We first met Ashley Love-Mills in when we styled and photographed her for our magazine in 2013, during her reign as Miss North Carolina USA. She placed top 10 in the pageant and we couldn’t be more proud of how she represented our state. Or so we thought.
Now fast forward three years and countless modeling and acting gigs later, Ashley is living her dreams, recently cast as Valerie in a Tyler Perry drama called Too Close to Home, for TLC, the networks’ first scripted series. We caught up with this beauty to chat about what she’s been doing since her reign as Miss NC, the television show she’s starring in and what’s next for Miss Love-Mills.
Who is Ashley-Love Mills? What do you want people to know about you the pageant beauty, anti-bully-activist turned actress and model?
She is a woman with a vision that knows exactly what she wants in life making new discoveries (mostly about herself) daily in order to achieve those things. I’ve been an actress and model long before I being a “beauty queen.” Now is the time to set the record straight and address all the misconceptions regarding how I started my career in entertainment. Having a desire to build on my career in entertainment is solely why I chose to enter the world of pageantry.
How did you get into the pageantry industry? What has it taught you?
Right before I started my senior year in high school, I received a letter from RPM Productions, the organization that runs the North Carolina USA system. They informed me that someone from my high school submitted my photo for the Miss NC Teen USA pageant. I initially ignored the letter and threw it away. I had never been interested in pageants before but a few weeks later I was watching tv with my dad, and the Miss Teen USA Pageant was on. The girls competing looked like they were having fun. I wanted a chance to have that kind of “fun” but I knew I also wanted to be a voice and speak out on the bullying epidemic. So I entered the teen pageant at 17 and placed 6th out of 96th girls on my first try. I was then determined to one day come back and win in the Miss division.
How has being bullied affected you and how did you overcome it?
It’s affected me in so many ways even in my adulthood. My outlook on life is very different than most, and I have tend to have a lot of compassion and understanding for people who are different. I was bullied and tormented in high school so bad that I was often afraid to come to school. I can remember being picked on, threatened and pushed around at my locker by other girls, rumors were spread about me, my name was written on bathroom stalls and food was thrown at me in the lunch room. Even to this day, I’ve never really been able to make sense of why I became a target. As a teenager, I was devastated and was at such a low point in my life that I questioned my own value as a person, and considered suicide many times because I thought maybe the pain and torment would go away.
However, the one thing I can say is that even through all of that deep down I knew my life one day would have purpose. My focus then became just making it through graduation. This is why I chose to get involved in pageantry. It kept me busy, focused on achieving new goals and in a lot of ways helped to save my life. Even though I didn’t win Miss NC Teen USA that year, I was more determined to get through high school, go to college and make all my dreams a reality. I felt like my story was not only for me but to help other teens not strong enough to make it through on their own.
Can you tell me about your anti-bullying advocacy and your 2013 Reach for More: Be Better than Average” Anti-Bullying Tour. Is there another tour in the future?
I created this campaign and partnered with the NC Department of Public Instruction touring the state speaking to elementary, middle and high school students about bullying and the effects it can have on their peers. During my reign, I reached almost 30,000 students and had many write to me letters stating that I changed their lives and helped to save them from the same fate that I almost had succumb to as well. This made all those miles I put on my car and the sleepless nights worth it. To know that I may have saved one life and inspired another is what still treasure most to this day.
How does it feel to know that you made history becoming the 5th African-American woman in 61 years of the pageant to be crowned Miss North Carolina USA?
That’s still insane to me! Many said it was impossible and it couldn’t be done. Honestly, it’s what made me even more determined to win. After winning, many young women of color said that I was now apart of their inspiration and that meant the world to me. We are blessed to be a blessing to others.New Tyler Perry Show on @TLC Stars Former Miss NC @real_ashleylove #TooCloseToHome Click To Tweet
Once your reign as Miss NC came to a close, what did you do next?
I literally packed up my apartment a few days later and moved to Atlanta . After my reign came to an end, and even before, I knew that North Carolina had nothing to offer me career wise. I needed to start fresh and relocate to a place where I would be able to get the right opportunities.
Have you always wanted to be an actress or was it something that just happened?
I’ve always known. I remember being as young as about three telling my mom that I wanted to be on television and in movies but my parents never really took me that serious. I was always “performing” wherever I went and kept people entertained. In the back of my mind, I knew that when I got older and could make my own decisions, acting is what I’d pursue full-time.
Tell me about your opportunity to star in Too Close to Home. How did you get the role?
In order to be considered for any role, you must go through the audition process. My agent sent me the breakdown for the role of “Valerie” and on that particular day I wasn’t feeling well so I declined to come in and read for the casting director. I was also a point where I felt very discouraged and had mentioned to my agent the week prior I was going to take a break from acting. I was going to solely focus on my modeling career and take car of my dad who at the time had been battling cancer and in maybe six months give acting another shot. But something said find a way to do this particular audition so at the last minute, I called my acting coach to see if he was available to put me on tape. Even after putting myself on tape, I absolutely hated it! I just didn’t feel like I was in the best head space to perform that day and against my will, my coach and agent agreed to send it in anyway. Just six days later I found myself at Tyler Perry Studios doing a screen test for the role. I was the only actress from the initial audition that was invited back to read for the role of Valerie in front of Tyler and the other producers. Two days later I got the call about booking the show!
What is it like to work under the direction of Tyler Perry?
Working with Tyler is fast paced and intense! But all in a good way. On average, we were shooting around 55 pages a day. The standard on most episodic’s are about 6 pages a day. So imagine how quickly we were moving. I had so much fun working with him and the rest of my cast mates, but we were on a very tight schedule so there isn’t a lot of room for error. The show had a fast turn around so there was definitely pressure to perform but Tyler is very understanding and easy to talk to. As a director, he tried to give us clear direction to make sure what we were comfortable on set which helps with a better performance overall. Plus, the entire crew and the folks in production made it so easy for the me that by the 2nd or 3rd day of filming, everybody was coasting. It’s so important that your team around you be super supportive and making sure you as the actor have whatever you need to ensure you’re at your best whenever the camera is rolling. Tyler and his team were amazing and are probably one of the most efficient production teams I’ve ever worked with. I called it boot camp. If you can make it on Tyler’s sets, then you can make it anywhere in Hollywood.
[S I X] years ago, I first said that I’d one day work with you. And then [T H R E E] years ago on June 16, 2013 while competing at Miss USA, @thejeanniemai announced this same dream I had to the world while I was on the stage…. and 3 years later to the very day, I was on set filming while you directed me. WORDS HAVE POWER. [M Y] life was flipped upside down a month ago and ☝🏽️☝🏽 He hired me only 3 days before my Daddy died, and the moment he looked at my auditon tape, he said he knew I was meant to play Valerie. I remember being at the callback, looking around in confusion because I realized I was the only one at that point who was invited back to read for the role….. So I say thank you @tylerperry for your patience, understanding, love and most importantly for pushing me to go as hard as I could to bring Valerie to life. I never thought I’d make it through this but you and the amazing @tooclosetohometlc cast/crew made this process a breeze for me while I have been grieving the loss of my Dad. I’m forever grateful to apart of @TLC history. 🎬 💗 #tooclosetohome #tylerperry #tlc #tv #hollywood #blessed #dreamsdocometrue
Tell us about a typical day when you have to be on set. What time do you get up? What do you eat (or do you eat that day)? Do you have to wait in a trailer? How many takes to do a scene? Tell us everything. Paint the picture.
I had really long days on set. I’d usually wake up around 6am and with an average call time of about 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. I normally wouldn’t leave the studio until close to midnight. One night I was even there until 2am. Upon arrival, I’d go through security before entering the building and then head straight to my dressing room until hair and makeup is ready for me. I’d order breakfast from crafty and a PA would bring it up to my room. I’d usually be reading over my sides for the day while getting my glam done, come back to my dressing room and eat and relax until it’d be time to head to set. My room is really nice and since we’re at a sound stage there isn’t a need for trailers. Each actor has their own room with a couch, big bathroom, refrigerator, microwave and tv. My dressing room is my safe haven. Everybody knew that if Ashley was no where to be found, she was probably in her dressing sprawled out on her couch sleep or on my Mac watching Netflix. lol
There isn’t a certain number of times that each scene is done. We do it until we get it right. But with Tyler, the expectation is pretty much getting it right of the first take and then crew changes camera angles to get in close ups. Right before cameras would roll, Tyler would have us step in while crew is setting up and we’d do a light rehearsal and run lines out loud to give him an idea about how the scene should go. Tyler also shoots with four cameras simultaneously which is why we are able to move through production so fast.
I’m so good at keeping secrets that I sometimes forget when it becomes okay to spill one sooooooo I’m excited to share that I was cast as “Valerie” on Tyler Perrys newest show, Too Close To Home (@tooclosetohometlc) will air in August on TLC. Our show has made history as @tlc (TLC Networks) FIRST ever scripted drama. We wrap filming tomorrow for the first season. A bittersweet time, as I only lost my Dad no less than 3 weeks ago. How I wish to see his face and have him beside me as I reach a new high in my career. But I know that both he and God will continue to bless and watch over me as I embark on this new journey in my career. Many thanks to my agent @taysmithent for his continuous love and support even though I know I get on his damn nerves! I hope you all will tune in and catch me giving everybody on the show hell in August! 🎬🙏🏽 #tooclosetohome #tooclosetohometlc #tylerperry #tylerperrystudios #tlc #ashleylovemills #actress #tv #blessed #picoftheday #iAct #iBook #ALM
A photo posted by Ashley Love-Mills (@ashleylovemills) on
You have been able to work with several brands such as: NBC, Pepsi, Fruit of The Loom, Saks 5th Avenue, TJ Maxx, Macy’s, Belk, Pur Minerals Makeup, Costco, Corrigan & Johnson, Hanes You also recently had a guest star role on ABC Networks TV Series Nashville. You have also been on the cover of several magazines such as Jezebel and have worked with some of the best in the entertainment industry. Which project was the most fun and why? Or do you have an interesting/funny story to share about one of these projects?
