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An Interview with Actress Ashley C. Williams

The Human Centipede actress Ashley C. Williams discusses her performance in Playhouse on Park's Metamorphoses along with her career thus far.

Ashley C. Williams is an actress best known for her starring role as Lindsay in the cult horror film The Human Centipede, released in 2010. The controversial movie, noted for its extreme levels of brutality and human degradation, became a pop culture meme. It inspired parodies on South Park and Funny or Die, along with a playful NYC staging of Human Centipede: The Musical. Williams, in turn, gained a certain level of notoriety.

Based out of the Brooklyn area, she is in West Hartford now for Playhouse on Park’s ambitious production of Metamorphoses. Written by Mary Zimmerman, it is an adaptation of Ovid’s classic narrative poem of the same name. The play, done in a series of vignettes, is heavy on Greek and Roman morality tales--but with a modern twist and contemporary language. Much of the performance takes place in a large swimming pool on stage, an ideal environment for stories often dealing with transformation. Metamorphoses runs from June 14th to July 1st.

I recently sat down with Ashley to discuss her upcoming role in Metamorphoses along with her career in general. Meeting 10:30 a.m. at Cosi, we both already had our morning coffee. Not wanting to feel like squatters in a coffeehouse, more java was on the way. While that might be bad in terms of caffeine consumption, it’s always a plus for conversation. Soy latte in hand, Ashley C. Williams was ready to talk. A freewheeling ninety minutes was to follow.

Ashley is a 28-year-old self-described stargazing bohemian that bears a subtle resemblance to Mila Kunis. Williams has somewhat fairer skin than Kunis, a result of her Welsh, Native American, and Italian heritage. She’s an outdoorsy woman who can be found biking throughout town while carless in West Hartford. She is a trained actor, having graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2005. 

What quickly became clear in our conversation is the Ashley is nothing like the classic “Scream Queen” one may imagine. You’d be forgiven if you’re only familiar with her role in The Human Centipede. One look at her film and theater resume and it becomes evident she gravitates towards risk-taking, adventurous roles that are often avant-garde in nature. She’s performed three times recently at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City. “I love doing things that surprise people.”

One role that certainly surprised people was playing Juliet for noted Italian provocateur Dario D’Ambrosi’s Romeo and Juliet in December 2009. The short piece had Williams performing Shakespeare completely nude (so was Romeo) while two soldiers held apart the lovers. Pictures of human suffering were projected behind the actors followed by a climatic bloodbath, leading it to be somewhat controversial. Although Ashley states that she has “unintentionally done controversial work,” she is clearly able to handle roles outside of the typical actor comfort level.

Outside of a small appearance at the age of four in the movie Willow, Ashley first got into acting at the age of ten. Before then, she was an energetic kid putting on impromptu performances at her home in Western Massachusetts. After a certain point it became clear to her family that her overabundant creative energy needed to be directed. “My mom needed an outlet for me.” That outlet was playing Tigerlilly in a local production of Peter Pan.  

Not that her acting career has completely done away with home performances. It’s not uncommon for her family Christmas, including her older sister, younger brother, and younger sister, to contain Partridge Family moments of music. While someone may be by the stove cooking, another may grab the guitar or sit at the piano in the family room. Ashley is also a singer and dancer.

Her family has continued to be extremely supportive in her career. One of my obvious questions to Williams was how her parents reacted to her appearance in The Human Centipede. “They trusted my instincts and weren’t worried.” In turns out, neither were her grandparents. They attended a screening of the film in 2009 as it was playing the festival circuit. Mind you the film features three people sewn together by a sadistic German doctor. “My grandparents are rock stars for coming out to LA to see the screening.”

Although the film is often portrayed in the media as the pinnacle of gore, in line with the Saw franchise, it is actually unconventional for the horror genre. The madman is loosely based on the horrors committed by Nazi Josef Mengele during World War II. Mengele actually did sew two twins together in a concentration camp. Taken in this context, it can be seen as commentary on the disturbing possibilities of human depravity.

Williams is often drawn to projects that deal with extremely difficult subject material. During the auditions for Centipede many actresses, bothered by the concept, just walked out. Ashley’s next film role will also be sure to make some people squeamish. Called Inside Window, the plot loosely resembles the story of Josef Fritzl. He was the Austrian who locked his daughter in the basement for 24 years, fathering multiple children with her. The film starts production in Georgia this September. She plays the confined daughter now raising a 12-year-old. It’s a challenging role that Ashley gravitated towards. “I go with my instincts. I have good instincts.”

Williams is an intellectually curious person who enjoys delving into the human psyche along with learning the great deal of historical information that often comes with an acting role. There is a lot of preparation that goes into playing a part, and this is time that Ashley enjoys. “What I love about acting is you always get to do research.”

It was both her instincts and curiosity that drew her to Metamorphoses. Describing her dramatic performances as “raw,” Metamorphoses attracted Williams due to its honest portrayal of “transformation, redemption, love, and loss.” So powerful, in fact, that Ashley believes it will move some theatergoers to tears.  “Sometimes people come to the theater to be changed or to step outside of their own reality. Metamorphoses is a play that anyone can relate to and it definitely might change someone's outlook on their own life, or just make them feel something.”

Outside of her own acting in film and theater, she enjoys period dramas such as HBO’s Game of Thrones. Ashley’s favorite film is Gone with the Wind. The first time she saw the film she thought, “I have to be Scarlett O’Hara. I have to be the strong woman who overcomes adversity.” Ashley is obviously a woman comfortable in her own skin and able to put herself out there. She respects the careers of other strong, risk-taking, female actresses such as Natalie Portman. All of those difficult career choices have brought her to where she is today. “I’m thankful that I took the risks.” Now let’s see how they pay off.

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