In And Then Came Lola – the much talked, highly praised, and increasingly popular new lesbian film currently making the festival circuit – Ashleigh Sumner plays “Lola.” The film is funny, sexy, exciting, and enormously appreciated by the lesbian community – and so is its star. Despite being extremely busy these days with Lola – which also stars Jill Bennett, Cathy DeBuono, and Jessica Graham – and her career in the art world, Sumner recently took time out to talk to Cherry Grrl and fill our readers in on what it was like to be a part of the movie, her very artistic side, and even her personal life – sorry ladies, she’s taken.
Cherry Grrl (CG): In “And Then Came Lola,” you play Lola – what can you tell us about the character and her story in the film?
Ashleigh Sumner (AS): Well, Lola is a photographer with a great heart who tends to be a little flighty, especially when it comes to relationships. She tends to get distracted easily, especially by beautiful women, and has a major problem with lateness. All this comes to play in the film when she must get to an appointment on time with vital photographs for a meeting with her designer girlfriend, Casey (played by Jill Bennett). If she’s on time, she gets to keep the girl. If she’s late, she loses the love of her life. Along the way, Lola learns a lot about herself and comes to the realization that she finally wants to commit whole-heartedly to the idea of love and being a dependable partner.
CG: What was it like to be a part of a film like Lola and how did you first get involved with it?
AS: I was recommended to audition for the directors by Jill Bennett. Initially, I didn’t think I was right for the role so I asked to read for an entirely different character. I auditioned for Jessica Graham’s role, but the directors, Megan Siler and Ellen Seidler, thought I’d make a great Lola – maybe it helped that I was late to the audition.
It was a GREAT experience being apart of this little indie. The set had a great vibe that was completely conducive for a safe, creative atmosphere. Ellen and Megan completely trusted me and gave me the freedom to do my thing. Plus, it was such an amazing experience to spend so much time in gorgeous San Francisco. I’ve made so many amazing friendships on this film – it’s an experience I’m incredibly grateful for on a very personal level.
CG: What about the character of Lola made you want to take on the role?
AS: I was excited to finally get a chance to show my comedy chops. My other film and television work is pretty heavy and dramatic. I wanted a chance to show my humor so that was a huge incentive in accepting the part. Emotionally, I could totally relate a lot to how Lola playfully goes through the world and how she struggles with the balance between work, relationships, and being a dependable girlfriend. I also was excited about how physical the role was. It’s not often you get to play a role that’s so athletic…those are usually reserved for the boys.
CG: In what ways are you and Lola alike or not alike?
AS: Well, we’re both late. A lot. I also appreciate a beautiful woman and definitely have a harmless flirtatious side like Lola does. I can relate to Lola’s difficulty of balancing a career and a relationship. And I think we both try and see the humor in any situation. If you ask my ex girlfriends, they’ll tell you Lola and I are both a little on the self-absorbed side. Adorable, but self-absorbed.
CG: What were some of your favorite scenes to shoot?
AS: I loved shooting the therapy scenes. Ellen and Megan let me run wild with those. Those scenes were completely improv, and there was no telling what was going to come out of my mouth. That was fun. I also loved shooting scenes with Jessica Graham. I thought we found a lot of nice stuff with wonderful timing and chemistry.
CG: What were some of the more difficult scenes for you to shoot in terms of challenging as an actress, physically demanding, or otherwise?
AS: As you know, there’s A LOT of running in the movie, but the scene that was most challenging for me physically was shot one night in an alley way. It was challenging not because it was exhausting, but because it was so incredibly cold that night. I had to shoot the entire scene in a thin t-shirt for a few hours and was trying to control my shivering while the camera ran. I remember being so cold that it was hard to focus. I still haven’t completely thawed out.
As far as challenges as an actress, I remember a wonderful scene with Jill. The scene between Jill and I is a pretty heated argument that transitions into a moment where Lola is completely alone and heart broken. It’s THE turning point for Lola’s character. I really loved the challenge of hitting the transition from anger to complete surrender. I think that’s what I enjoy about the role the most: even though the film is a comedy, there’s still room for Lola’s to have quiet, dramatic moments.
CG: In the film, you got to work with Jill Bennett and Cathy DeBuono – who seem like they would be a lot of fun on set. What was that experience like for you?
AS: Jill and Cathy are great and complete pros. It was a fantastic experience.
CG: The film is currently very popular right now at the film festivals – what has it been like to see such positive feedback and fan support?
