Ash Santos on Netflix’s True Story, and beyond
Kanya Iwana/de la revolución
Ash Santos first captured our attention with her performance in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Apocalypse. In the series, Santos plays Emily, a mysterious individual carefully chosen to restart the human race. It is her talented portrayal of Emily’s struggle to demystify her true identity that makes the character even more memorable. The two of us spoke at length about her upcoming project, True Story, which sparked a deeper discussion of fame and the dark side of celebrity. We also touched upon Santos’s aspirations behind the camera on a project based on her life in New York in a first generation Mormon household.
Santos is exuberant yet introspective, and extremely thoughtful as we discussed what it takes to persevere as an actor in Hollywood to horseback riding. It was a delightful privilege and after our conversation, I realized that our connection had led me to a kindred spirit.
We spoke with actress Ash Santos about what it’s like to play opposite Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes on screen, her upcoming roles, what has inspired her most the past year, and much more.
Hello, how are you? Where are you these days?
I’m doing so well! I’m currently in my home on the mountain in Utah. This is my happy place.
Your first major role was in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Apocalypse—how would you say you’ve grown as an actress between then and now?
Booking that felt like something out of a dream. When I had first met with my manager two months prior, he had asked me what shows I watched, and American Horror Story was one of the first I mentioned. I’m a HUGE horror fan. I had seen every episode, so to actually be on the show as my first job in Hollywood? Come on. But I was very green, and very naive. I feel like since then I’ve grown more committed to the craft. I’ve also grown more as a person. And who I am today is very different from who I was then.
What has been your most challenging role to date and why?
Working on Heart of Champions was by far my biggest challenge yet. For the film, I had to have an English accent, and some of the scenes were emotional and intense, so to do it all whilst remaining “English” left this girl knackered!
Let’s talk about True Story. Can you tell us about the show without giving too much away?
This show is gonna have people talking. It grabs you from the start and leaves you guessing until the very end.
“No true artist ever really seeks “fame.” It’s a byproduct of having a successful career. And while being successful in your craft is the dream—nothing will ever compare to the bliss of having a normal life, being surrounded by friends and family you love and trust.”
You starred alongside Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes on the series. What was it like working with such iconic actors?
We’re talking about two of the most famous men in the world, but you’d never know it when you’re in a room with them. Because they’re never trying to be anything but themselves, and that authenticity and humility is what’s really special. Working with them will always be one of my most cherished memories.
What do you think audiences will take away from True Story?
When you finally make it to the top, are you standing there by yourself, or are you lucky enough to be surrounded by the people you know and love? We’ve never seen Kevin take on a role like this. And I think that—along with the parallels of this show and his own life – will be what really resonates with people.
The show touches upon the dark side of celebrity. As an actor, how accurate is this portrayal?
Unfortunately, too accurate. No true artist ever really seeks “fame.” It’s a byproduct of having a successful career. And while being successful in your craft is the dream—nothing will ever compare to the bliss of having a normal life, being surrounded by friends and family you love and trust. And in today’s world of social media, fame is even more heightened. But light and love come to you if you let it in. And watching Kevin work was a huge inspiration to me. He’s so busy, juggling a hundred things at once, but he always makes time for his family. They come first. And for me, an actor at the beginning of her career—who’s also a mother to two young kids—that spoke volumes.
Are there any scenes in particular that you filmed that stand out to you as a big memory from filming?
There’s a certain scene in a certain episode, that I had to go to a really dark place for. And afterwards, that cathartic release of knowing you gave something your all and are proud of yourself for it… resonated with me. It’s little moments like that, that have really taught me to trust myself as an actor.
What are some of your favorite films and shows that capture that?
Well I’m a huge fan of Narcos, Ozark, and Barry. So getting to work on a crime thriller with the creator of one of my favorite crime thrillers, Eric Newman—was special. And some of my favorite films that capture that rawness and pulsating anxiety—are Heat, Uncut Gems and Dog Day Afternoon.
I’d love to know what drives you to play a character—is it the script, the director, or something else?
I just like to be challenged. The script is the bones, so I start with that—it’s hard to commit to something when you don’t love the script. But at least one other element needs to be something new and fresh, something I haven’t done before that scares me a little. Because when you’re scared, you grow.
How would you describe your process as an actor? Do you take inspiration from stories around you or from within to get into character?
I’ve developed my process over the last few years, but like anything in life, it’s always evolving and growing. The one thing that remains the same, is that I have to give myself time to really sit with my character. I have to meditate on who they are, what they’ve been through, where they’re going. That time alone at home, sitting with my thoughts, is where I create my foundation.
If you could talk to your younger self, what kind of advice would you give?
I would be so gentle with her, I would hold her in my arms and tell her not to worry, that all those dreams she has that seem too big to talk about with anyone and make her feel crazy? One day, all of those dreams will come true.
“It’s hard to commit to something when you don’t love the script. But at least one other element needs to be something new and fresh, something I haven’t done before that scares me a little. Because when you’re scared, you grow.”
Ayano Jinnouchi/Mane Addicts
Dana Delaney/The Wall Group
Slate PR, Chalene Young
In the film, Night Teeth, your character, Maria, is one of the main drivers of the film. Are you a fan of horror movies and if so, did you draw any inspiration when playing her?
I am a massive fan of horror. Few things are more exhilarating than feeling terrified as you watch a film. But I didn’t approach Maria through the lens of a horror film. To me, she was just a girl who didn’t understand what was happening around her, and desperately loved her boyfriend.
Aside from acting, are there any passions or interests you haven’t yet explored and want to try?
I recently started horseback riding! I asked myself this same question earlier this year—and interestingly enough, that was my answer. I had always wanted to learn how to ride English ever since I was a little girl, I had only ever ridden Western, so now you can often times find me at the stable!
Speaking of the future, what’s on your bucket list both professionally and on a personal level?
I currently have a series in development that I created based on my life. I grew up in New York, in a first generation home that also happened to be Mormon, and then I was a housewife and mother all before the age of 22. So the fact that I’m now pursuing the one thing that scared me the most—an acting career—is still shocking to me. I am now an ex-Mormon, single mom, taping auditions while my kids sleep at night! Life is crazy. To see that show get green lit would be the ultimate dream come true. I really look up to women like Issa Rae, Michaela Coel, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, so one day being able to create content as powerful as theirs? That’s at the top of the bucket list.
True Story is streaming now on Netflix. Watch the trailer below: