With so many female-driven films and strong roles at this year’s fest, and in the spirit of the opening night film, we’ll be profiling some of the most kick-ass females representing at SXSW this week. Next up: Skateland star Ashley Greene.
Like many of her cast mates, 23-year-old actress Ashley Greene has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity thanks to her involvement in the Twilight films, in which she plays the cheery, pixie-like vampire Alice Cullen. And, like many of her co-stars, Greene has taken advantage of her newfound celebrity to pursue non-Twilight projects between filming on New Moon, Eclipse, and the planned franchise finale, Breaking Dawn. One of those projects was Skateland, a Texas-set coming-of-age drama set at the beginning of the ’80s, in which Greene plays the best friend to actor Shiloh Fernandez’s lost protagonist, Ritchie Wheeler.
For Greene, the role of Michelle was a chance to stretch as an actor, to exercise muscles she hadn’t been given the chance to explore in her pre-Twilight days. Fans who have only seen Greene as Bella Swan’s perky BFF should enjoy watching her take the lead in Skateland, in which she’s asked to riff with her male co-stars, express subtle emotional beats, and play out a tender love scene with Fernandez.
Cinematical spoke with Greene in Austin, where she was attending the SXSW premiere of Skateland.
Cinematical: Tell us about your character and how you became involved in Skateland.
Ashley Greene: I play a character named Michelle Burkham. You start out seeing her as a girl-next-door character, but as you watch the film you learn she has an edge to her. And that’s what I really liked about her; she does have vulnerability and she’s compassionate, but she’s got a sass about her and she’s a very strong character. Those are the qualities that drew me in about her. Throughout the film you see her as the best friend of Ritchie Wheeler, who the story centers on, and she becomes a love interest. She’s the one that’s there pushing him, saying ‘You can be more,’ and making him understand that he needs to believe in himself. And when Skateland closes, everyone’s thrown into turmoil and forced to reevaluate themselves and Texas and their situations, and she’s definitely one of them. She’s one of the go-getters in the film, and I really liked that.
Cinematical: Skateland is set in a roller skating community in the ’80s. How did you get into the vibe of that particular time and place?
Ashley Greene: I spoke to my mother a lot; I look so much like my mother in this, it’s crazy. It was really fun. I definitely talked to her and asked her about it, because I was born in the later part of the ’80s so I missed out on it. She was into the roller skating thing a little bit. But you know, my character doesn’t really get to roller skate as much, that’s more a Ritchie Wheeler-Shiloh Fernandez kind of thing, but it was fun to observe and be around. The thing about the character is, once you have the rollers in your hair and you have the hair and make-up on and the clothes, it really puts you in that place and you get to live in the ’80s for a short period of time.
Cinematical: At what point between Twilight films did you make Skateland?
Ashley Greene: I made it directly after Twilight. After Twilight, I came right back to auditioning. Actually, Aquila/Wood Casting did Twilight and they cast me in this, so they were like my cheerleaders rooting for me.
Cinematical: You’ve also been working on a few additional films, outside of the Twilight world. What sort of projects were you looking for to do between films?
Ashley Greene: I adore Alice Cullen and doing Twilight, but because there are so many of these films you definitely want to give a taste of something else in between so [fans] still see you as Ashley Greene and not Alice Cullen. And so, during the breaks, that’s what I was looking to do. Because Twilight keeps gaining more and more attention, and it’s doing so well and we have this incredible fan base that doesn’t stop, with each film that comes out I get more opportunities to pick and choose, which is really nice. Now I’m focused on showcasing what I can do and building longevity.
Cinematical: Tell us about The Apparition, your next foray into horror.
Ashley Greene: The Apparition is something I’m currently filming. We just got back from Germany this week, we were there for about two months filming at Babelsberg Studio and we start filming again in about a week in Los Angeles. The film actually takes place in L.A. which is the funny thing about this business, because we went to Germany to shoot it, we came back to shoot exteriors. It’s a psychological thriller that centers around these two characters, Kelly and Ben, who are played by myself and Sebastian Stan. We play a couple who are haunted by a supernatural force and we have to figure out what this thing wants. I definitely learned a lot of things about myself while filming this… I read the script and loved it. I’m so passionate about this project and my producers and director and co-star, I’ve gone places as an actor I didn’t know I could go. So I’m really excited for this one to come out.
Cinematical: What kind of scary places did you find yourself in during your performance?
Ashley Greene: I was terrified, and as far as just being vulnerable and sad and hurt, and strong… it’s not a horror film; we want it to be elevated and scary along the lines of Poltergeist, so I definitely didn’t want Kelly to be one of those scared, dumb girls in a horror movie. So we all worked together, it’s been a huge collaboration in making these characters really smart.
Cinematical: There seems to be an emerging trend in horror films of filmmakers shying away from the so-called “torture porn” subgenre and towards what’s called elevated horror.
Ashley Greene: Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing. I look at a movie like The Strangers, and the scariest part about that movie is that these people do everything that you would have done and that you wanted them to do, and yet things still start happening. That’s definitely along the lines of what we want to do, because that’s the frightening part about it.
Cinematical: There is a sense that one of the easier ways for young actresses to make a name is to appear in mainstream horror films; is that something you’ve been mindful of, or are able to choose not to do because of the clout the Twilight films have given you?
Ashley Greene: Absolutely. I’m looking at The Apparation thinking, okay, this is a horror film; do I really want to go down that path? Because even though Twilight is certainly not a horror film, it is labeled a “vampire” film and it could be mistaken as such. So when I looked at this film, we had to read through it, and I spoke with the director and producers to see exactly how they wanted to go about the film. The fact that it’s as far away from that mainstream horror film as you can get kind of relaxed me, because I wanted to be a part of it but I didn’t want to be in a horror film, so it worked out. But yes, I certainly think Twilight has given me a lot of opportunities and it’s put me in a position and enabled me to be able to say, no, I don’t want to do that film, and I’m not going to do that, and I am going to do this. I’m in a very good position.