Simone Ashley talks ‘Sex Education’ and creating Olivia
As an actor, Simone Ashley believes her job is to share what it is to be human. With every character she embodies, she explores all the idiosyncrasies and quirks that make them a person. She dives into their stories and aspects of their personalities that she can empathize with. She paints their stories colorfully and enthusiastically, bringing words on a page to life, making a character become a real person to viewers all over the world.
With this mindset, Ashley has proven time and time again just why she is such a renowned actress in Britain. She is known for award-winning films such as Kill Ben Lyk and blockbusters like Pokémon Detective Pikachu, as well as the acclaimed show Broadchurch and J.K. Rowling’s mini series C.B. Strike. In every role, she displays her versatility and talent to the world, as well as her passion.
“I love making others feel something, creating something that makes people smile, laugh, remember, think. We are creatures of desire. I love to create and see what happens, I love to use my voice and listen to others. I love telling important stories. Acting helps me exercise my sense of caring, as you really have to care about someone’s story to play them. Acting gives me a platform to explore and connect with myself and others,” said Ashley.
Despite her many prominent credits, audiences would most easily recognize Ashley from the hit Netflix original series Sex Education. The highlight of her esteemed career, the show tells the story of a teenage boy with a sex therapist mother that teams up with a high school classmate to set up an underground sex therapy clinic at school.
“When I read the script for Sex Education, I was so impressed and excited to see the high school setting take a slick spin and introduce a fresh approach to it, one that I could relate to and could see myself in. Being a romantic myself, I fell in love with the heartwarming relationships and encounters in the script, and the writing was just so brilliant,” said Ashley.
Colorism doesn't just impact dark-skin black girls, but Asian women too, so Ashley was impressed to see herself, a dark-skinned South Asian girl, cast as Olivia, one of the popular girls in school who is part of a group called "The Untouchables." Olivia represents a large percentage of the show’s target audience. She is a young girl that is part of the generation that is easily influenced by social media and feels pressured to look and act a certain way. However, Olivia rebels against those ideals. She lets her imperfections shine through and does not feel like she needs to live up to the expectations she sees all around her in today’s world.
“I feel very proud to represent dark skinned Asian women who may be watching the show. Since the success of season one, I have developed a heartwarming fan base, with many fans in India,” said Ashley.
Ashey was inspired by Roller Girl in Boogie Nights when creating her character. On the way to set one day, she bought 10 pounds worth of Bubble Gum, put a massive chunk of it in her mouth, and showed her co-stars what a big bubble she could blow. It not only gave Olivia a cool mannerism, but Ashley created a story around it; Olivia chews bubblegum all the time to give her something to distract people with, so they don’t actually see right through her. Because although on the surface she might seem striking and untouchable, she is actually a warm and sensitive, big hearted girl but doesn’t really know that about herself too well.
“When I was in high school I assumed the exact opposite of my role in the show, so it’s been so much fun jumping into another world and seeing what it is like being on another terrain,” said Ashley.
On top of the show’s vast success commercially, it was nominated for two MTV Movie + TV Awards. Ashley’s character also had an important scene in an episode with a now iconic line, which then trailed down into the fashion industry during fashion week, where the designer Henry Holland printed the line from the scene onto his t-shirts. Ashley feels both proud and still astounded by the show’s worldwide impact, but could not be happier that such a story is in the spotlight.
“I love how daring the story of this show is. Sex has been represented in the entertainment industry in a very predictable way for some time, and it is great to be a part of a show that dares to use comedy as a way to shake things up and tell the honest truth. I only wish when I was a teenager that I had a show like this to watch and be able to relate to, and even learn from,” she concluded.
Sex Education is available to stream on Netflix all around the world, with its highly anticipated second season currently in production. It’s a must watch, so be sure to check it out.
By Joyce Cameron
June 26th, 2019