Ashlei Foushee has been stepping from one creative space to the next her entire life. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri in a family that she describes as “very colorful,” Ashlei says she was born “ready for the dramatic.” Finding the arts early through dance and theater, Ashlei had a brief professional ballet career. When she was 15, a car accident put a halt to all intense physical activity for a year, and post-recovery, she decided to try something new and embraced her love of theater and acting.
Now, an actor, writer, and producer, Ashlei says that dance helped her get her “little foot in the door,” and despite the transition from one art to another, dance impacts a lot of what she does now. From age 4 or 5, Ashlei was in the studio working on her ballet skills. This led her to dance professionally with the Moscow Ballet, including a national tour of the Nutcracker. Now that she is fully invested in acting, Ashlei credits dance with the comfort she had during auditions, knowing that she can take advantage of the space in a room.
Dance was the beginning of finding several avenues to express herself. First dance, then theater in school, and eventually getting a degree in screenwriting, Ashlei isn’t looking for one outlet. “I think I just feel so creative. I’m always trying to create, and I just love the creative process. I think I don’t want to feel limited. If there’s a story that needs to be told, I want to find a way to do it.” She shared that having so many ways to express herself is about moving in between brain and body. Dance and acting are “more of a personal thing,” and producing and directing are “more of a brain thing,” each art form tapping into different parts of Ashlei’s process. She doesn’t want to be locked into any one mode of creating.
Her latest project seems to be more of a heart thing. Working on the recent disaster film On Fire, Ashlei plays Kayla, a 911 operator new to the job as a devastating wildfire threatens families in her area. Part of what made this film so special for Ashlei and the rest of the cast and crew was the reality—the events were based on the fires in Paradise, California in 2018—of the disaster being portrayed. “I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is a really touching story because it’s a true story,” she told us. “It’s about actual events that were local to me because I live in Los Angeles…I really connected with that subject matter.”
Ashlei is as invested in helping others as she is in the arts, working at local soup kitchens and catering for Habitat for Humanity, working on On Fire was another way to put some of that care into the world. She wants people to know that fires like these are sudden and devastating and more common than most people realize. To make sure she brought her role to life, she talked to a good friend who was a former emergency call operator to get insight into personal experiences along with watching documentaries and reading articles to get into that mindset. “The biggest thing I learned was there’s no closure,” Ashlei told us. “Once you hang up the phone, that’s it. There’s really no follow-up.” She needed to bring that kind of urgency and anxiety together with the heightened level of responsibility her character felt as the phones started ringing.
On Fire is set for its digital release on November 10 after a theatrical run that not only brought the story to viewers, but also brought Ashlei and the rest of the cast to film festivals and panel where they could talk about the film and the impact of fires like these. At the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, they were even able to share the film with the local fire department.
Now? Ashlei is after her next story. She doesn’t want to be put in a box, so we’re excited to see what she’s up to next. “The sky is the limit,” she told us. “I want to do everything.” One of her current dreams is to play Storm in an X-Men film. But overall, her dream is simple. “I want to tell great stories. I want to be part of great movies.”