Take A Peek At Life With Ashley
Welcome to Kids Stuff. Today's column includes an interview with Ashley Leggat, who is well known for her character Casey MacDonald on the Disney sitcom Life with Derek. Plus I have a family holiday idea.
First a little bit about the series. The complete first season of Life with Derek has arrived on DVD. Disney Channel (U.S.) and Family Channel (Canada) have showed this series since 2005. Ashley's co-star Michael Seater portrays Derek Venturi. The show is a modern version of The Brady Bunch. Because the opening of the show begins like The Brady Brunch, I wrote about the series in theme song fashion.
Here's a story,
of a mom named Nora,
who had two girls of her very own,
then she met a man named George,
who had three kids of his own.
Then one day George asked Nora to get married,
which joyfully she did at once.
Now they are trying to be a family,
all at once.
They encounter much turmoil.
but love and patience will prevail
That is why they are called the Venturi Bunch.
Ashley and Michael were about 16 when they shot the first season, so playing their roles was pretty realistic.
George (John Ralston), the father of three, and Nora (Joy Tanner), a mother of two, were always serving as the referees. Caught in the middle of a rivalry battle - a battle that will determine who will win control of their house and their school - are Derek's and Casey's younger siblings: Edwin, Marti and Lizzie. They change their alliances depending on how it affects them and the amount of the bribe. Ashley was born Sept. 26, 1986, in the city of Hamilton, in the province of Ontario in Canada. She has four older brothers: Rob, Brett, Todd and Bram. Her proud parents are Patty and Roy. Right off the bat, Ashley commented that she feels blessed to have the wonderful parents that she has.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Ashley has danced her whole life. She said she was actually discovered at a theater production, where she was one of the dancers, dancing to a song that Byron Bellows had composed. It just so happened that Byron was seated in the audience and watched her perform. He told her that she should have an agent. So basically, he started her acting and performing career. He introduced her to a friend who was an agent. With the agent's help, Ashley had two commercials in the first week, and her career took off from there.
Ashley sees Life with Derek as a modern-day Brady Bunch because it is the blending of two families.
"It is great because a lot of kids are going through the same situation and can see themselves in this situation. They see that we can get through it, and they can get through it," she noted.
Ashley still remembered her audition.
"It was crazy. I had bleach blond hair and my casting director told me to go dark. That was the same week I had to go on the Life with Derek audition," she recalled. "I went in, and when my hair was lighter I was getting typecast as the popular girl. When I went into the audition with darker hair and played this not-very-confident girl, it was such a change. It was weird."
In fact, they brought several Derek and Casey teams back the following week. They had three Dereks and three Caseys.
"We kind of paired up and mixed and matched. I got matched up with Mike," she said.
They gave them a scene to learn. They never met each other but had many mutual friends. So they were talking, got a little carried away and forgot to go through their scene. When the people in charge asked if they were ready, they realized they had not gone through the scene.
"We didn't have the scene down, but we definitely had chemistry. I think that is what helped us get the part," she said, adding that she learned how to act on the set. "It was very scary, but I had great directors."
I was curious how difficult it was to become her character in the show.
"It was difficult in the beginning," she said. "At first it was kind of crazy. We did not know each other. You are all put in a room together and then you're told to become a family. We were all nervous and apprehensive about each other in the beginning, but after a half of a day was gone, it was insane how well we all blended and the chemistry we had.
"It was easy to play the characters together with Mike, who plays Derek, since we are so different," she added. "He can easily play that jerk brother and I can easily get mad at him for that."
A typical day shooting the show is exhausting. Ashley gets picked up at 6:15 a.m. She is taken to hair and makeup once she arrives on the set. They have an hour-long lunch but they shoot the whole day and usually finish at 8:30 at night.
The days are so long that often she would see the actors that play her family more than her real family, she commented, adding that even though she had free weekends, she was often too tired to go out.
Ashley noted it is easier to portray a younger character because she already went through that stage in her life. Laughing on the set cannot be avoided, but she admitted that she often did laugh especially with her interactions with Mike. Most of the time they used tricks to hide their faces to prevent laughing.
Ashley's favorite episode was when they had a party at their home and their parents were away. She described the chaotic fun during shooting when she and Mike actually had a fight in the bathroom, where they were accidentally locked in and sprayed shampoo and soap on each other.
She told me that the director told them they could do anything but throw soap in each other's eyes, but then Mike proceeded to get soap and water in her eyes. She was temporarily blinded during the fight. Afterward, she joked with Mike that the only way he could beat her was if he blinded her.
Presently, Ashley is involved with Classic Story on stage, Dirty Dancing, by Eleanor Bernstein, at the Royal Alexander Theatre in Toronto, and if all goes well she will do a movie of Life with Derek.
What would she do first if she could make a dramatic impact on the world?
"World hunger is probably the biggest issue, especially with all of the children starving all over the world. It just breaks my heart," she said.
Ashley commented about her parents' lessons to her: "Your fans are the people who get you here, and without them you are nothing. You can be on a great TV show and on top of the world one year and then the next year, there could be nothing," she said. "Always remember that things can be taken away from you just as quickly as they are given to you. Being in L.A., you meet certain people that you love and idolize, and then you realize they are not the nicest person. It kind of ruins it for you. I would never want to be that person to anyone."
On the personal side: Ashley is taking college classes and majoring in psychology. She loves watching her favorite show, Dancing with the Stars, and joked that if asked she would definitely perform on the show - that's a hint for any producers who happen to read this column!
She has been active with many charitable activities at McMaster Hospital in Toronto. She has even hosted a telethon at the hospital. By the way, she loves animals.
She felt her biggest break in acting was Life with Derek, but she was also in a movie, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, with Lindsay Lohan. She didn't have a big part, but it was a prominent cast and it was a great starter for her.
Ashley has advice to others who want to become stars:
"There is a lot of rejection that comes with it. The biggest thing to remember is that everyone who is on a TV show has been through ten no's before you get a yes. Don't give up."
Columnist's note: Ashley was very nice and extremely down to earth.