Sometimes it takes an unexpected, life-altering experience for a person to realize that their existence is falling apart, and they need to overcome whatever obstacles are in their way in order to find their true purpose in life. That’s certainly the case with the title character in the new drama ‘About Cherry,’ which is now available on VOD and digital platforms and opens in a limited theatrical release on September 21. Angelina, a teenager who takes on the name Cherry when she’s lured into working in the porn industry, must over her internal struggles when she realizes her life is spiraling out of her control.
‘About Cherry’ follows Angelina (played by Ashley Hinshaw) as she is on the verge of finishing high school. Rushing to escape her broken family life, she reluctantly takes photos, at the urging of her boyfriend (portrayed by Jonny Weston). She soon takes the money she earned and leaves town with her best friend, Andrew (played by Dev Patel), and they end up in San Francisco.
Angelina gets a job as a cocktail waitress in a strip club in order to make ends meet. While working, she meets Frances (portrayed by James Franco), an affluent lawyer who introduces her to a high-class world beyond her wildest dreams.
At the same time, Angelina begins exploring the porn industry in San Francisco, using the moniker Cherry. While she’s taken under the wing of a former performer turned adult film director, Margaret (played by Heather Graham). But her new-found lifestyle soon falls apart at the seams, challenging the assumptions she had about sexuality and pornography, while also addressing the struggle of finding her role in life.
Hinsaw generously took the time to speak with us over the phone recently about the challenges and liberation of taking on a role like Angelina in ‘About Cherry.’ Among other things, the model-turned-actress discussed what drew her to the role of Angelina and the film overall; what it was like working with first-time feature film writer and director, Stephen Elliott, a novel author who has experience in the adult film industry; and what it was like working with some of her more experienced co-stars, including Franco and Graham.
ShockYa (SY): You play Angelina, an 18-year-old who moves to San Francisco and becomes involved in the porn industry, in order to escape her broken family life. What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role?
Ashley Hinshaw (AH): I think more so than anything else, I was intrigued by the fact that it was a story that seemed very different than the stories I was looking at as an actor, and the scripts that I had been reading. I always wanted to take on someone who was very different than me, as far as the character goes. I’m not like Angelina, that’s definitely for sure.
So I was really able to spend the time and the work trying to transform myself into another character, which, as an actor, is a really exciting venture. It’s a bit of a scary venture, but it was exciting.
That industry, the adult industry, is something I knew absolutely nothing about when I went into ‘About Cherry.’ More so than anything else, what I was attempting to do with ‘About Cherry’ was tell one specific person’s story about getting into that industry, and not tackle the issue in general of the adult porn industry. I wanted to tell one specific story, and have it be more about this girl and what she went through, more so than telling a story about porn.
I think that even though one of the attractions is that that industry is so prevalent in the film, I think when people see the movie, they’ll be surprised. It’s much more about this girl coming of age and discovering herself as she’s growing up than it is about the porn business.
SY: Speaking of transiting into the character, how did you prepare for the role of Angelina? Did you have any reservations about playing a teenager who becomes involved in the porn industry?
AH: You know, I didn’t really. I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I was a little nervous to take it on. I really had no experiences in my life that were really close to what this character was going through. I was really nervous about portraying it in a real way, with no experiences of my own.
I watched a lot of documentaries about the porn industry and girls who had been in the porn industry and all stages of their lives. I spoke a lot with girls working in the porn industry right now. I was trying to get their real stories, instead of adhering to stereotypes we all hear and think about when it comes to the girls in porn. I spent a lot of time trying to get the individual girls’ stories and hear these girls out as real people, instead of having ideas about these girls as porn stars.
SY: ‘About Cherry’ was shot in the San Francisco Armory, the largest adult film studio in the world. What was your experience like filming in the armory, and in San Francisco overall?
AH: Well, the armory is a wacky, wacky place. (laughs) I have never been anywhere quite like that before. But it was, in my opinion, the best possible place to shoot this specific movie. It allowed me to be engrossed in this world. It’s a world, coming into this movie, I knew nothing about. So as much as it was shocking, and jarring in moments, to be surrounded by this everyday, day in and day out. But it became normal to me in a sense.
I felt like I could let go of the reservations I had. I became this character more and more as I was surrounded by it, instead of fabricate it at another location. As much as it was an interesting place to shoot this movie, in my opinion, it was probably the best location that I could even think of to tackle this specific film.
SY: Stephen Elliot both directed, and co-wrote the script for, ‘About Cherry.’ Did the fact that Stephen wrote the screenplay for the film help in his directorial duties once you began shooting?
AH: Yeah, I do. But I think more importantly than the fact that he wrote it was that he has life experience in this industry. So he had a viewpoint that was personal. So that was infused in the script, and it was also his intention to infuse that into the film.
So it definitely felt more real, and I felt that he had a strong connection to it, more so than a story he wouldn’t be able to relate to. So I think having him was incredibly helpful for me, at least, because I could have dialogue with him and discuss what the realities of this world is like. He could give me answers from experience. The best kind of directing, in my opinion, comes from when people can understand what you’re truly trying to accomplish.
SY: ‘About Cherry’ is Stephen’s feature film directorial and writing debut. What was your experience working with Stephen like overall, since he was a first-time writer and director?
AH: It was definitely a learning process, I think, for all of us. This is my first starring role, this was his first movie. I think he made some really smart choices with the people he surrounded himself with, as far as the people on the crew, who have had a lot of experience in the industry. That allowed him to be around people who would help make the best film possible.
