you too. I'll talk to you later.

CP: Alight. Bye.

To keep up with Ashley and her upcoming projects follow her on Facebook and/or on Instagram. Click the links below.

Ashley Bratcher Facebook

Ashley Bratcher Instagram

Unplanned Movie Website

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