AS: It’s been amazing and incredibly humbling. I’ve been struck with how supportive and hungry lesbians are to see their stories told especially by other gay women. Unfortunately, we don’t have as much representation out there as we’d like, but I believe that is changing at a quick pace. I think when people attend and support films with gay characters it shows there’s a market for these kinds of stories. The bottom line is the more support that is given to lesbian films, the more lesbian films will be made. We’ve been so lucky with And Then Came Lola. People have been coming out in droves to support the film. I’m so appreciative and moved by the support and excitement surrounding the movie. It’s been an awesome experience.
CG: There was a controversy recently over the removal of an ad for the film by Facebook. What was your reaction to all of that?
AS: I think it shows that as a country we’ve come a long way, but there’s still progress to be made in how gays are perceived and portrayed in the media. I believe the rejection was a good thing because it opened up a conversation about the subject, and was a reminder to gays that we still need to push and fight for the right kind of representation. Ellen really challenged Facebook on the subject, and brought awareness to the online gay community that the company they supported didn’t actually support them in return. In the end, Facebook overturned their decision. Ellen served as a great example of fighting the good fight, not taking a back seat, and taking action by creating a huge awareness throughout the community about Facebook’s decision to ban an advertisement simply because it was gay.
CG: Do you feel that it’s difficult for lesbian films and lesbian actresses to get equal treatment in Hollywood?
AS: It’s hard for ANY woman, gay or straight, to get equal treatment in Hollywood. Ask any female director, writer, or producer and they’ll tell you it’s hard out there for a chick. That’s one of the beautiful things about “And Then Came Lola.” Yes, it is a film by lesbians for lesbians, but it’s also movie that was funded, produced, written, and directed by women. That’s incredible. And unfortunately, rare.
Speaking personally, to my knowledge I haven’t felt any backlash from being out and playing a gay character. The stance I take is that I’m an actress who just happens to be gay. I try to put my energy into becoming a better artist who wants to stretch their instrument by playing a wide range of characters, gay or straight. My hero is Cherry Jones. She’s out, but when people think of her, they don’t think, “Cherry Jones. The gay actress.” They think, “Cherry Jones. She’s fucking brilliant.” That’s something I want to work towards. I think if more emphasis is put on my sexuality than my performance, I’m failing somewhere in my work as an actor.
CG: How did you first get involved in acting?
AS: I was constantly putting on puppet shows as a kid and had an over-active imagination. I think that’s when it started for me. Then it was the high school drama club and then on to college where I received my degree in theatre arts.
CG: You are also a very talented artist (one of Ashleigh’s pieces appears on the left) . What inspires the work that you create and what is your creative process like?
AS: When it comes to painting, my creative process is pretty loosey goosey. I rely heavily on music to ground me and get me out of my head and into my body. I then let the painting just happen and develop freely. I plan what colors I want to use, but the rest isn’t planned at all. I let the painting lead me.
Acting is such a collaborative process. There’s a lot of beauty in that but I find a lot of comfort in the solitary process of painting.
CG: Do you have upcoming art shows? How does someone go about learning more about your paintings and purchasing them, etc?
AS: I do! I’m actually really excited about my gallery shows! I have a show in Fresno at the DCAC in November, and then another in San Francisco in February at the A.Muse Gallery. People can check out my work and more info at www.sumnerartstudio.com. I always love making art for lesbians! Email me for a painting.
CG: What else are you working on in both your acting career and career in art that you can tell us about?
AS: I want to branch out more creatively besides just acting. I’ve written a pilot that I’m getting ready to send out into the world. I’m also co-producing a project that I care deeply about. Hopefully those projects will come to fruition, but for now I’m enjoying the learning experience of working on a different aspect of the biz.
I’m hoping to have a few new acting projects off of the interest of Lola. I’d love to do something with Logo or Here. I’d also love to get back on stage with a great play soon.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest and support in my painting career. I’m looking forward to my gallery shows in November and February. I’m so open to where my painting career takes me. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
CG: And Then Came Lola is certainly putting you on the map as a very crush worthy celebrity for the lesbian community. Can you share anything with your fans about your personal life and/or relationship status?
AS: Ha! “Crush worthy celebrity.” That’s a riot. Well, it certainly makes me feel a lot better about not being able to get a date to either my junior or senior proms! Seriously, I’m really flattered by the attention. I do have a wonderful girlfriend. I think she’s so sexy, smart, talented, and funny. She’s incredibly patient and supportive of me. I’m a lucky girl. A lucky girl, for sure.
Photo credits (from top): Mollie McClure, Sophia Wallace, Mollie McClure, Sophia Wallace, Sophia Wallace, James Codelglia, Sophia Wallace. Photo on previous page by Bjorn.