Audiences like witches. It’s just a fact. Take a look at the success of shows like American Horror Story: Coven, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and the Charmed reboot. Or the fact that Hocus Pocus fans have been clamoring for—and are finally getting!— a sequel. With all of this, it’s not surprising that this spring, Freeform is cashing in on its own original witch story, Motherland: Fort Salem. Here’s why we’re excited for the new series: For starters, Motherland is written by Eliot Laurence, who is also responsible for the hit female-empowerment show Claws; it tells a completely original story set in a matriarchal society (about time!); and it features a cast of exciting new faces, including today’s stylish interview subject, Ashley Nicole Williams.
For Williams, Motherland marks two important firsts: the Texas native’s first official acting credit and her first lead role. Though, you wouldn’t know it from her performance. As the confident and determined Abigail Bellweather, Williams is a standout. If I were a betting woman, I would say this is the beginning of a bright future for the 21-year-old. But Williams doesn’t just have her sights on a fruitful acting career. She’s already thinking big picture, which includes one day owning her own production company and maybe a fashion collaboration or two somewhere in the mix. All the more reason to become better acquainted with this star in the making now.
Ahead, we chat with the actress about how her new series is setting a fresh tone for young women, her ever-growing sneaker collection, and taking career cues from Zendaya.
Lindsey Byrnes; STYLISTS: Wayman & Micah; HAIRSTYLIST: Rena Calhoun; MAKEUP ARTIST: Saisha Beecham
Motherland: Fort Salem is your very first acting credit, and it’s a lead role. Congratulations! What was the most rewarding part of working on this project?
I think the most rewarding part of being on this project is all of the work that I’ve put into this craft, all of my work, was fulfilled. It hasn’t paid off at all, because this is kind of a stepping stone in where I want to be in my career, but I think just the building blocks—that I can take one step on the staircase—I think that is the most rewarding part.
What was one of the biggest things you learned working on this project?
As an actor, I think the biggest thing that I took away from this experience is what my character, Abigail, learns. She learns that there is no I in team. Being on set, I really got to see everyone working together. I’ve never been on a TV show set before, so I see the grips putting in the work, the set decorators putting in their work. It’s really everyone working together to get what you see on TV. So I really learned that it’s a team sport.
Motherland is created by Eliot Laurence, who also wrote the hit TNT series Claws, another female-empowerment story. What do you think it is about Laurence’s storytelling that is appealing to audiences?
[Eliot] has a creative mind that is just literally out of this world. I can just ask him, “Hey, Eliot. If we go to season five, what’s going to happen?” And he will just know right off the bat. I think the fact that a man has the capability to create women-empowerment and women-leading shows is just incredible. I feel like where we need to be in this world, that’s where Eliot already is. His mind is just on a whole other planet, and I think that is how he is able to create these amazing shows.
We’ve seen many great witch narratives throughout the years (The Craft, AHS: Coven, Charmed, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). What do you think sets Motherland apart from the others?
I think Motherland is very different from other witch shows because the narrative is completely flipped. Our world is upside down in a way. It’s very matriarchal. It’s very women-run, women-led. It expresses topics to be free about your sexuality and things of that nature, so the men’s roles and the women roles are reversed, and I think that will show young girls that we can lead. We can be in power.
What about Abigail Bellweather makes her a particularly enticing character to play?
The most exciting part about this role is that I kind of am Abigail Bellweather. I’m not as big of a… When you meet her, she’s kind of a bit of a B-word. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that. But no, I’m very driven, I put a lot of pressure on myself in situations, and she is definitely a perfectionist because she has pressure on her from her mom. I don’t necessarily have pressure from my parents, but I feel like I need to be the best and have a lot to prove to myself, and I feel like that was the most exciting part because I connected so well to her.
Abigail, Raelle, and Tally definitely have their differences, but when they work/practice magic together, they are such a strong trio. How did you build that chemistry/friendship with the other girls?
So off the bat, Taylor [Hickson], Jessica [Sutton], and I, we clicked immediately. It was as if I had known them for years. It wasn’t even like we had to build the chemistry; it was already there. Genuinely, we are a unit. We are sisters. They are my witches, as Tally says in episode two. But for real, it’s such a genuine connection, and I can go to them for anything.
When not in uniform, Abigail has some really great fashion moments, which you see at the beginning of the series. Do you have a favorite look of hers?
