To call Ashleigh LaThrop anything other than a powerhouse would be an understatement. From gracing television screens on critically acclaimed shows like The 100, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Kominsky Method, it’s evident that LaThorp strives to ensure every project she works on is different from the last. Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, LaThorp’s filmography has touched on some of the biggest social issues of the 21st century — from women’s bodily autonomy as she portrayed a handmaid to her latest role on Amazon’s Utopia, a series about a group of comic book-obsessed young adults who find themselves mixed up with a dark government conspiracy.
In the series, Ashleigh plays Becky, a postgraduate student who is convinced the graphic novel ‘The Utopia Experiments’ is connected to her father’s death. In a true testament to the phrase “art imitates life” Becky and the other characters in Utopia are dealing with their very own viral pandemic plaguing the city of Chicago. Schön! spoke with Ashleigh about her role as Becky on Utopia, what it was like learning about ALS and Parkinson’s disease for her role, and how she has been using 2020 to reflect on her career so far.
Hello Ashleigh! First, we have to ask: what’s kept you busy during quarantine?
I have a new puppy, Snuffleupagus. And he is high energy and hilarious, and I’ve become the biggest dog mom because of him. So I’d say him first and foremost. I’ve also been able to catch up on a lot of different things, from shows and movies to all of the various arts and crafts projects I always start and then struggle to finish. I’m learning Japanese and brushing up on my Spanish, so it’s been nice to have the time to give a lot of energy to those things as well.
You first came onto a lot of people’s radars from The Handmaid’s Tale. What did you learn from your experience of playing Ofmatthew?
I think the most important thing I learned is that Toronto winters are no joke! I worked on that series from October until April, and the majority of my scenes were outside in temperatures averaging 20 degrees Fahrenheit. We had on several layers of costumes, heating pads, hand and foot warmers, warming tents, and gallons of hot chocolate standing by at all times. I loved my time working on that show, and I’d also love to never work in that kind of cold again.
Understandable. Moving on to Utopia, when you first read for Becky, what part of her character did you connect to most?
I really connected with her drive. I love that so many of the characters in Utopia have this mission that for them is paramount and they are willing to go to extreme lengths to get it. Becky is no different. She wants that graphic novel so she can find a cure for Diels, and as the season progresses you see her start to do some pretty extreme things in her quest for her cure and in her quest to save the world.
After watching the British original, how did you want to approach Becky differently?
So I have a confession: I never watched the British version all the way through. I watched the first episode and a few minutes of the second, but then I stopped because I didn’t want to get another actor’s performance in my head. But once our show finishes the second and hopefully third and fourth seasons, I’ll definitely return to finish watching the British one because I really liked what I saw.
Your character has a mysterious disease that you’ve compared to something like Parkinson’s. What preparation went into portraying that?
I started by doing research on neurodegenerative diseases. ALS and Parkinson’s were the two that seemed to fit the most with Becky’s symptoms. But since Diels isn’t a real disease, we were able to kind of fudge things quite a bit. After the initial research, I spent a lot of time by myself just imagining things: What does it feel like to experience those symptoms? Is there pain? When and how often? What does the knowledge of death do to a person? I read The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker to delve further into that last question. We also had a doctor come on set to talk me through all the things that happen when your body experiences a seizure and worked with me a bit on the tremor.
What was your favourite part of filming the series?
I think the fact that the cast and crew were so incredible. I loved going to work every day because it never felt like a job, it always felt like I was going to go play and create with my friends. Everyone was so invested in creating the best show possible and everyone was so good at their job, down to our ADs who kept us in line; it was truly a wonderful experience.
Where do you think the series will go if it’s picked up for a second season?
I’m secretly hoping Becky becomes this martial arts prodigy or something and she goes around slaying bad guys and being as cool as Jessica Hyde. As far as the season goes, I think it will be really interesting to explore the ramifications of our actions at Christie Corp. There are some interesting new pairings in the group, and I can’t wait to see how those interactions and dynamics play out.
What would you say is one of your nerdy obsessions?
I’m definitely a fan of anime. I signed up for an HBO Max trial just so that I could watch the Hayao Miyazaki movies. They’re all available on the service and there were several I hadn’t seen. Best week of my life.
The show centres a lot on fandom. What’s your most memorable fan experience?
I think my most memorable experience was definitely being recognised for the first time. I was in the airport coming home after an 11-hour flight, and I looked a hot mess. I was on the escalator and a girl behind me accidentally dropped her suitcase so I caught it before it could slide down the steps. As I handed the handle back to her we made eye contact and she immediately lit up and asked if I was on The Handmaid’s Tale. I was so surprised that I stammered out “um, maybe?” and then because I was embarrassed at what a disaster I looked like and didn’t want that to be her impression of me I exclaimed “I really like your hair!” and promptly turned and ran down the remaining steps and out of the airport. I’m sure it was a very strange encounter for her, but I was simultaneously elated at being recognised and cringey for what a dork I was about it.
That’s super funny! Next, what’s a personal change you’ve made in the past year that’s affected you the most?
I read something that said ‘you have to make room for the things you want.’ I took that to mean both physically — i.e. I had to make space in my house for my dog’s toys and food etc. But I also like the mental and emotional aspect of that saying as well. One of the good things about quarantine is that you have a lot of time for introspection. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time thinking about the things I want in life and to go about changing my habits, or even just my mindset about things so that I have space for more.
What are you looking forward to right now?
I’m looking forward to the holidays. The last three months of the year are my favourite because there are so many of them. Even though I probably won’t be flying home to my family this year due to COVID, I’m really excited to start some new traditions. Plus, I’ve had a lot of time this year so I was able to make homemade gifts, which I’m really excited to mail out in December.
‘Utopia’ is available on Amazon Prime Video now.
This Schön! online exclusive has been produced by
photography. Ricky Alvarez @ Early Morning Riot
fashion. Jordan Boothe
talent. Ashleigh LaThrop
hair. Nena Melendez
make up. Sam Visser
photography assistant. Zach Shea
words. Kelsey Barnes
interview. Braden Bjella