Jamie Neumann’s Ashley Is Looking for Sweetness and Redemption

By Ashley Morton

HBO: How did you prepare for playing the role of Ashley?

Jamie Neumann: Research-wise production gave us these books by Susan Hall and Bob Adelman, Ladies of the Night and Gentlemen of Leisure, which I found extremely helpful. They have beautiful pictures from 1971 and word-for-word monologues. It’s such a window into these people’s minds and especially into the pimp/prostitute relationship — they’re each other’s familiar; there’s no judgment. It’s amazing to do a job people can find morally reprehensible or offensive, and just have total acceptance from some sort of partner, and some sort of support.

HBO: Was there a particular costume or wig that helped you get into character?

Jamie Neumann: Valerie, my hairstylist, offhandedly said something while fixing my little curls: “Ashley’s always put-together; she’s got her perfect hair, and she knows exactly how to do it.” And I love the hairstyle. When I first tried on the wig I felt like Dolly Parton; it was unbelievable. And I thought, “Yeah, my hair is always so lovely.”

Her comment gave me a little window: How do I keep my hair so lovely throughout the night? I guess I must be giving a lot of handjobs or staying on top, really trying to not mess up my hair. Just that little vanity point about how Ashley keeps herself together physically, led to how she keeps herself together emotionally. It really surprised me how much the collaboration between all of the departments, if you’re open to letting it, can influence how you feel about your character. I kind of loved that moment.

HBO: Was it part of your process to create a backstory for Ashley and how long she’s been with C.C.?

Jamie Neumann: In my mind, it’s been a few years, but I don’t think over three. But that’s a long time, and I think C.C. and Ashley have formed quite a bond; something Ashley thought was long-lasting. And there’s a little bit of danger that always exists in C.C. but these have been the lucky years, almost like a honeymoon stage. It was a long time to have such a run of minimal violence.

HBO: Why is Lori such a threat to that?

Jamie Neumann: I think when C.C. and Ashley were together before meeting Lori, he made Ashley feel special. There’s this hierarchy within these families that the pimps and the ladies form, and she felt special for quite a while: He made Ashley feel like he loved her, and Ashley definitely loves him. And now there’s this young, fresh-looking girl in the picture, and he’s ignoring Ashley...it’s just quite hurtful. It’s a sensitive moment for Ashley, because she’s tired; she needs some sort of comfort. And C.C’s the only one to give it to her. They have an agreement: She gives him the money, he gives her the love. There’s that comfort Ashley expects and when she doesn’t get it, it’s heartbreaking.

HBO: What’s going on for Ashley when she walks away from the parlor at the beginning of Episode 7?

Jamie Neumann: Ashley has just been waiting for it to get better for so many months. Like, “When is C.C. going to turn around and redeem himself? How is he going to keep Ashley if he is never sweet again to her?” And there’s just that moment of, “Oh, this isn’t going to get better. He’s just completely moved on, and is maybe legitimately falling in love with Lori, I don’t know.”

Walking away surprises Ashley, it wasn’t necessarily like, “I’m out, I quit, I’m not doing this job anymore.” It was just like, “Not today. They're not going to go out and have their steak dinner or whatever while I go hustle for no reward.” You don’t keep the money, you hand every dollar over, and there’s no comforts left without that companionship from C.C. In that moment Ashley is like, “What is this for? I can’t handle this today, so I’m going to the bar.”

“That freedom of not having to answer to anyone looks like happiness to Ashley.”

HBO: Does Frankie’s lifestyle solidify her decision to ditch C.C.?

Jamie Neumann: Absolutely. He brings such lightness to the day and the date they have, which has been completely missing in Ashley’s life. She doesn’t know who to get that from. So when Frankie comes in, and he’s so fun and funny, it’s like a gift from heaven. And he’s inspiring, because the thing that’s going to hold Ashley back is, “Woah, I’ve given all my money away, unless I go back to work I don’t even know how I would do something different. Where am I going to live? C.C. pays for the hotel room.” And Frankie doesn’t even have a house; he doesn’t have a job; so that’s really when the lightbulb goes off. Look at this guy, he’s so happy. You don’t really need anything; the universe will provide. It just opens up a world of options. That freedom of not having to answer to anyone looks like happiness to Ashley.

HBO: What is it like for Ashley to stay with Abby and see how she lives?

Jamie Neumann: Just that quiet time of sitting — even if it’s a mess, it’s a homey little place — and reading books, it’s a luxury. Being able to sleep through a night and have some sunshine that she doesn’t have to sleep through, or do whatever is the whim of C.C., it’s quite special. It’s really a healing time, and I think Ashley will be forever grateful to Abby for that. It is a real surprise when Abby hands over that check. And Ashley will always take care of herself, but at the same time it’s like, “Yes, I will take that.”

HBO: Could you talk about the reveal of Ashley’s real name?

Jamie Neumann: You see Bernice come in and how the pimps name her Ginger, so you do learn a lot of these names are street identities, but Dorothy had become Ashley, in C.C. naming her that. You have to act to do that job. Ashley’s the sweet one — she’s like doling out romance to all her johns. And the name Dorothy is so Wizard of Oz, it’s like La La Land, and country gingham dress. She is a country girl. I just picture her running around the mountains of West Virginia, barefoot in the dirt, and just reconnecting to that. Even though Ashley’s past is not necessarily a pretty one, it still exists, and I think C.C. had replaced that for her.

In the beginning [in Episode 1] when C.C. cuts her, he hurts her and reminds her of the past violence with her father. And I remember that moment being so shocking. I remember him cutting me and his face being right there and having this weird urge to kiss him within that. It’s so odd loving the people who hurt you, and needing them to be the ones to fix it. Even though they’re the ones who did it.

HBO: What’s running through Ashley’s mind as she rides the escalator up to the bus?

Jamie Neumann: In the moment she’s pretty scared. It’s always hard to leave your home; the uproot is just emotional every time. This life was her independence, even with the job and situation she’s been in. And it’s NYC, the land of opportunity, so leaving it, and even fully saying goodbye to C.C. — even though it’s completely the right thing and it feels right — is scary. To go reconnect with a sister and ingratiate yourself to someone else to see if they can help you out, takes a lot of guts. I don’t think it’s easy. It’s a lot of sadness, and she’s scared to leave, but at the same time, my feet will not stop.

HBO: What do you think Ashley’s biggest strength is?

Jamie Neumann: I think what could be perceived as a weakness, is also her greatest strength: She’s really sensitive. And through that sensitivity Ashley can see the truth in a lot of situations, even if she doesn’t want to, and with that sensitivity comes a lot of empathy. And while it’s super painful a lot of the times, it’s going to lend some way or another, to her full blossoming. I don’t quite know what's in store for Dorothy, but I have an idea that it’s going to be great.