SXSW 2017: A Conversation with “Hounds of Love” star Ashleigh Cummings

“Hounds of Love” took SXSW by storm. One of the most critically-acclaimed and harrowing films of the year from first time Australian director Ben Young. The film is set in the 1980s and brings a fresh take to the crime thriller genre with its focus on a serial killer couple (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth) and the young victim, Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings) they kidnap who must use her wits to drive a wedge between them.

Ashleigh Cummings / Photo credit: Catherine Gutierrez

We had a chance to sit down with Ashleigh Cummings at SXSW where she discussed the challenges and experience working on the film.

Interview questions by Catherine Gutierrez and various publications

How do you prepare yourself for a role like this and come down in between scenes and still stay in that mental state? 

Ashleigh:  I read a lot of books of true accounts and watched documentaries about the initial acute first days of kidnapping. Also some other creative things like watching “Room” with Brie Larson but that’s a little bit different because it’s over a longer period of time. That was how I got into the headspace of the character.

Then I crafted this table of where I was emotionally at any given point and different stimuli, images and music. Everyone was incredibly respectful and gave me the space that I needed. Stephen Curry who plays John is the funniest guy and the nicest guy you’ll ever meet and would crack a joke on lunch breaks and then you’d have an hour to rest from the pain and then you’d go back on it.

In terms of separating from it afterwards it was very challenging because it happens to real people. Though these characters and story is fictional it’s very much rooted in the reality that some people face. And just the notion of the pains that people have to go through is heartbreaking. I’d sit on the beach everyday or go for a swim and reflect on it and I kind of consciously decided early on that the only thing we can do is create in spite of it all. It won’t rectify the situation and the pain will always be there, but that’s the only way I can make the world better.

How much  of your character was shaped on paper and how much was shaped on set?

Ashleigh: When I initially read the script she was always fighting, calculating and assessing the situation. When we got on set an interesting thing happened where after a significant event everything is lost for her. Ben and I decided that she was allowed to be a human and she was allowed to give up and that was okay. So often we see heroes in films and admire them because they are so strong all the way through and that is amazing, but we’re also humans and this kind of depression and desperation is part of the human condition.

Ashleigh Cummings / Photo courtesy of Factor 30 Films

This film walks thin lines purposefully between the respect of the subject and almost exploitation of it and I’m wondering did you discuss with the director how to walk that line in your performance and the design in the film? 

Ashleigh: It was one of my very first questions in the audition in how Ben was going to execute this scenes. And one of the reasons I signed on because he said I’m not interested in the violence or gratuitous kind of elements of horror that we often do see. This story is very grounded in the reality and Ben wanted to explore the psychology between these people. We do see elements of horror and the violence is implied and sometimes that’s worse because you can imagine it and it puts you in a very strange headspace. Ben was very adamant that it wasn’t a horror film and he didn’t really subscribe to any genres and I think that’s why it makes it so original and unique. He was just trying to tell a story to the best of his ability and I think he did a pretty magical job with it.

You were with Emma and Stephen a lot. How was that balance on set because I’m assuming you got close because you said he cracked jokes. Was that a benefit or was it a hinderance for having that kind of relationship?

Ashleigh: Both Stephen and Emma are both very aware people. They were able to kind of exist in the set and bring to it what it needed at any given moment and that’s something that I admire very much. They knew when it was time to focus and be in the headspace but they also knew when it we needed a laugh. That was kind of the way I got through it with our friendships and that extends to the whole cast and crew. When I went into the audition with Ben I was asking him about film and who’s working on it and how did you choose them. He said, “My first priority is that they are good humans and then I look at their skill sets.” Then I was like sign me up. I love that philosophy and it created this trust on set that was very important to the subject matter and the story we were telling.

Catherine:What are you doing next and will you be going in a different direction? 

Ashleigh: I will take whatever job comes (laughs). I do talk to my managers about what projects I want to work on and because I do come at it from a moral lens which is sometimes challenging for my managers because I’m like is this the message I want to share? I think we have responsibilities as artists to do that because we have a very powerful voice in changing our society and influencing it. I just moved to Los Angeles so I’m kind of exploring the industry here and exploring a new country and there are a million other things I want to do. I’m very passionate about human rights and the environment and stuff and Africa is my spirit country. I can’t not work in this industry , I love it and love acting but there are a million other things I want to do as well.

 “Hounds of Love” is now in theaters, VOD and streaming services. Let us know what you think of the film in the comments below!

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