Three years ago actress Ashley Blaine Featherson stepped out on faith and moved to California to pursue an acting career. A guest-starring role on Raven Symone’s “State of Georgia” television series and several short films later the 25-year-old Maryland native is seeing her hard work and talent payoff.
The Howard University alumna is taking her career into her own hands by co-creating, producing and starring in a new web series called “Hello Cupid” which is set to debut Sunday March 10 on the Black & SexyTV YouTube Channel. The comedic series is about the everyday life struggles of friends Whitney and Robyn who are also roommates.
Before Sunday’s premiere of her web series Featherson spoke with Examiner about forging her own path to success, her school’s famous alumni, her new show and the ultimate goals for her career.
BME: So I’m reading your bio material and it says Howard University graduate and I say to myself this school has produced the likes of Debbie Allen (“A Different World”), Phylicia Rashad (“The Cosby Show”) and Tarji P. Henson (“Think Like a Man”), and now we have you another talented actress, my question is do you feel any pressure coming behind those ladies?
ABF: Umm, I want to start off by saying this, Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad among so many other people, were the exact reasons why I went to Howard University. I had my pick of a lot of different schools. But I really wanted to follow in the legacy of the greats, especially black actors and actresses that studied in the exact same program that I did because Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad both came out of the Fine Arts and the Musical Theater program. So that was something that was really important to me. I have to be honest, I do feel a little bit of pressure since we produce great artists and I think that also we’re saying that not only do we produce great artists but we inspire other artists to do the same. So I don’t only want to be a great actress that people know when they see my face but I want other young girls especially who look like me to say oh my gosh I can do that too, I can go to a prestigious school that produces the likes of amazing performers and that’s an attainable goal for me. So in that sense I do feel the pressure but more so I feel the pressure to inspire another young girl or young man as they did for me.
BME: Sunday March 10th is the premiere of your new show “Hello Cupid”. Are your throwing a viewing party with family and friends?
ABF: I’m really excited about the teaser (trailer) and how we’ve gotten such a good response on it. I’m definitely gonna get some friends, I’m from the DC area so I don’t have much family here in California but yeah I’m going to get people together so I can hear their responses and what they think.
BME: Any butterflies with the premiere just days away?
ABF: Oh my gosh, I think it’s not going to hit me until the 9th or the 10th. In fact it didn’t happen with the teaser either because one day I looked up and I’m like oh my god we have eleven thousand views! Okay so that means eleven-thousand people have seen this. For some people that may not seem like a lot but to me I was like wow and I’m really excited that people are commenting on it because that was the point. We didn’t want this to be a show where people were like oh my gosh that’s cool, that’s pretty, that’s awesome, we wanted people to say what is this about? This makes me feel this way, I just had this conversation with my girlfriend yesterday, oh my god I’ve been hoping people would talk about this issue on a show. I’m really excited for people to see the first episode because I can only imagine what they’ll say then.
BME: I’ve read the premise for “Hello Cupid” and the show is dealing with some tough subject matter, what made you decide to take a comedic approach to addressing those subjects?
ABF: It’s not just about colorism, it’s also about a friendship. So I think that in the teaser people are assuming we’re only going to be talking about light-skinned-dark-skinned stuff, no, it’s about a friendship, it’s about living with a roommate, it’s about online dating and it’s also about finding love. You’re going to have all those things intertwined in there. I felt that if it were to be a drama, that would be pretty heavy and I’m almost positive we would not have the viewership and the interest that we have now.
BME: Tell me about your character in “Hello Cupid”.
ABF: Whitney and Robyn (portrayed by actress Hayley Marie Norman) are such contrasts but what they both innately want is they want the right person in their life. But Whitney is a little straight laced. She’s a smart girl and I think one of her downfalls is she knows what she wants so much that she has a hard time letting change and letting what may not line up with what she wants in. I think she’s a good friend, she’s a good person. She’s very strong, she doesn’t take any mess from anybody but she’ll always be there for you, she will always keep it real with you…that’s definitely Whitney.
BME: How close is your character to you?
ABF: I’m a very strong person and I know what I want. And also like Whitney I tell people how it is but I’m tactful. I’m still soft and a sweet person.
BME: “Hello Cupid “ is on the Black & SexyTV YouTube Channel . How did you hook up with the Black & SexyTV family?
ABF: Well Dennis (Dortch) and Numa (Perrier) are awesome. I met them at a networking function and a friend of mine introduced me to them. So I met them, gave them my card, had a iittle brief exchange and I went home. At that time I wasn’t that familiar with their content and even after meeting them I was like let me check out their content. I absolutely fell in love with what they were doing and I was like this is definitely something I would want to be involved in, so actually a couple of months later, they expressed interest in me coming in to audition for their show “That Guy”. I auditioned for that, they really liked me. Lena Waithe who’s the writer of the show, we pitched with them and they were like let’s do it. We pitched with them in November and we shot in December, so it went,very, very ,very fast. They were familiar with most of my work and they already know me as an actress and other people could vouch for me as an actress and they knew Lena very well as a writer, so they were like okay we’re wiling to take a chance on this essentially, so I kinda got really lucky. They’re awesome to work with and I'm just really excited . I also knew I wanted this to launch on a channel that already had viewership, that already had people that would be excited for programming like this and with a team too at Black & Sexy (especially Dennis and Numa, Brian Ali- Harding) who would understand the vision and be just as passionate about it as Lena and I.