Working with Tyler has honestly been the most fun project I’ve ever done. It’s me actually living out my dreams to the fullest and actually going to work everyday doing what I love and was put on this earth to do. I’ve met and worked with so many amazing people over the years and from the list above, I’d say working with my Tj Maxx family has always been a lot of fun. I do all their e-commerce modeling in Memphis, TN. They have me fly up about twice a week and that job never gets old. I’ve become quite close with everyone at the studio and feel like at a place I can call my home away from home.I'm live tweeting during the premiere of @TooClosetoHome w/@real_ashleylove on Aug 22 at 9pm Click To Tweet
Where do you like to shop? What is your personal style?
I do a lot of online shopping from stores based in LA but a stores I love in Atlanta that’s actually a chain store is Zara and Steve madden.
My personal style is very eclectic. I literally dressed differently everyday based on how I feel. So some days I’m be wearing leggings and heels, the next boyfriend jeans and chuck tailors with a crop top, and then another day it’ll be yoga pants and sneaks. I think I’m very up-to-date with the current trends from a fashion perspective so no matter what I’m wearing, I never walk out the door without being put together even if my look is still basic.
Why did you decide to move to Atlanta, Georgia? Was it before or after being cast with Tyler Perry.
I moved to Atlanta almost three years ago because I knew it was the next best place for entertainment aside from LA and New York. I wasn’t ready to move to either one of those cities but was still looking for the same opportunities. Moving to Atlanta was a no brainer. I moved here long before ever working with Tyler Perry nor was the idea of working with him the only reason. Many different projects are shot in Atlanta so when I moved, Tyler at the time honestly wasn’t even a thought. Did I still want to work with him; yes. But my focus was on getting work in general and not just limiting myself to just one outlet of work.
When you are not busy working what do you like to do?
Ha! I’m always busy. Like literally…ALWAYS! I work 24/7 but I really do enjoy what I do. I’m my own boss and make my own schedule. Thats a benefit to being in this industry. I work for myself so I deicide what I make time for and the opportunities that I go after. I do make time to stay fit so I run usually around 4 days a week. My job affords me the opportunity to travel a lot so I’m gone at least 3 days every week to another city. I love all things “entertainment” if you will, so I spend a lot of time researching new projects in production, binge watching the best shows for inspiration on Netflix, spend time with family and friends, and I’m also a writer as well. Currently working on 10 different screenplays at the moment in conjunction with the production company I started earlier this year called Mustard Seed Film Entertainment. See what I mean….I’m always working. Based on the timeline Ive created, I should have my first screenplay in production a year from now.
What is your favorite food, restaurant?
Pizza!!!! I’m pretty obsessed with it and will eat it from almost any place. But my favorite place in Atlanta to grab a pie is from Do Restaurant in Midtown or Jets Pizza which is local chain restaurant that sells the best deep dish pizza you’ve ever had!
Favorite place to travel or visit?
I love Los Angeles. But I studied film abroad in Europe. Specially the Czech Republic when I was in college and fell completely in love with the city so I’d say there.
A photo posted by Ashley Love-Mills (@ashleylovemills) on
Are you living your dreams right now?
Totally. I’ve waited my whole life to have my own tv show and to be recognized by SAG as a “working actress”. The funny thing is…once you start working you almost never stop. The key is just getting aboard the “working” train. I’m certainly not where I want to be but I’m so excited about where I am right now. I’m truly learning to enjoy this process. People will start to see and know my work as an actress and that will speak louder than anything else. I want to be known for my work as an actress and overall entertainer. Being Miss North Carolina USA was just one year of my life but being an actress and pursuing my craft is what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. I’m building an empire and a legacy that will honor my family now and my future children later.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Five years from now, I will have household name in the industry. A boss. Not only will be known for my work as an actress, but also as a writer, director and producer through my production company.
What’s next for Ashley Love Mills? What is the ultimate goal?
Right now, My team and I are looking to see how ‘Too Close To Home’ does when it premieres August 22nd on TLC. And more importantly, what kind of impact will my character Valerie have on the public. From there, it’s pretty simple….A-list actress by age 30. Some would say its pretty advantageous but my team loves it! They believe in me and all that I am trying to accomplish. The ultimate goal is to be known as a mainstream actress and named one of the best actress’ in Hollywood. Yes, being nominated and winning awards is great but honestly I don’t care much about accolades. I want my work to inspire and change the world. If you’re putting out good content, the recognition will naturally come but as an artist that should never be your focus. The plan is to have Mustard Seed partnered with other productions creating a new line of content that will make the world more socially aware. Everything I’ve ever set out to do, I’ve always accomplished in record time. I believe in speaking things into existence.
Watch the premiere of Too Close to Home on Monday, August 22 at 9 p.m.