Funny story: When we meet the unit in their barracks, or in the dorm rooms, that first time, the plaid black-and-white shorts [Abigail] has, I own those! I literally have them. When we were trying them on in the fitting, I was like oh my God, I totally have these shorts, and I have a matching jacket to go with, and this is what I wear under it! It was so funny.
Do you share any other wardrobe similarities with Abigail?
I definitely have a similar fashion sense to Abigail. It’s funny, I always say you can catch me in sneakers or heels, that’s it. There is no in-between. It’s two moods. I definitely think Abigail is more the heeled version [of me], but Ashley will show up to set in sneakers, some Nike Air Force 1s. She’ll put on her heels when she goes home.
Photo:Lindsey Byrnes; STYLISTS: Wayman & Micah; HAIRSTYLIST: Rena Calhoun; MAKEUP ARTIST: Saisha Beecham
While scrolling through your Instagram, I spotted a lot of great outfit posts. What would you say is an Ashley Nicole Williams fashion signature?
My style is literally sneakers and heels. I have so many different pairs of Nike Air Force 1s, so I will pair them with some sweats and an oversized T-shirt or some biker shorts and an oversized T-shirt with some hoops. It’s kind of like an edgy tomboy vibe. If I’m not wearing my heels, I literally wear booties, like big chunky booties. When I travel, all I bring is either sneakers or booties and heels. I’m the girliest girl ever, but when I’m not doing anything, I’ll tomboy it out.
How big is this sneaker collection?
Oh my gosh. If I had to guess, maybe like 20 pairs? I love sneakers so much.
Where do you do a lot of your shopping?
This is so hard for me. I’m going to confess something to you: My mother shops for me. She has the best sense of style I know. I don’t even know how to explain how good she is. As soon as I see it, it’s like, I love that, immediately. Going back to the sneaker thing, Nike gets a lot of my money. I really love Intermix. Every time I can go in there and get some cute outfits, I’m like, oh yes.
You recently worked with stylists Wayman and Micah, who work with the likes of Tessa Thompson and Regina King. What do you like about their fashion point of view?
They did my look for the TCAs and a spec shoot, and I think the thing about Wayman and Micah is they are so unique. Tessa Thompson at the [Oscars] after-party… I have never seen anything like it, the green! What they do with Regina King, it’s so unique and unmatched. When you see other stylists, I feel like some can be, you know, they can relate to others when you see who everyone is styled by, but I feel like Wayman and Micah, it’s just very set apart, and I think that’s what you are looking for on the red carpet. That’s what really drew me to them.
You are currently in school. What are you studying?
I am getting my bachelor’s degree in film and digital media. I’m in my last semester at Baylor University, and it’s very cool. We have a really cool film program. Along with being in front of the camera, I also learned to have a love for behind the camera. I like to write, I like to direct, I shot a couple of short films, so yeah, hopefully I can have my own production company or something.
Okay, final question: Whose career in Hollywood do you admire?
That is a great question. I think I really admire Zendaya’s career path, especially being at my age level. You know, going from Disney to being her own executive producer on her own Disney show, and she’s gotten into fashion and now on Euphoria and things of that nature, I feel like she has really taken control of her own path and destiny. Like this is what I’m going to do, and this what I’m going to accomplish. I feel a similar mindset. You know, I love fashion, so I would love to dabble in that. Of course I love acting, and I’ve modeled a bit, and I sing a little bit too. There are so many things I ultimately want to do, and I think that she is definitely a role model in that sense of hey, I want to do this, and I’m going to get it done.
Shop Ashley's Spring Fashion Picks
Dior X Air Jordan 1 Sneakers (available summer 2020)
“This collab with Dior is beyond iconic. I’d probably dress down my outfit with some boyfriend jeans and a white tee since the shoes are so poppin‘.”
“Easter definitely is when I bring out all my white looks, and this Tory Burch denim set is a LOOK. I’d for sure pair it with a fun pink, yellow, or orange heel!”
“The classic 98 Air Max style mixed with these Easter pastels are great for a spring look. The colors are vibrant yet muted at the same time, and I’m in love."
“This hair tie is so chic! I love a good pony with hanging ribbon on the scrunchy! I’d probably pair this with some jeans and a similar blue top or a cute white shirt!”
“These new multicolored sandals from Tory Burch are the perfect ‘Hello, spring’ sandal! I could wear them with a flowy dress or even a cute pant look.”