It was a learning process-I think he was learning the entire time and I was learning the whole time. So it was exciting to go through that process with someone else who was in a similar point in their career.
SY: ‘About Cherry’ was selected to play at several film festivals this year, including the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival. What was your reaction when you found out the movie was chosen to play at these festivals?
AH: I was very excited. I had not seen the movie (before attending the festivals). The way I see it, once we finish filming, my job is kind of over in the process of making the movie. I can’t do much after we wrap.
So I didn’t know what the movie had become in the editing process. So when I had heard that it got into the festivals, I was incredibly excited. I was able to travel to Berlin for the premiere, which was incredibly exciting, and see the movie. It was my first experience at a festival, which was exciting.
I think you hope for the best, but you never know what’s going to happen when you finish a film. You leave it to everyone else, and put your trust in their hands. It was exciting to see that it was getting some good attention and support from some good festivals out there.
SY: In the film, James Franco plays Frances, an affluent lawyer who introduces Angelina to the porn industry, and Heather Graham plays a former performer turned adult film director. What was it like acting alongside James and Heather in the movie?
AH: It was fantastic to work with all four (of my co-stars), James, Heather, Dev (Patel) and Lili Taylor. They all have worked for so long in this industry, and all have respect in the industry. They’re incredibly talented.
I was coming at it as someone who’s basically in the beginning of their career. So I learned an awful lot from everyone I worked with on this film. It was an amazing experience for me. I don’t think many young actors get a chance to work with people who have worked for as long as they have, and have been producing great work for as long as they have. It was definitely a great experience for me.
SY: Besides James and Heather in ‘About Cherry,’ you’ve appeared with several other high-profile stars, including Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore in ‘LOL’ and Wes Bentley and Christian Slater in ‘Rites of Passage.’ Has working with these actors provided you with any acting tips for your own career?
AH: I think more so than anything, I’ve learned from just watching the more experienced actors who I’ve worked with. I watch how their process goes, since they’ve been doing it for so much longer than I have and have had success. But to a certain extent, I want to have my own career. So I emulate people who have had success, and have gotten to do what they love for a very long time.
Everyone who gives their own experience to me was amazing to work with. I worked with Michael Kelly on ‘Chronicle,’ who, in my opinion, is an incredibly talented actor. I learned so much from him. Wes is also an amazing actor.
I’ve gotten very, very lucky with the people I’ve been surrounded by. I think it makes a world of difference when you work with people who bring out the best in you and challenge you.
SY: You’ve starred in several independent films, including ‘Snake and Mongoose’ and ‘Plus One.’ What is it about independent movies that you enjoy acting in them?
AH: I think regardless of whether it’s a studio picture or it’s an indie, I just want to make movies that I believe in. I also want to work with people who are passionate and talented. To me, it doesn’t matter how big the budget is; if you’ve got the right list of ingredients, then you’ve got a great opportunity to make a great film.
A lot of indie projects that I’ve read have spoken to me, more so than the big studio movies. A lot of times, you tackle issues in a stronger way, and they’re a lot less commercial. Every movie that I’ve done has been a completely different experience. I hope to continue doing some exciting and challenging and fun indies.
But at the same time, I want to do more studio and commercial movies, as they have their appeal as well. So I hope to continue having a combination of both in my career.
SY: Besides films, you’ve also appeared on several television shows, including ‘Fringe’ and ‘Gossip Girl.’ Do you have a preference of acting in films over television, or vice versa, or do you enjoy working in both mediums?
AH: Well, my experience in TV has been limited, as they’ve all been guest starring roles. So I really like the idea of being on a TV show and being able to stay with one character for a length of time longer than a movie. So I really like the idea, but I haven’t had the chance to really experience it and try it out. But I’m always open to the idea.
I recently did a role on the HBO series ‘Enlightened’ with Luke Wilson and Laura Dern. That was amazing, and shows like that I would love to be a part of on a bigger scale.
So I don’t really know which direction I’ll really turn to more. It depends on what comes to me and what I respond to, in terms of how the story goes and the character goes.
But with films, you get more opportunities to travel and work with more people, so that’s always exciting. But if the right TV project comes along, I would be really excited to be a part of it.
SY: You started your career as a teenager modeling for some of the world’s largest companies, including Abercrombie & Fitch. What was the transition like, going from modeling to acting in films and on television?
AH: In my opinion, I was always an actor. I happened to get very lucky, and met some influential people in the modeling industry. I got my foot in a door that if I hadn’t otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to become involved in the film industry.
But I was very lucky, and I was able to travel and had some mild success in the modeling industry. But at the end of the day, I still always knew that I wanted to act. That’s what I felt that I should be doing.
So after a few years in the modeling industry, I decided that I had an amazing time doing all of this. I had awesome experiences, but knew I didn’t want to waste some precious years and opportunities, as far as the acting world goes.
So I completely stopped one day, and decided that I would start studying film and acting, and give it a go. I definitely got lucky with how quickly I was able to start working and begin a career in this industry. I know a lot of people who have tried to make the transition from fashion to acting, and it takes a long time for many people. So I’m definitely grateful for the fact that it was such a quick transition period for me.
SY: Do you have any upcoming projects lined up, whether in films or on television, that you can discuss?
AH: I’m going to Morocco, and will be filming a movie for six weeks. I’m prepping that right now, and I’m really excited to focus on that. I think that will be an experience that I will definitely enjoy. But after that, who knows?
Written by: Karen Benardello