Ashleigh Cummings is one of those rare people who you immediately feel connected to. You wait with anticipation to see what joy will emerge from her soul. As powerful of a person that she is in real life, nothing can compare to the vigor she exhibits in her work.
Her new film, Hounds of Love, a thriller by Ben Young, is fierce, uncomfortable, and majestic. The film restricts any relief from the horrid story about abduction, but also leaves the audience breathless by the elegant simplicity of the images. The loathsome villains, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry) are bewitching, but our focus is that of Vicki Maloney, portrayed with veracity by Cummings.
The afflictions Vicki experiences are unspeakable, and thanks to Young’s ingenious directing choices, we are blind to the extent of them. Cummings, however, portrays the aftermath with openness. Vicki is a force, and that doesn’t change when her life is altered by the nefarious couple.
The audience is forced to the edge of their seat in anticipation for what fate has in store for Vicki by her captors. It’s an exhausting experience, but gripping. In order to prepare for this complicated role, Cummings took necessary preparations for her journey into darkness. She spent time with the script (and with Young) going over Vicki’s arc, paying close attention to each monumental moment of her confinement.
“Preparing for it was definitely about going inside the psychology and drawing from real events because I wanted to honor all the victims who have been and will come,” Cummings says.
Through her preparation she emotionally connected to those who have experienced this tragedy, and it was important for her that the respect she felt for them was conveyed through her work. This would profoundly be seen at the end of the shooting day. Everyone on set was wonderful, she says, and gave her the space she needed to find herself again. However, the gravity of reality never truly left her.
“I want to be there with them emotionally, to honor them and for them to know they are not alone,” Cummings says. “That was a conscience thing for me. I know I won’t rectify the situation, the pain will always be there. The only thing we can do is create in spite of it, that’s the only way I can make the world better.”
Vicki is unique in the thriller genre, for the moment we are introduced to her we see her strength. Life has not been easy, but she persists because she is after more than what she is offered. While this character is a strong independent woman, she doesn’t become a complicated force when she loses control. That balance between an empowered character and the helpless victim is delicate. After meeting Cummings, you wonder how much of her call to activism was her influencing Vicki, or something she was attracted to in Young’s writing? It turns out, there was a balance.
“I think when Ben (Young) initially wrote the script, Vicki’s emotions came in various shapes and sizes. She always fought, was calculating, and assessing the situation. Then, when a significant event happens, everything is lost for her,” Cummings explains. “We decided that she was allowed to give in. We often see heroes in films and admire them because they are strong, but we’re also humans, where desperation is part of the human condition.”
It was because of Young’s interest to investigate beyond the surface that Cummings was able to find purpose through Vicki. From the very beginning it was about bringing to the screen a true tale about a portion of the population who have experienced this and honoring their strength and resilience.
“One of my first questions in the audition dealt with the way he was going to execute these scenes. I signed on because I was so convinced he wasn’t interested in the violence or the gratuitous elements of horror,” Cummings adds. “This story is very grounded in reality and that is what I wanted to explore.”
The fact that both Cummings and Young saw beyond the shock value of the thriller/horror genre is why Hounds of Love is both unique and powerful. It strikes something within our depths that outshines our need to be wowed at the theater. She is the hero within all of us, if only we had the courage to unearth her.
Without being concerned with hitting the genre cues, Young was able to explore the story through visuals. The film is composed of sedated shots that analyze the atmosphere of the world within the story. The unforgiving camera dominated a truth, which was the tool Cummings needed to achieve her goal. While truth engulfed Cummings, it was because of the trust she constructed with Booth and Curry that allowed her to escape into this world. For Cummings, her co-stars where the strength she needed to radiate in this harsh role.
“They both are very aware people, and were able to exist on set and bring what was needed at any given moment, which is something I admire in them,” Cummings adds. “They knew when it was time to focus and in the head space of what was going on, but they also knew when we needed a laugh.”
Cummings points out that this includes the rest of the cast and the crew. Without their support she wouldn’t have been able to explore her own vulnerability. The trust formed on set was also needed to tell a story of this magnitude. This is why the film is brilliant, an example of how comfortable and powerful vulnerability can be.
Cummings is an extraordinary actress, one who lives to affect change in our world through her profession. She understands the gravity of the world we live in, and as a participant in it, she’s determined to make her life meaningful.
“We have responsibilities as artists to that because we have a very powerful voice in changing our society and influencing it,” Cummings says.
It’s a unique concept for someone so young, but inspiring nonetheless. Ashleigh Cummings’ vibrance for truth is a bonfire we become drawn to. Not only is she an excellent actress, but she’s a magnificent human being. The world is for her taking, and will be better once she’s done with it.
Hounds of Love opens in limited theatrical release and on VOD May 12, 2017.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Fons PR