New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Ciara Pratt

West­side’s new face

Ash­leigh Cum­mings al­ways wanted to be an ac­tor and with her daz­zling turn as a young Ch­eryl West in the Out­ra­geous For­tune pre­quel West­side, it’s fair to say the Aussie ac­tress is do­ing a stand-up job.

But, chat­ting to the Weekly from Los An­ge­les, Ash­leigh jokes she should take a job in transtas­man tourism as well as she has played not one but two iconic Kiwi char­ac­ters in a year.

Be­fore she stepped into the leather-and-leopard-skin-clad shoes of Ch­eryl, 25-year-old Ash­leigh took on the lead fe­male role made fa­mous by Claire Ober­man in last year’s re­make of the 1981 clas­sic Good­bye Pork Pie.

“I watched in­ter­views of Robyn Mal­colm to pick up her ac­cent for Pork Pie but I didn't click onto the fact that she was in Out­ra­geous For­tune,” she tells. “So it was full cir­cle when I got the au­di­tion for West­side. I thought, ‘I know this woman re­ally well! I even know the way her mouth moves!’”

De­spite be­ing aware of the pres­sures tak­ing on the muchloved char­ac­ter of Ch­eryl would bring, Ash­leigh re­veals her less-than-or­di­nary child­hood pre­pared her for al­most any­thing. She was born in

Saudi Ara­bia and spent the first 12 years of her life there, a place she re­gards as “one of the most mys­ti­cal places in the world”.

Ash­leigh’s par­ents – a ra­dio­g­ra­pher and sono­g­ra­pher – worked for the Saudi royal fam­ily. Thanks to their priv­i­leged po­si­tion, she and her fam­ily were shel­tered from the wars and tur­moil that plagued the area for years. One of her strong­est mem­o­ries is the in­tense heat that would melt her toys on the con­crete.

“My par­ents would come home with bags of gold chains for pay­ment, or some of the princesses’ dresses,” she says. “We’d often get hand-medowns and we’d have a big chest full of cos­tumes. Liv­ing there was one of the best gifts they’ve ever given me and to have had that ex­po­sure to the dif­fer­ent facets of the world has con­trib­uted hugely to the per­son I am.”

Her up­bring­ing in Saudi Ara­bia meant Ash­leigh had lit­tle aware­ness of the Western world, which, she ac­knowl­edges, makes her ca­reer choice all the more as­tound­ing. “Oh no, I never thought I’d be an ac­tress at all,” she laughs.

“I thought I was go­ing to work for the United Na­tions and do hu­man­i­tar­ian work. But I loved per­form­ing and

I loved danc­ing – we used to dance at an il­le­gal un­der­ground the­atre in

Saudi. I guess I just didn’t un­der­stand act­ing was an op­tion be­cause in Saudi there were no films, none of that was avail­able.”

But that all changed after the fam­ily moved to Aus­tralia when Ash­leigh was 12 and she started to pick up mi­nor roles.

“At 14, I ran away to Amer­ica. I bought the plane ticket be­fore I told my par­ents but they were amaz­ing, still let­ting me go,” she laughs.

“My par­ents al­ways said when I was younger that I was like a dog with a bone. I think that gave me a thirst for in­de­pen­dence and adventure.”

So far her ca­reer has seen her dart­ing be­tween Aus­tralia, New Zealand and the US – thanks to win­ning the pres­ti­gious Heath Ledger Schol­ar­ship – but her time on the West­side set is par­tic­u­larly special due to a poignant con­nec­tion with the late Out­ra­geous cast mem­ber Frank Whit­ten.

“What re­ally sticks with me is the en­ergy around the set. It re­ally is like a fam­ily. We had the older gen­er­a­tion of ac­tors pass­ing down the sto­ries of the West fam­ily. I en­joyed talk­ing to Antonia Preb­ble and oth­ers about Frank, who played Ted West. I didn’t know him for very

long but my first the­atre job was his last role and he died shortly after. I felt close to him so I loved hear­ing sto­ries about him. I never had a grand­fa­ther grow­ing up be­cause we lived over­seas but Frank felt like a semi-grand­fa­ther to me,” tells Ash­leigh.

It cer­tainly ap­pears her con­nec­tion to the role was in the stars, as in it she also works closely with her co-star Reef Ire­land (24), who plays a teenage

Wolf­gang West. She worked with him on the Aus­tralian show

Pu­berty Blues.

And co­in­ci­den­tally, while she was film­ing

West­side in Auck­land, her ac­tor beau Aaron Jakubenko (28) was film­ing fan­tasy se­ries The Shan­nara Chron­i­cles just seven min­utes down the road.

“What are the chances?” she laughs. “I kind of have in­te­grated my­self into the Kiwi com­mu­nity and I hang out with a lot of Ki­wis.”

‘ I just didn’t un­der­stand act­ing was an op­tion be­cause in Saudi there were no films’

West­side ,Three, Mon­days at 8.30pm.

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