Ashley Love-Mills Is Set To Take Hollywood By Storm in Tyler Perry’s Too Close To Home
At the very young of age of 3 years old, Ashley Love-Mills remembers telling her mom that she wanted to be an actress. However, growing up in a household of tough love, and parents with austere careers, her father, ex-military and her mother in finances, becoming an actress was just not the grounded career choice they had in mind for their only daughter. Ashley’s father grew up underprivileged and as any father, he wanted the best for her. From there, somewhat of a father-daughter truce was made, “They were like you’re going to college, and if you’re serious about entertainment, you can pursue it when you get grown, when you can pay your own bills”, and that’s exactly what she did.
Ashley, an ambitious, go-getter went to high school in North Carolina, and although she was bullied incessantly for her exotic features—born to an African-American father and mother of Filipino, Native and African-American descent—she managed to become an accomplished dancer and pianist. Her striking looks, although uncomfortable to some, did not go unnoticed by a random individual that saw potential, and sent her photos to the Miss North Carolina Teen USA pageant, and suggested that they contact her. A sixth place win in her first pageant, as Miss North Carolina Teen USA, Ashley decided she would compete as an adult in the Miss North Carolina USA pageant. History was made, as she was crowned Miss North Carolina USA in 2012, and was only the 5th African-American woman to ever hold the title since it’s inception in 1952. The following year, she went on to place in the top ten of Miss USA 2013.
Ashley Love-Mills has made history again! She’s starring as the no nonsense and career driven Valerie, in Tyler Perry’s political drama, Too Close To Home, the first scripted TV series for the reality television network giant, TLC.
I was able to catch up with this talented beauty, her gracious and optimistic personality radiates when talking to her. In this candid interview with Ashley Love-Mills, she is the epitome of perseverance through the storm. A crown of victory she continues to wear as she tells her story “from the pageant stage to being Hollywood’s newest it girl”.
Parlé Mag: Okay, so your dad was in the military and your mother was in finances, those are not so artsy careers, how did you go in this direction, becoming interested in the arts and acting?
Ashley Love-Mills: Oh my God, my parents are so very traditional. Until this day, my mom is like okay you’re an entertainer, you’re an actress… okay that’s different. I was about 3, I actually remember telling my mom, that I wanted to be an actress. I just had this thing where I would come home from school and I would watch television. And it wasn’t just me watching it for entertainment purposes, there was something about it that I always found really, really interesting. I would come and visit my dad, and he would have like a library of movies, and what we would call the tv room. I would go, and literally go down the list of films that were there and watch them all. I started to take notes of the cinematography, how shots were done, and the things that the actors were saying. My parents saw that I started mimicking those things. And I told them I wanted to be an actress, of course they ignored me. Everywhere that I went, I was sorta’ drawing attention to myself, performing and making people laugh. People would always tell them when I was like 4 and 5, you need to get her in acting lessons. Get her in something where she can express herself. My dad being military, like, I was a little soldier. He kinda’ raised me like a little boy, and I was doing whatever he wanted me to do.
Parlé Mag: Wow… really?
Ashley Love-Mills: When I was probably like 2 years old, I remember memorizing times tables and reading books. I started school early, I was like 4 when I started kindergarten. So in my dad’s mind, he grew up underprivileged and not having a lot. He wanted me to go out and get really educated and go off to college. Maybe become a doctor, a lawyer, or a pilot or something. I can remember him buying me video games, where I would be flying planes. I was like what is this? This is stupid! I would take my little dolls, and create sets and play with them. After a while he wouldn’t allow me to do that anymore. He told me that barbie dolls were worth more in the box. So he took everything away from me, that I was using to perform with. The only thing he let me do, he allowed me to play the piano. And the only reason I was playing the piano, he felt like anybody playing the piano would be more intelligent and perform better than their peers and class.
Parlé Mag: Wow, your dad was tough, seemed like it would have been difficult to even get into acting? How did you manage that?
Ashley Love-Mills: I think I was like 8 or 9 when I was in school and I saw a post on the bulletin board, and it was some independent project they were going to start filming at UCF. So I brought it to my parent’s attention, my dad reluctantly was like fine, I’ll take you to this audition. Not really thinking I might get it.
Parlé Mag: So your dad wasn’t totally against it, he did at least take you to the audition.
