I decided that finding the beauty in the evil was what would get me there
In 2015, here at Film Gutter, we watched a lot of films. So when I say that Julia was well among the best of what we saw, that's not a statement made lightly. This is a tale partly of revenge, and partly of finding strength and growing in the darkest of circumstances, with a vivid visual style and a captivating lead performance from Ashley C Williams. With Juliajust out on iTunes and Amazon, we spoke to Ashley about the movie and more besides.
Alex: First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Julia was a fascinating movie, a really interesting new take on some old horror tropes – how did you come to be involved?
Ashley: Thanks Alex! I was recommended to the Julia team by Christine Holder of Zero Gravity Management. They are producers on the film as well. I met with the director in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (where their production office was) the same night I was given the script to read. I really loved what I read. The character was exactly what I had been looking for. I was there for about 3 hours reading for the director and they did an HMU screen test on me as well. Two days later I was told by the producers that my audition blew them away and they wanted to do another screen test on me, this time with some different coloured hair wigs. On the evening of January 24th 2013, my manager called me and told me they offered me the role. Best birthday gift ever.
Alex: You certainly seem to take on roles in some very bleak movies! What particularly attracted you to the darker side of cinema?
Ashley: Well I suppose the darker side is always more interesting to me. More challenging. Also I go for unique story worlds and the two films that I'm known for now happen to be very controversial and hard to watch films... Which was not my intention at all... It's just what happened. So not very many people know of my lighter side. The other films I've done and especially theatre work. Also if you meet me in person haha.
Alex: The journey your character goes on is really powerful - was that part of what drew you to the role?
Ashley: Yes. Her journey is awe inspiring. Everything about what she goes through. What she does, the choices she makes, all came from this broken, hidden, sad place and she needed something to propel her out of it. Getting raped was not exactly what she had in mind haha, but it did something to her. It was like the last straw. She was tired of hiding from the world. From herself, who she was, who she is. She was given an opportunity but unfortunately it took her down an even more dangerous road. Now she can never go back. However, at the end of the film she is stronger, more powerful than ever, internally. So some like to think the therapy actually worked.
Alex: How did you go about tapping into the two very different sides of Julia?
Ashley: I didn't have a lot of prep time for this role. I was hired and we started shooting four days later. It was difficult. Every day I had to check in with myself, the character, about where she was at that time of the story, because she goes through such an arc and it's gradual. She really transforms and I did a lot of internal work for this role. The only physical transformation were her clothes and maybe more make-up. So I needed to somehow let what she was going through outward from inside of her. But not too over the top... She hardly speaks in the film and for good reason. Sometimes it felt wrong when I would utter a word because I fell so inside of her that I literally began to feel like a mouse in hiding... The most difficult part was letting go of that when she became this goddess... Ashley had to be OK with the choices Julia made... I had to find a reason for what I was doing. I decided that finding the beauty in the evil was what would get me there. It was a purely selfish feat... 'Cause it had to be all about her transformation and how these evil acts were changing HER, giving her strength.... Forget about the poor innocent men she was mutilating. But this got her out of the victim mindset. It was thrilling to be in that place.
Alex: Julia is – in a sense – a pretty quiet character, and I feel like there's a lot conveyed through body language and facial expression. Did this make it a harder role to play?
Ashley: Actually, no. But I don't remember thinking about whether my facial expressions or body language were being communicated properly... It was all my internal prep that came out in ways that I had no clue were being conveyed until I watched the film when it was done. I had to trust the director that what I was giving him was going in the right direction. Luckily, he hardly gave me any notes or had me do more than two takes.. So I guess I was doing something right.
Alex: How do you feel that Sadie – and the relationship that develops there – plays into Julia's story?
Ashley: Sadie was a guide for Julia. She was also a direct witness to Julia's transformation and falls in love with that, with her. It's beautiful to see what unfolds with them, but again Julia is on her own journey and its tragic because you know that Julia is not in the same place emotionally with Sadie. Julia is "gone". She goes into a higher plane where no one can touch her. By the end of the film, no one is anything to her anymore, and that's why she could do what she did to Sadie.
Alex: Did you have any reservations about some of the more brutal scenes in the movie at all? There's some very strong stuff presented...
Ashley: I've been through this kind of thing before where I know that if there is something I am uncomfortable with I have the control to alter it. There were some shocking things in the script but I dunno, I guess it all made sense to me on why they would be there. I wasn't worried. From seeing the director's previous work I knew that those brutal scenes would be shot in such a visually stunning way that they would be more beautiful than brutal.
Alex: What do you think the film says about gender relations? I felt a bit ashamed to be a man by the end of this one!
Ashley: I don't think it's meant to say much about that actually. A lot of people have wanted to put this film into a man hating category and it's just not about that. It's about Julia. It's about what happened to her. It's about her journey.
Alex: What can you tell us about the upcoming Selene Hollow? It sounds like a fascinating project.
Ashley: That project was fun. It's about this guy who leaves the city for a farm house in the countryside to write and muse over his life. Then the characters in his story he writes start coming to life. Weird things start happening around the house. I played a girl who auditions for zombie roles for a living, but she never books anything. She's this quirky weird girl and it was refreshing to play a more comedic lighter role. It was originally a web series and they decided to turn it into a feature film. I'm sure it's coming out soon!
Alex: I really hope this is a breakthrough performance for you - your lead role is so well delivered. Can you tell us anything about what your working on next?
Ashley: Thank you! I'm very proud of my work in this film and I hope more of the world gets to see it. I have a couple feature films in the works right now... Not shooting until next fall though.
Film Gutter Volume 1 is also out now as an e-book, featuring our review of Julia, an interview with director Matthew A Brown and a host of great content besides! More at Amazon UK
Interview by Alex Davis
Rehab for anything can be a real bitch. Especially if an unorthodox treatment is sought but not followed to the letter. The result could well be psychological damage with horrific consequences. Enter Julia Shames (THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) star Ashley C. Williams), a meek and mild clinician at a thriving plastic surgery business, who dates the wrong guy and ends up being drugged and gang-raped by his friends. Catatonic after suffering such brutal trauma she hears about a new kind of therapy being whispered about for her damaged condition as practised by the mysterious Dr. Sgundud. What that restorative cure entails takes Julia into a whole new shadowy area of her personality, one that teaches her how not to become a victim anymore and transforms her into an empowered Angel of Vengeance.
Alex Davis has been a horror fan for as long as he can remember, be it books or film. His first bookshelf was loaded with the works of James Herbert and Stephen King, and he's also had a range of horror short fiction published as an author. Besides his own writing, Alex has been actively involved in the writing industries for the last decade, including work as an events organiser, proofreader, copy-editor and creative writing tutor. His most recent venture is Boo Books (http://boobooks.net), aiming to publish the best writing from around the East and West Midlands. Film Gutteris a review series exploring the darkest fringes of horror cinema, something that has been a long term hobby and interest.