Rachel Zegler, Simone Ashley and Alison Oliver Cover ELLE’s May 2022 ‘Rising Star’ Issue

Posted on April 19, 2022

Rachel Zegler, Simone Ashley and Alison Oliver cover ELLE’s May 2022 Rising Star Issue, on newsstands May 3rd.

 

 

 

RACHEL ZEGLER

 

On how being cast in Snow White caused a more world-changing shift than after landing the role of Maria in West Side Story: “I felt more of my anonymity go out the window after Snow White was announced, because Disney has such a dedicated following,” she says. There was a dark note to the commentary, with an undercurrent of anger at the idea of a Latina woman playing the quintessential Disney princess. For the second time, Zegler was taking on a historic part loaded with cultural associations. “I had to step into these iconic shoes. The first thing I thought personally was just how to block out the inevitable comparison that would come between myself and Natalie Wood, and myself and a literal two-dimensional cartoon that everyone and their mother seemed to care about the second they announced that I was in the movie. Snow White was this incredible piece of art, hailed as this triumph for animation, and put Disney on the map in such a huge way.”

On speaking with Snow White director Marc Webb and how it gave her confidence that the story would embrace a new take: “We had a very straightforward conversation before I’d even realized that [the movie] was Snow White. When I started to put the pieces together and I knew it was a Disney princess thing, he was like, ‘Who’s the fairest of them all: What does fair mean? What does it have to mean? Does it mean skin tone? Does it mean beauty? Or does it mean whether or not you are just? The way you treat people? The way you approach others with kindness or lack thereof?’ It’s just been a really beautiful moment for my inner child, bringing her back. We were forced to grow up very fast with all of the life change that we went through in the last couple of years. [This is] just this very healing process for me.”

On contemplating college after graduating high school and how somewhere in her mind she knew that it might not happen: “I really believed in my talent very early on, and probably in a psychotic way, to the point where I was, ‘Yeah, I’m in an audition for a Spielberg movie; maybe then I won’t go to college.’ That was the idea I had.”

On public criticism and online hostility: “It’s hard, but at the end of the day, you have to remember that, at least in my case, I’m the one with the confidence to go out there, and show my face, and be myself, and I’m getting paid. I’m working, doing what I love…and it’s all I’ve ever wanted in my entire life. I’m really excited to share myself in that way, and let them all talk, you know? Let them all talk. I lead with love, and that’s all I can really tell the world.”

On her rumored boyfriend, actor Josh Andrés Rivera, who played Chino in West Side Story, and how having a partner who shared in the life-altering experience of West Side Story has helped her achieve some needed peace: “There’s always this deep understanding of what I go through. Since [his experience was] on a different scale, he’s able to bring me back to earth and tell me when it really doesn’t matter. Because he’s removed from it to a certain degree, he’s able to just snap me out of it, and tell me to stop checking my phone, or remind me of what actually matters, and remind me to be present, and to not focus on the opinions of 3,000 faceless strangers on the internet.”

On not understanding why throughout the film junket for West Side Story she was the one receiving questions about Elgort’s actions, “even though the person in question was present,” and dealing with the public scrutiny around the accusations: “It was a real gut punch, honestly… I was sitting there having just turned 19, on the precipice of what was promised to be the biggest moment in my life, and was being held accountable [by the public] for accusations that not only had nothing to do with me but were made about a situation that was said to have occurred [five] years prior to when I had met and worked with this person… [There is] inherent discomfort that comes with that realization that there are tons of people who think that you have to answer for the actions of an adult male who can speak for himself. It is so wildly disappointing at every turn, no matter how you slice it. No matter how many times I’ve tried to justify people’s concern when it comes to me in my brain, but then realizing that it comes from a place of me having to answer for that, and not them actually caring about whether or not I was okay, was really hurtful. And also paying no mind when it came to the conversation between myself and these other incredible women in my cast, without any thought process to our experiences as women in the industry who constantly find ourselves in close encounters with men in power, and a very iconic woman in Hollywood who has spoken about her experience with sexual assault. In the grand scheme of things with this woman who has come forward with these allegations, I cannot imagine what she had to go through. If I’m sitting here thinking that those days were traumatizing for me, I don’t pretend to know. I could never know. I really don’t have anything to do with this conversation, and I’m looking forward to moving past it.”