Ashley Love-Mills: Yeah, I have vague memories in my mind, just being in that room, the camera was rolling, and the director was telling me what to do, and they had given me this sad story. And before I left, they wanted me to do the project. I just knew for sure, that was what I wanted to do. I was doing a little bit of modeling, performing in plays, and stuff like that in church. But my parents were so focused on me playing the piano, and not doing anything related to entertainment. They said they didn’t want me to deal with the harsh realities of becoming a child star. So I was in school, and I played sports. I was a super tomboy. When I was like 17, I met with this lady in North Carolina, where I was living at the time, she was starting an agency out in L.A. She was really interested in having me come out there and represent me. My parents were like okay, we’ll give it a shot.
Parlé Mag: Is that how you made the transition from Orlando to North Carolina?
Ashley Love-Mills: Yeah, my parents are from North Carolina, originally. When they separated, my mom wanted to move closer to our family. My senior year, I applied to colleges. I was going to go to L.A. and two days before I was scheduled to go, they pulled the plug on that one. They were like you’re going to college, and if your serious about entertainment, you can pursue it when you get grown, when you can pay your own bills. And I said okay cool, bet on that one… cause that’s exactly what’s gonna’ happen! So I said, I’m gonna’ go to school, and get my degree.
Parlé Mag: Oh, they weren’t playing! They were kinda’ strict.
Ashley Love-Mills: I was so angry, I mean it was a blessing that I got my degree. It’s funny cause they wanted me to go college. My mom ended up leaving sooner, and actually moved to Atlanta. So I ended up being in North Carolina all by myself all throughout college, and a little while afterwards until I moved to Atlanta almost three years ago.
Parlé Mag: You were in North Carolina alone, not so many restrictions, is that how you found a way to begin competing in pageants?
Ashley Love-Mills: Well it was kind of around the same time that I met that young lady that wanted to represent me in L.A. I got a letter from the organization that runs the pageant, saying that somebody from the high school that I had went to had sent in my photos suggesting that I do the Miss North Carolina Teen USA pageant. When I first got the letter I threw it away, cause I was like I don’t do pageants, that’s not my thing.
Parlé Mag: Wait…some random person just sent in your picture, you have no idea who it was?
Ashley Love-Mills: Yeah, somebody sent my photo in. Up to this day, I have no idea who sent that photo in. A couple of weeks later after throwing that letter away, my dad was visiting, and we were watching television and we came across the Miss Teen USA Pageant. I started watching the girls competing and it looked like they were just having a lot of fun. I was like, that looks fun. I was like Daddy I can do that. He was like, you can? I was like yeah… watch. So he helped me raise the money, and I ended up competing. I ended up placing 6th out of 96 girls on my first try. I thought maybe I’ll come back and do this one day as an adult, cause I was turning 18 and eventually you age out of it anyway. So I said I’ll come back and compete for Miss North Carolina as an adult. After I graduated from college, I started competing again and eventually I won.
Parlé Mag: That was a big deal, you were only the 5th Black woman to win that title. What was the feeling?
Ashley Love-Mills: I can still remember that whole weekend, the process. I had competed before, and I always was a little anxious and nervous, but wanting to do my best. That particular year I competed, I almost did not compete, yet something at the last minute said you need to do it, you’re going to win this year. I went in differently, I was very calm, just being myself and having a lot of fun. I think that’s what the judges really gravitated towards. I was kind of like you get what you see. I remember standing there on the stage after the pageant was over, the top five were there standing lining up and they were calling the runners up down to the winner. And I knew that whole time that I was going to win. I don’t say that like arrogantly, it’s like you just know. When God has something for you, you just know that it’s yours. And a friend of mine, she had won Miss Black USA, she had done my makeup and hair that year. Before she had won the pageant, she said God showed me, she said you’ll know when it’s your time. You’ll just know. You’ll be coasting the whole time, you’ll know. So when my name was called, I mean I could have fooled anyone, but just to hear your name being called as the winner is something unreal. But it was like very humbling too, because I think I had become like a crowd favorite. People I didn’t even know were screaming, and hollering, so happy and excited for me. So, yeah it was truly like a milestone because I had developed a relationship with the organization and they knew that I wanted to win, and the possibility of me winning was definitely there. And to show proof, that I did win, it’s a moment in time that I’ll never be able to forget. It was amazing.