BME: Web series seem to be the way to go for a lot of artists in the industry nowadays. What made you go that route?
ABF: I’m so happy you asked me that. I’m from the theater so I come from, you get an audition, you go, you do your monologue or your reading, you get the part or you don’t and you do that over and over again. It (the web) was very foreign to me and I was like my character Whitney, this is not what I do, so I’m going to stick with what I know. So it took me a long time. I started seeing this awesome stuff on YouTube and I was like wait a minute, I was just very inspired by it but what I realized was that I’m sitting at home, upset wondering why I'm not working. And to be honest the show grew out of frustration. And like most actors you get to that point where the light bulb goes off and you’re like oh my gosh, I’m so much more than just an actor and a singer and dancer, I’m also a creator. I have great ideas in my head that if I need work I can create work for myself. And so I got rid of that ego, I got rid of that feeling that my manager and my agent should be working harder for me, I got rid of thinking that I’m theater-trained. Now I’m not just Ashley Blaine Featherson actress, singer, dancer, I’m a creator. It grew from my saying this is the type of work I would want to do, these are the type of people I want to work with, this is the type of audience I would like to see me. How am I going to make that happen by waiting another year for that to come to me. I want to create it myself and hope that people believe in me and my vision as much as I believe in it and it worked.
BME: How liberating is it to take your career into your own hands?
ABF: It is liberating but I would say the word is powerful because I just feel like God is really showing me…you know like they always say, the plans God has for you are greater than the plans you have for yourself. I just feel like this is exactly evidence of that. Three years ago if you had asked me if I would be sitting here having an interview with you, a web series that I’m starring in and co-creating is premiering next Sunday, I would have been, that’s not my life, you must be talking about somebody else, that’s not me, that’s not my path, that’s not the way I’m going. And yeah, it’s just so powerful, the biggest thing is I didn’t now that was me, I didn’t know I was a creator, I didn’t know that was inside of me, so now that that is, I now think of all of the other things that are inside of me. I just feel like I’m completing myself at 25, I Feel like I’m walking into who I am as an artist. It really is just powerful and it really is just liberating and it really is a testament to if you really just kinda let go, and let your life happen the way it has already been written, you’re gonna be just fine.
BME: Describe what the journey has been like so far, because we hear how tough Hollywood it is for actresses period but is tougher for minority actresses.
ABF: I got here and I was so motivated and inspired. I think passion is what drives me out here because it is so hard and so easy to have your light diminished. And I think that once your light gets blown out, you have to figure out a way to reignite that flame and that’s the hard part. So that’s what happened to me along the way. So I was lucky that I got here and I got representation, within about 6 months I got a manager and an agent. But even with those things, I just really want people to know that that’s not enough. Another thing that’s difficult out here is getting caught up in competition. And that’s one thing I have not allowed myself to do. While it's easy to look at someone else and be like why don’t I have that? Why am I not on that show?, I realize what’s for me is for me, and whatever that is, is going to be amazing! I used to sit here in my house and cry sometimes. The story of every actor I’m living it and have lived it. This town is hard but it’s not that hard, It’s only as hard as you make it. I made a decision that I’m going to conquer this and it’s going to be effortless and it’s going to happen the way it’s supposed to happen. It just takes a while to get there. The other thing is I have great people around me, although my family is on the East Coast, I have such wonderful friends, people who support me and lift me up and inspire me. I have such talented people around me, there’s no way that I can’t succeed. That’s the thing about L.A. you have to keep good people around you.
BME: So it’s your support system and faith that keep you going out there?
ABF: By far. I just can’t imagine where I would be without both. And even though my family is back in North Carolina and Maryland, the DC area, I couldn’t ask for better support . It’s hard to support a child who’s 25 and has been here since she was 22 pursuing a career and she’s not going to make any money from it yet. That’s hard. I’m their child and I’m three thousand miles away, that’s just a lot. But they’re so supportive they’ve never once doubted me, they’ve never once suggested that I move back home, they’ve never once said, are you sure this is what you want to do? I think that, that alone is just such a blessing.
BME: What’s your ultimate goal for your life and career, you’ve done theater, TV, now the web, are films the next step for you?
ABF: Film is definitely the next step for me. I always tell people this, I want a career similar to Vanessa Williams because she does everything. She does Broadway here and there, she does albums, television, she’ll do a film, like that’s what I want. People may say that’s asking for a lot but I just feel like that’s who I am. To me if I just did films, I would be stuck in a niche that is great but I’m capable of doing other things. So I really want a versatile career that reaches a lot of different people. But yeah I haven’t been in a full length feature but that’s definitely the next for me. And to be honest, another dream of mine, I would like to be a series regular on a TV show.
BME: When audiences see an Ashley Blaine Featherson project what do you want them to associate that with?
ABF: I want people to see me as organic, always giving an honest performance because those are the actors we love. The actors we love are the actors we believe. Acting is believing, that’s what it is. I want people to see me as being honest and I want people to see the possibilities in me. I also want people to see me as a role model. I want them to say I talked with her and she’s a really cool girl, she’s down to earth. No matter what heights that I get to I never want people to see me as oh she’s bad, she’s changed, everyone changes, everyone matures but I really want people to understand that I’m always Ashley, that’s really important to me.
To learn more about her new show "Hello Cupid", you can check out the show at its facebook page
"Hello Cupid" premieres Sunday March 10th on the Black & SexyTV YouTube channel