YAH had the chance to chat with the star of The Last Exorcism Part II on February 10, 2013. Ashley chatted about reprising her role as Nell in the new film, her recent projects and her love for elephants that has manifested into her new documentary tentatively titled Love and Bananas.
YAH: Hi Ashley! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!
Ashley Bell: You’rr welcome! I just got off a float in a Mardi Gras Parade..I was the Grand Marshall so I don’t have to work out for the day! Laughs I had a whole arm workout, throwing beads, it was wonderful.
YAH: Had you been in a parade ever before?
Ashley: I had never been on a float before but last year we actually filmed part of The Last Exorcism Part II in a Mardi Gras Parade so I was walking in character as Nell with a guerilla camera team and a director going through the parade and exploring. That ties into exactly what the film is about. In the first film Nell was so vulnerable and so sheltered. This film is a continuation of Nell’s story. She is thrown in the middle of New Orleans, the middle of Mardi Gras surrounded by temptation and you see how the devil tempts her in this city.
YAH: It’s a perfect city for that with all the good vs evil in that city.
Ashley: Right, Vegas is sin city but I think it’s New Orleans..at least in The Last Exorcism Part II. (Laughs)
YAH: Can you talk about what fans of The Last Exorcism will see that may surprise them or that they will be excited to see in this second film.
Ashley: The devil never truly has a last exorcism. Fans can expect seeing the character of Nell in her journey. She’s a 17 year old girl who doesn’t even know what an iPod is and she is thrown into the middle of New Orleans and this whole new world. She is meeting contemporary girls her age for the first time, learning how to fit in. You see this vulnerable, sheltered girl have temptation everywhere all around her. I just saw the film and I gave myself nightmares. There are so many shocking twists and turns. I was shocked when I saw how it ended up. It is so scary and so much fun.
YAH: How do you go about preparing to play something like this character who is being possessed? I can’t imagine where you have to go emotionally and mentally to play a character who is going through that circumstance. Can you talk about that a little?
Ashley: In preparing for the character of Nell, it was what she hasn’t seen, what music she hasn’t heard, what hasn’t she tried. The firsts for Nell were a big part of this film. I think of Nell as having a child-like quality in exploring this world. She tries lip gloss for the first time which was forbidden, she listens to rock music, she’s allowed to dress more provocatively. To have these girly moments in a fragile character like Nell was so much fun and to really embody being a kid through this character’s eyes was really cool. And also getting to do all my own physicality again was great. It very important for me to do all my own stunts and physicality. A very important part of the first film was the back bend and there is a huge stunt that I pull off in this film..you see it briefly in the trailer..and I got to do it all myself. I also got to do the poster image myself..that is me bent into the shape of a two.
YAH: Which is incredible because the poster alone scares me.
Ashley: It was so cool. That was a big thing working with Eli Roth (producer) and the director in ways to top the physicality of the first film. Eli is such a master of horror films, he knows how to turn something that is scary into something that is truly terrifying. There were so many ways to explore Nell and really tell this girl’s story.
YAH: Why was it important for you to do all the stunts in this film yourself?
Ashley: It was a big part of the first film, to have that realistic style of things. The fact that there was no CGI was a big part of it. I was doing a lot of research for the first film that carried over into the second film. I was looking at people who had gone through exorcisms or fits of hysteria and I saw pictures which inspired me and I wanted to try it myself and that’s how I found the back bend. The director asked me if I had any ideas and I did it and the scene was rewritten which ended up being the poster image. Working physically a lot and being this character trapped or haunted by this demon really encouraged me to develop this new Nell that you see in The Last Exorcism Part II.
YAH: Does the story tie up for for fans in this film or does it leave an opening for the story to continue on..or can you even answer that?
Ashley: You have to wait and see. (Laughs) I’m sorry. That is the shock I was talking about..this film does twist and turn and the shock that comes at the end is just amazing…my jaw dropped when I saw it and that is what gave me nightmares..I gave myself nightmares. It’s a big scary ending and I think a lot of people will be really shocked my it.
YAH: If the story was to continue, is that something you are interested in being involved in?
Ashley: I think so. I loved getting the chance to play Nell in this film and getting to metaphorically step back into my Dr. Martens so to speak and look at where Nell would go in this journey. It’s a character that is very dear to my heart and I wanted to see where she would go in this journey and take the character out of the plantation and put her in the middle of New Orleans. This is almost like Nell’s coming of age story. The devil is leading her into finding her first love and opening her eyes to this new world. He very carefully plants things for her to fall in love with and then very methodically takes things away from her and scares her and makes her doubt and question herself and “Is this world real or is it not?” He plays tricks on her and that is where the scares come in.