Parlé Mag: Around this time you had started the Reach For More: Be Better Than Average Campaign, an organization against bullying. Why was this campaign so important to you?Ashley Love-Mills: I kind of made the decision when I was in high school, around the time that I had started competing in pageantry, because that was kind of my motivation. I always wanted to be an actress, and I knew that I was going to do that, and that is why I initially entered. But also I wanted to be a voice for the young teens that were my age and going through that [bullying]. It’s kind of hard for people to believe, but I was tormented in high school. I went through hell. It wasn’t when I was living in Orlando, but when I got to North Carolina it was a different setting. I had grown up in a part of Orlando that was such a melting pot, you had Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, you had everybody. And when I got to North Carolina the school was literally Black and White, and maybe a little bit of Hispanics and Asians. I come from a very diverse background, my dad is African-American and my mom is Filipino, Black, and Native American. So for having that kind of look, if you will, people were always picking on me for either not being Black enough or for being White. Rumors got spread about me. I had really really long hair in high school, and girls threatened to cut my hair. I could remember food being thrown at me in the lunch room. Until this day, I don’t get why I was targeted. I mean I tried to do the best that I could to fit in, but I didn’t really care so much about fitting in, I wanted to be myself. I think that teens at that age suffer with that. I really didn’t care, I wanted to be myself, and if you didn’t like it, then that was your problem. That’s not an Ashley problem. Yeah I struggled with that a lot in high school, I was afraid to go school. I would stay sick a lot, I mean it was bad. When I won Miss North Carolina I felt like this was my opportunity to share my story with young kids, and to really talk to them, and open up their minds and their hearts to see what type of affect that bully can have on their peers. How it really can affect you negatively in the class room, your grades dropping. I know for me, I was a straight A student when I was going through that, particularly my junior year in high school, my grades fell. There are a lot of people who are affected by bullying, and never really recover the way that I have, and become adults that are not contributing to society. They are more likely to commit crimes, they are more likely to treat other people the way that they were treated. So I partnered with the Department of Public Instruction for the state of North Carolina and they had me all over the state talking to young kids about this epidemic. A lot of these young kids that I spoke with, were reaching out to me on social media, like Instagram, and some wrote me letters thanking me for coming. In some way I saved their lives because they were tormented so bad, I was their inspiration. I really felt blessed to be able to do that, because I realize now, that maybe being bullied was never for me, but what I could do for other people, because God knew I was strong enough to get through that.
Parlé Mag: Well as they say, you kill your haters with success. You made your way to Atlanta and landed the role as Valerie on Tyler Perry’s new show Too Close to Home and you were the only one he called back for the role. Wow, tell us about that moment?
Ashley Love-Mills: Oh my God! I didn’t believe it, I’m gonna’ tell you this. Before that audition I was starting to feel really discouraged, and feeling like maybe I needed to take a break from acting. I modeled too, and I was traveling all over doing that kind of stuff as well. I mean I was acting but never really at the level where I wanted it to be. I told my agent like maybe a week prior to getting that audition, I was going to take a break and I wanted to focus on some new modeling opportunities. I was taking care of my dad, because my dad was battling cancer. So I was just thinking maybe this is not the right time. My agent was like, no no no, don’t give up. He was like you’re one of the best actresses I have on my roster, for you it’s going to be a timing thing. He was like just trust the process, I’m telling you. So when I got the audition for Valerie, I was literally laying in the bed, and I was like yeah I’m not gonna’ do that. I’m not feeling well, I’m tired, I’m feeling so unmotivated, not gon’ do it! So the whole day went by, Valerie was stuck in my mind. So I was like you know what, I’m not going to go to the studio, because they wanted me to come in and read for it. I said I wouldn’t do that, but I said I would go and meet with my acting coach and I would put it on tape. So I met with my acting coach and we put it on tape, and I still wasn’t feeling it. I was like it’s terrible, I don’t even believe me, watching this. I’m not turning it in. He and I went back and forth.
Parlé Mag: You’re so hard on yourself.
