Raise a hand if you were a fan of the ABC drama Revenge. I was obsessed with the TV show, which ran from 2011-2015. And it introduced me to British actress Ashley Madweke, who played the socially-ambitious Ashley Davenport. (Revenge was one of those confusing shows where the actresses and characters shared a name – see also Emily VanCamp who played Emily Thorne).
Ever since Revenge came to an end I’ve continued to follow Ashley through her fashion blog, Ring My Bell, and via Instagram. And I was delighted when she agreed to take part in the #My9to5 series. I asked Ashley how she first got into acting, what it was like to move from London to LA, and what her typical workday looks like. Here she reveals all…
When did you first start acting? And what path did you take to get into the highly competitive industry?
I’ve been interested in performance ever since I was a little girl. I grew up on a council estate in South East London, and there was free drama group nearby that I attended. The teacher was very encouraging, and I think being told that I was good at something stuck with me because I decided I wanted to continue acting.
When I turned 14 started attending The BRIT School in London. It’s an amazing free performing arts school. There’s really nothing else like it. (Editor’s Note: Adele, Amy Winehouse and FKA Twigs are also BRIT School alumni).
I was reading Chekov and Bertolt Brecht, devising my own theatre pieces and just generally exploring my creativity. Then, at 16, I landed my first professional job in a film called Storm Damage. It’s still one of the most important projects I’ve worked on because I learnt so much on that set. Previously all of my experience had been in theatre.
After attending The BRIT School I finished my training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and then went on to do a mix of theatre, TV and film.
When did you make the move from London to LA? And what was that transition like?
I moved to LA six years ago to shoot the TV drama Revenge [pictured below]. Shooting the show every day meant that I settled in quite quickly. I had a purpose and a group of colleagues that quickly became my friends. And it also helped that I moved my ginger tabby cat Oscar to LA with me.
I love my life in LA. It’s an amazing city, but London will always have my heart. There’s no place like home.
What does your typical workday look like when you’re filming a TV show?
I recently finished shooting a TV series set in the 17th century called Salem [pictured above]. We shot the show on location in Louisiana and the schedule was quite brutal. Salem is a period piece with some fantasy themes mixed in, and we always had a lot to shoot within a very tight schedule.
If my scenes were first on the call sheet for the day I would be up at 4.30am. I’d literally jump in the shower, have a cup of tea and then drive myself deep into to the Louisiana woods where we filmed the series.
By 5.30am I’d be in the makeup chair. And, depending on what affects the makeup team were applying that day, my time in that chair could be anything from 45-minutes to two hours. I usually eat breakfast while my hair and makeup is being done. I like to start the day with a big breakfast because lunch is always such a long way off!
Even though the actors and hair and makeup teams get to work at 5.30am, the general crew call time isn’t until 7.30am. So the 12-hour days always begin when they arrive. And the costumes for Salem were the most uncomfortable I’ve ever worn. Twelve-hour days in corsets are not fun, I can tell you that…
How do you like to unwind after a long day on set?
I usually just head straight to bed with a bag of Cheetos that I’ve nicked from Craft Services.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your 9 to 5?
No day is ever the same on a TV set. And you don’t always find yourself with as much time to prepare as you might like. We’re usually busy shooting one episode whilst the next episode is being written, so we don’t get the scripts very far in advance. Shooting television can be an intense process.
And, on the flip side, what are the biggest perks of your job?
I think it’s amazingly rewarding to be able to do what I love, and what I spent so many years training to do.
Which other women working in the film and television industries inspire you and why?
I’m so inspired by female directors. They’re battling for positions in an extremely male dominated field, and seeing any woman get a shot in film or TV makes me happy. More and more female directors are starting to break through, and it’s exciting for me to see what stories women like Ava DuVernay and Victoria Mahoney will tell next.
And, finally, what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? And who gave it to you?
My drama teacher at The BRIT School controversially told me not to go to university. I auditioned for drama schools right before I graduated from The BRIT School, but I didn’t get in anywhere. All of my friends were going off to university so I thought I might as well go too. But Stuart Worden told me to have faith in myself and to stick to the path I wanted.
The following year I got accepted into a few drama schools, but in my heart I knew that I really wanted to go to RADA. It took another year before I finally got in, but I’m glad I held out for what I knew to be the best training out there for actors. It’s so important to keep persevering.
Follow Ashley Madekwe on Instagram at @smashleybell and check out Ashley’s style blog, Ring My Bell, if it’s not already on your radar. Images courtesy of Ashley Madekwe and Revenge/Salem stills via Pinterest.
Catch up on the previous #my9to5 interviews here.