On seeing Cabaret in London and how she thinks a lot about the song “What Would You Do?”: “If you’re faced with something that seems absolutely impossible, like being held to impossible standards as a young woman in Hollywood who is just starting out and cannot risk to ruin her career before it’s even begun, what would you do? I have to think people would make the same decision I did or they wouldn’t, and they would also get the horrible comments that I get, or the horrible backlash that I get for breathing sometimes. You have to know you’re doing the best thing you possibly can to preserve yourself. To take care of something that is so fragile, and can be gone in an instant, which is every- thing that I’ve worked so hard for in the past four years of my life. You can only hope that it’ll get easier, and get better, and get bigger and brighter.”

 

WRITTEN BY:  Adrienne Gaffney

PHOTOGRAPHED BY:  Paul Wetherell

STYLED BY:  Anastasia Barbieri

 

 

 

 

SIMONE ASHLEY

On playing Kate on Bridgerton with a sharp edge—she’s serious to the point of stoicism—and how she relates to her character: “I think she and Anthony mirror each other in that sense, because he’s always in charge, and then they kind of meet their match. I think a lot of people can relate to that type of relationship, where there’s a feeling so strong with someone, and maybe it initiates as, ‘Oh my God, I hate you,’” she says—adding that she “100 percent” pulled from her personal life to connect with her character. From the start, she felt aligned with Kate, an independent woman with a foot on two continents. “All I’ve ever really known is moving around and being on my own, but in the most positive way. I enjoy it. And I think that this character, in particular, has a life where she’s had to be on her own quite a bit.”

Between the pandemic and the prospect of joining a wildly popular streaming series, the past two years have been a time of significant growth for Ashley: “When you get thrown into this industry, especially as a young woman, you’ve got to learn quickly how to take care of yourself—how to use your voice, how to set boundaries, how to speak up for yourself.” Kate has those qualities in spades, I offer, and Ashley agrees, adding, “Sometimes she has a bit of an imbalance of it. Sometimes she can be a bit too hard-core—not that I judge her.”

On working on Bridgerton, where the mood is more “romantic and steamy,” alongside her costar Jonathan Bailey: “We didn’t have body doubles. We knew what we were getting into, but the scenes were beautifully shot, and we tried to portray female pleasure, seeing it from that point of view, which was really interesting.” It also helped that she and Bailey got along like gangbusters. “We encouraged each other to just take it all in, and [accept that] it’s never going to be the same ever again,” she says. “Having anonymity, and then filming a show this big.” Seeing the first few episodes affected her in a way she didn’t expect. “God, it just really captures your imagination, and it is a fairy tale,” she says softly. “As I watched the first dance with Jonny and me, I was just so emotional, I find it hard to admit.”

For Bailey, the scene marked the moment when he and Ashley stepped into the main love story and “existed in the space that I’d seen Phoebe [Dynevor] and Regé [-Jean Page] do so beautifully in season one,” he says: “We have this amazing team, but ultimately it comes down to just me and Simone. It was one of the purest moments between us—completely overwhelming at the time, and really moving to watch.”

Shonda Rhimes, an executive producer on the show, on how she knew Ashley would make a perfect Kate almost immediately: “We have incredible casting directors who search far and wide and listen to us about the way we see the roles. It was wonderful for Simone to be placed in front of us, as she was exactly what we were looking for.”

Jonathan Bailey, who plays Kate’s love interest, on the actress, after falling in love with the character of Kate while reading The Viscount Who Loved Me, the second book in the Bridgerton series, upon which the season is based: “And then meeting Simone, she made more sense as Kate than I even knew was possible. She holds moments in such a composed way. And my gosh, her eyes can tell a hundred thousand stories.”