Ashley Love-Mills: I am! I’m a perfectionist, I’m a Virgo. He was having to like talk me off of a ledge. So he sent it to my agent anyway. My agent looked at it, and he said Ashley I think it’s fine, there are some moments in there where I am so captivated by you. So he turns it in. I let the audition completely go, I’m not even thinking about it anymore. That night I had a dream about Tyler. I was at dinner somewhere with him, and he was saying I’m so proud of you and you did such a great job. He was bragging on me. I was like why did I have this dream. And so I let it go. And about 4 days later my friend Shawn, who works at the studio called me and was like hey what are you doing? I was like I’m driving, and he said well pull over. I’m like is everything okay, not even thinking about Tyler. And he goes well I just want you to know that you’re on final call back for Valerie. We looked at all the tapes from L.A. actresses and you’re the only one we’re bringing back in. If you come back here and do exactly what you did on Wednesday, the role is yours if you want it. I’m like singing, like crying, I’m gon’ have to get out the car and do the stomp! And give God the glory, the praise, just hollering! I just couldn’t believe it. I went in a couple of days later. Tyler auditioned a lot of people, mostly from L.A. for all the other roles, and he flew in like a 100 people to read. You could tell who was reading for what part. Like the girl that plays my best friend on the show, there were like 10 blondes, so you’re like okay she’s probably reading for Anna. And he’s probably reading for so and so. Valerie was written for a Black woman. So I’m looking around and I’m okay there’s nobody here that’s Black. There’s nobody here that looks like me. All these girls were like could you read with me for Anna, and I’m like sure. So they hold off on having me to come in, until like close to the very end of the test. The girl that I read with that actually plays Anna on the show, we go like hi I’m Ashley, hey I’m Danielle. So we go in and we read, and I knew when we were reading, we’re totally booking this. The chemistry that we had together was insane. Two days later I got the call, that they had offered me the role. After the first day of filming… Tyler works really, really fast. He’s really focused. He hadn’t said much of anything to me, like no corrections, no notes, or whatever. I actually stopped him and was like hey, is everything cool? Am I giving you what you’re looking for? He said you noticed I haven’t said anything to you, right? I was like yeah that’s why I’m asking. He was like Ashley at your callback, you do realize that you were the only reading for Valerie. I knew that when I looked at your tape, that you were Valerie. You’re giving me exactly what I want.
Parlé Mag: So it was confirmed by the man himself, Tyler Perry, you were doing your thing.
Ashley Love-Mills: People ask me how does it feel, are you excited? I don’t know how to feel, it’s so surreal. It’s a feeling that I really can not describe. I’m so grateful, and just so honored to be a part of this, and living out my dream. It’s everything that I thought it would be. It’s fun , it’s exciting, but it’s definitely challenging. But that’s what I live for, that challenge. To grow and to get better, to get recognized for my work.
Parlé Mag: What makes Too Close To Home different from any other popular political drama show and why should we be tuning in?
Ashley Love-Mills: Well, first thing, is thisis history being made for a network that is known for doing reality television, to be open to a scripted drama. It’s just something to be said in itself. Tyler is known for his work and the different shows that he does. But Too Close To Home—and I’m not saying this because I’m in the show, and I’m trying to be as unbiased as I can be—Too Close To Home is a show like he’s never done before. If you look at the dynamics of the cast and the dynamic of the show, and the storyline, a lot people are like it must be like Scandal. It’s actually nothing like Scandal. People hear the White House or anything dealing with politics, people just assume it’s like Scandal. It’s got a great story, it’s about a young girl who comes from this family in Alabama, she’s ashamed about it, she’s embarrassed. She just really wants a better life for herself, she leaves her family behind to seek out this better life. And because of her embarrassment she lies to her best friend, which is me, and to one other guy about where she came from. It leads me to believe that she really came from this wealthy family. And me Valerie, I’ve had to work really, really hard to get to where I’ve gotten in the White House. And I want some respect for that. And Anna was always kind of given everything because she’s really pretty and that’s kind of where that drama comes into play. There’s so much going on in the show, and it kind of keeps you on the edge of your seat. I’m not going to give you too may details. It’s a show that I think that everybody is going to be able to relate to. To me that’s the difference between this show and like The Have and Have Nots, it shows people that come from all different kinds of backgrounds. People who are working in Alabama trying to make an honest living, and do the best that they can for their families. Then you have the Washington D.C. side that I’m a part of, where we work in the White House and we’re ultimately, not necessarily the privileged, if you will, but that’s what we are to the outside world. And then watching these two worlds clash together, the Alabama group and then you got the D.C. group that I’m a part of, and me being like the ring leader. I don’t stir up mess, but the moment I find out about the scandal, and the things that Anna was doing behind my back, she lied to me –I kind of turn on her pretty quickly. I think that’s another part that made the show interesting, the whole way through, Valerie is so over Anna! She is so over Anna, she is not putting up with anymore of it! She starts to throw everybody under the bus, and Valerie is not having it. It’s pretty juicy. You’ve probably seen from some of the trailers that have come out. I really do think that the audience, especially Tyler’s fans, it’s somethings different, it’s something new, that people are really going to like and gravitate towards. It’s a show that everyone can relate to at some point being hurt by somebody, and having to deal with that hurt. It was a fun show to make. Tyler gave me an opportunity especially as Valerie, cause I do stir up a lot of the drama.