For me I love being physical with my roles. I started out as a theater actress. I studied at NYU and Cambridge and The Groundlings in LA and getting to embody a character physically is what I love most about acting. Doing this film opened me up to several other genres. I did a post-apocalyptic action film called The Day and I had to learn to use a shot gun. I also did a film called The Marine: Homefront which is straight action with cars blowing up, grenade launchers going off left and right and those sets are fun. Who gets to say at the end of their day of work that I got to fly or they exploded a car on set or we were filming on an abandoned ship. That is what is great about being an actress. You get to live a ton of different lives.
YAH: Is there a film genre you have not been in yet that you are dying to try?
Ashley: I was really wanting to do romantic comedy and I did a film called The Bounceback. It’s a romantic comedy which will be premiering at SXSW so I have that to look forward to. It was great to finally be in a comedy and get to dress up, wear fake eyelashes and be a girl. I love comedy and I would love to explore a period piece, something Mad Men style or a costume drama.
YAH: You would be great in that. I could totally see you doing the whole Mad Men thing.
Ashley: Yeah. My parents sent me to cotillion lessons to sort of train me on how to write letters, how to behave at dinner parties. It’s a lost art and I kind of miss that art. It possesses that old world charm and I would love to revisit that in a period piece or something like that.
YAH: It seems like you have done pretty much everything. You have the theater training and background. I did see you also have done some voice work. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Ashley: Yes! That was my dad’s job. He did voice work in Transformers and The Smurfs. Growing up with a father who did voice overs and characters like that for a job, I had the best night time stories around. It was something I was in awe of, going to Paramount and watching him record or visiting him on a sound stage after school. Recently I got a chance to work with my dad. He is directing Lebron James’ new cartoon show and I got a chance to play one of the girls in the high school. I got to play one of the popular girls for a couple episodes. And don’t think I didn’t have to audition just because my dad was the director. Nothing comes easy anymore. There was a big audition process. I hid the fact he was my dad until he showed up. It was a big life accomplishment to get to work with my dad.
YAH: I’m sure and a whole different kind of pressure working with him.
Ashley: Yeah the pressure was on. Because he’s my dad people look at you with a little more of a critical eye. I came in prepared and did my best.
YAH: Since you have done both theater and film, do you have a preference? Do you have plans to get back onto the stage a some point?
Ashley: I was actually just talking about that a couple of hours ago. I would LOVE to do a play next and sink into performing live again. There is nothing like performing live every night in front of a different audience every time and having it be raw and fresh. I really miss theater and what I loved most about going to NYU was having New York to be a stage on. I would go study at school and go watch Broadway and say ‘Oh that’s how it’s done’ and try harder the next day. I miss doing theater a lot. I perform at The Groundlings from time to time and student classes, etc., whenever there are workshops. I always go back to perform improv because I love it being fresh and being out of my comfort zone, taking chances. So yeah theater would be great to do next.
YAH: Improve is so scary. You really have to be on your toes to do improv and be able to run with something.
Ashley: I love improv. My mom was actually one of the founding members of The Groundlings. When I was in high school and a teenager and insecure about things my mom suggested I take some classes at The Groundlings and it was literally the best advice I have ever gotten. It allowed me to be free, be myself and try things and know that no one dies. You are creating a character and if the scene dies it’s ok. It’s exhilarating. It helped me find myself as a teenager.
YAH: Can you talk about the documentary that you are involved in with the Elephant foundation?
Ashley: Yes! This is my passion. Thanks for allowing me to talk about it. I got back from Cambodia a few weeks ago. I’m very close with the owner of The Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary which is just beginning to be developed. The documentary follows the capture, transport and release of two Asian elephants from an illegal facility on the Vietnam border to The Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary. I got the chance to hang out with these elephants and they are such remarkable creatures. First of all they never forget their lines. (Laughs)
It was very special. A big part was that to train these elephants bull hooks are normally used and abuse but at this sanctuary that is not the case. Elephant whisperers so to speak use bananas and love to walk them through their new land where they won’t have to do anything but roam free. That is the working title for the documentary “Love and Bananas.”
YAH: Elephants are not seen as super cuddly animals but they are extremely gentle and intelligent. What is it about elephants that drew you to them vs other animals?
Ashley: I’m not sure what drew me to elephants. I saw them and was initially attracted. They are so sensitive and so self-aware. An elephant can recognize itself in a mirror. An elephant mourns for a family member. They gather in a circle. Or if there is ever a threat they put the elder and kid elephants in the inner circle to protect them. That quality and sensitive nature while being a gentle giant is what’s beautiful about them. To get an elephant to be that subservient you have to break their spirit and that is a very aggressive and painful procedure. It kills me to see an animal that self-aware go through that kind of abuse. I’m a huge animal person and believe in animal rights. I have been a vegetarian my entire life, born and raised, and I believe you have to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves and for me that is working with animals.
YAH: Thank you so much for your work with the animals! Congrats on all your success and the release of this upcoming film The Last Exorcism Part II!
YAH would like to thank Ashley Bell for taking the time to chat with us! You can follow Ashley on twitter at @OfficialAshBell .
You can also check out the official website for Love and Bananas!
Check out the opening scene for the film below!