WRITTEN BY: A.N. Devers

PHOTOGRAPHED BY: Christina Ebenezer

STYLED BY: Anna Trevelyan

 

 

 

ALISON OLIVER

 

Joe Alwyn on his work with Swift cowriting songs on the singer’s Folklore and Evermore albums under the pseudonym William Bowery and if he hopes to continue writing songs: “It’s not a plan of mine, no.”

Alwyn on his familiarity with Sally Rooney’s work and the opportunity to act in the show adaption: “I’d also read Conversations and read Normal People, I think because my mom or some friends had mentioned one of them. It wasn’t tied to the fact that I knew they were making shows from it. Like everyone else, I just thought [Rooney’s] writing was so phenomenal. But I remember thinking those kinds of jobs are so few and far between. I would happily audition, but didn’t think anything would come of it. There were two or three scenes I put on tape, and then within, like, a week or so got a call.”

Allison Oliver on why she thinks she was the right fit for her role as Francis in Conversations with Friends“I was in college at the time, and I’m not from Dublin, but there were similarities in terms of things about Frances’s life that I really resonated with. She’s such a multifaceted character; she can be really, really awkward and embarrassed and nervous, and then she can be ballsy and brave and a bit reckless. I tried to have fun with all those elements of her, and I was just lucky that maybe they saw I was trying to do that.”

Alwyn on exploring his tricky character Nick and that parts of him he related to: “I mean, there were ways I could initially relate to him. I’m not a married, 32-year-old Irishman having an affair, but I could relate to some of his anxieties and ups and downs—perhaps accounting from his profession, being an actor. Without turning this into a therapy session, I could relate to some of his depressive moods and struggles. People who are outsiders in the one sense and can’t quite communicate what’s on the inside, I always like those characters. It’s a quality in both of them that Frances is initially drawn to. It’s a behavior that Bobbi labels as boring at the beginning, and Melissa probably thinks Nick could do with bucking up a bit. But for Frances, for whatever reason, she’s drawn to that and intrigued by it. Obviously, that’s interesting and hard to play, and I think what can seem distant or perhaps cold or guarded is him actually just being…. He’s quite fragile. He’s just trying to hold on.”

On what it was like working with their intimacy coordinator and making the sex scenes feel as real as they do in the books:

Oliver: “There’s a brilliant system in place for it, where [intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien] will come into a rehearsal with us. We’ll discuss the scene: What’s the trajectory, and what’s the quality of intimacy? And why is it happening? It’s a continuation of dialogue, in a sense. It just becomes physical. So, from the get-go, [sex scenes] were presented to us as you would do a stunt and you’d choreograph that. We’d rehearse it loads. Ita would come in and suggest—Lenny would always talk about them as ‘shapes,’ making different ‘shapes.’ She would try out different ones, and then we’d copy her.
Alwyn: “Lenny always spoke about the [sex scenes] as extensions of conversations. They weren’t just there for the sake of it. Obviously, they’re funny and awkward things at the beginning. But once you get over that and you’re working with people you trust—and Lenny’s in the room, and Lenny is hilarious. You would want him on set in any scene.”

On what themes from Rooney’s novel stood out to out to them the most:

Oliver: “It is definitely a really complicated story. There are so many things that people can get from it. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s also a story about an affair. It’s also a story about female friend- ship. I found that—whether it’s one person, two people, three people—love is always going to be complicated. And there’s always going to be sacrifices made.”

Alwyn: “If we are able to [find love] outside of the constructs that we’ve created for ourselves of friendships and of marriages and of conventional relationships, can we find happiness in more unconventional ways? Maybe challenging the idea of this one archaic way to find love or happiness, that’s what I took away from it. One of the reasons why I think the book was so heavily discussed was Sally’s refusal to tie things up neatly at the end of her stories. She doesn’t give an answer.”

WRITTEN BY: Lauren Puckett-Pope

PHOTOGRAPHED BY: Greg Williams

STYLED BY: Rose Forde

 

 

[Photo Credit: Courtesy of ELLE Magazine]

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