Parlé Mag: Sounds like you have an excitingly intense character, but a fun role to play. Were you able to relate to your character Valerie in any way?
Ashley Love-Mills: Oh totally! Valerie, she’s a pistol. She tells it like it is – in that regards, I do have that personality. That’s the Virgo in me coming out. I have a feeling that Valerie might be a Virgo too. What I always tell people, don’t judge the character. People do what they do for a reason, and whether you understand that reason or not, is one thing, everyone has a reason why they react or how they handle things. I hope that people will be open to seeing where he’s [Tyler Perry] coming from. It’s not a place of anger, it’s not a place of being vindictive, and being a bitch to Anna; it really comes from a place of hurt and a place of loyalty. And as the show goes on you’ll be able to see that a lot more, where she’s coming from.
Parlé Mag: So you guys are finished filming right now. What are you doing in your off-time, anything fun?
Ashley Love-Mills: I mean I’m always kind of working. I’m back auditioning for stuff. I have personal goals and different stuff that I’m trying to do, I just started a production company, I don’t have my tax-i.d number yet. But I write as well, I went to college, while I was in school and studied abroad, I did a lot of screenwriting, so I’m just trying to get all that stuff, up and going. But yeah, I travel a lot for fun and with modeling, I still do a lot of that. I model for some really good clients that I’ve been loyal to, and that have been really loyal to me. I’m really into fitness, I work out a lot. I still take care of my family, my dad, he actually passed away, two days… three days after I booked this show.
Parlé Mag: Oh my God, I’m so sorry to hear that.
Ashley Love-Mills: Thanks… yeah. It was kind of rough, but at the same time, God makes no mistakes. My dad had been suffering for so long, it’s interesting that the timing of the show in conjunction with my dad passing away, it was kind of a blessing. It was the thing that I needed to help me, to get through that process. I had the chance to tell my dad that I booked the show, he was already in hospice when I got the call. I was able to have the conversation with him, he didn’t respond, because he was heavily medicated, but he heard me. I know that he did.
Parlé Mag: Booking the show, couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time.
Ashley Love-Mills: Yeah, it’s very almost like poetic. Ya’ know, this is like, it’s nothing but God. It’s interesting when you hear about different actor’s stories and when they got that first big gig and things like that. I always wondered what my story would be like. It’s so interesting to see how things have just come about for me. I’m just so grateful, even in the midst of my pain and my hurt, and me missing my dad everyday. I have so many reasons to smile. Honestly. I have so many reasons to be thankful and grateful.
Parlé Mag: Parle Mag: You definitely have so much to be grateful for, you deserve every bit of it! I know Tyler Perry will bring that drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat!
Ashley Love-Mills: Yeah, it’s going to be a whirlwind. We’ll be going into Season 2 shortly. But Season 1 is going to be interesting and a lot of fun!
Parlé Mag: Ashley thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule and I’m looking forward to seeing you on “Too Close To Home”. So happy for you. I’ll be glued to the tv!
Ashley Love-Mills: Thank you for talking to me and wanting to get to know me more. I really do appreciate that as well.
Don’t forget to catch Ashley Love Mills on Too Close To Home Beginning August 22nd and every Monday at 9/8c on TLC. Here’s a first look at the show:
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