Ashley Eckstein talks to TVGuide.com about her career so far and how cyberbullies motivated her to make Star Wars fandom more inclusive….
Ashley Eckstein has never felt there was a dream she couldn’t achieve. Throughout her 20-year career in Hollywood, she’s established herself as an on-camera and voiceover star, founded her own apparel company, written a popular memoir It’s Your Universe, and became an anti-bullying advocate for the geek fandom community. Eckstein, 37, credits her boundless optimism and determination to her unique childhood.
“You can definitely say that I grew up Disney,” she told us at her Los Angeles office last year.
Growing up in Orlando, Florida with a father whose claims to fame include bringing the turkey legs to Disney World, Eckstein and her parents visited the theme park regularly — a practice her parents used to impart life lessons on their young daughter. Often, the family watched the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom at night, and her mother prompted Eckstein to wish upon a star. Then, on Christmas morning when she was in the third grade, she received a hat emblazoned with the phrase “Don’t dream it. Be it.”
“And they once again used it as a lesson and said, ‘OK, all of those wishes that you have been making upon all those stars? Now you need to be it. You have to do it,'” Eckstein recalled her mother saying. “‘These dreams aren’t just going to fall on your lap. You have to make them happen yourself.’” And that’s what she did.
One of Eckstein’s earliest dreams was to get a job at Disney World, and on her 16th birthday, the minimum age to apply, she auditioned and landed a job — though not the one she wanted. While she’d hoped to be a dance member in the Electrical Light Parade, instead she was tasked something much less glamorous: helping crying children who were scared by the more frightening characters. But it was a job at Disney nonetheless. Eckstein didn’t quit and eventually worked her way up to being a cheerleader in the Hercules Parade, and she acknowledges the valuable lesson she learned from this and other performance gigs she had (and the ones she lost out on) as a young adult and teen.
“Growing up around Disney and in Orlando definitely prepared me for Hollywood,” she said. “I was able to get an agent and audition in Orlando. That’s where I really learned rejection. Nothing prepares for the amount of rejection you get when you move to Hollywood. At a young age, I was able to kind of understand how to deal with that. Understand that it’s also not personal. Often times it has nothing to do with you. I think that’s a bible lesson for any kid, whether they wanna be an actor or not, is dealing with rejection, dealing with failure, and learning from it.”
After cutting her teeth in Orlando, Eckstein made the move to Hollywood at 19, where she pursued her dream at the time: “I didn’t want to win an Oscar,” Eckstein recalled. “I actually just wanted to be on the Disney Channel.” She achieved this when she landed the recurring role of mean-girl Muffy on That’s So Raven, in which she appeared from 2003 to 2006.
But Eckstein’s Disney Channel dream wasn’t the only wish she was looking to make come true. Inspired by the Disney princesses she grew up with in the ’80s and ’90s, Eckstein said she had developed “a fascination with voiceover” and began auditioning for voiceover work shortly after arriving in Los Angeles. After booking a couple of commercials, Eckstein thought this new career path would be easy, but then opportunities stalled. “I auditioned for four solid years, hundreds of auditions, and didn’t get anything,” she said, noting that the two times she did land a series lead role, she wound up being recast.
It was at this point, in October 2005, that the audition of a lifetime came up for Eckstein: a voiceover role in a new animated Star Wars show. A fan since childhood, Eckstein was shocked by the opportunity, believing that the Star Wars franchise was done after the divisive prequel trilogy. Having been told the audition was for the part of Padme, played by Natalie Portman in the aforementioned prequels, Eckstein wasn’t too optimistic about her chances given that her high-pitched, chipper voice doesn’t sound much like Portman’s. However, her agent convinced her to go to the call anyway. “I’m glad I listened to him,” Eckstein said, “because they were also auditioning for this brand new character that nobody knew about called Ahsoka Tano. She was a 14-year-old girl, and they didn’t really know what they were looking for. Thankfully, I just happened to be right for the part. After four long years of auditioning, I finally was cast as the voice of an animated character.”
Read the interview in full here.