Written by Lewis Mainwaring
Daphne Ashbrook is known for both her comic timing and deeply complex emotional portrayals on both the big and small screen. One of her best known roles (and my personal favourite) is that of Dr Grace Holloway in the Doctor Who TV Movie (1996). We recently caught up with her for an interview about her life both on and off screen.
What led you to become an actress? Well, it’s sort of the family business. My parents, D’Ann Paton and Buddy Ashbrook, met playing the leads in Dark of the Moon, and were married soon after. They continued doing play after play all through my childhood, and my sister, Taylor Ashbrook, and brother, Dana Ashbrook, and I were basically raised in theatres while our parents were rehearsing or performing.
My father became a director as well, and cast me in my first play at the age of six, and it was a natural step to go into the business when the time came. I think what I love about acting most is the feeling that I might contribute, in some small way, to enrich someone else’s life, either through information or emotion. I have found healing properties in stories, and I love being a part of telling them.
And I love, love, love getting lost in a character’s reality. Quite fun leaving my own boring life at the door. Ha!
What was working alongside the talented Paul McGann like?
Paul is a fabulous actor, and a generous one. It was so much fun to work with him. It often felt like we were playing some sort of tennis match. It’s a gift to work with someone with whom when you look at them, they are actually looking back. And listening. That’s when the real game’s afoot. Right? Really feeling like you’re in the moment, and reacting to one another. It doesn’t happen all that often, so when it does, it is exciting and elevates the performances, and ultimately the whole project.
Are there any behind-the-scenes stories you would like to share? Just that we spent most of our time laughing. Between Paul and Sylvester (McCoy), I was always laughing. That’s when you pinch yourself and say, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.” Doesn’t feel much like work, you know?
Are you a fan of Doctor who (pre movie/post movie)? I have become a fan of Doctor Who now that I have seen it. Before the movie, I had no knowledge of DW. I had only the script, and I loved the story and the character that I was going to play. But since, I have gone back and seen a smattering of the Classic Series, and I have seen as much as I can of the New Series. So, I feel like I know a little about it all, but will always feel like I am catching up.
What is your relationship with technology? Do you regularly use a smartphone or tablet? I have an iPhone and a laptop. Also, a Web Dalek, who has brought me into the 21st Century. I have a great relationship with my iPhone and laptop. But the Web Dalek does have a temper.
The TV Movie divide Doctor Who fans, I personally love the movie – how do you feel about it ? I think the film had MANY cooks in the kitchen, and many masters to serve – to mix metaphors. It was meant to introduce Doctor Who to an American audience (30 years behind), modernize the series, while keeping as much of the charm and tradition of the classic series in tact. Oh, and do it all in an hour and a half. Not a small task.
My feeling is that the movie fulfilled 99% of those demands, and knowing what I know now about what it took to get the darn thing made, I don’t know how they did it. Phillip Segal navigated seven years of labor and obstacles, and never gave up. And his obvious love for the Doctor was always evident on the set. His enthusiasm was contagious.
I think the movie had lots of charm, and did a fair amount toward introducing the show to an American audience, while still making an entertaining movie. And I think Paul’s Doctor was wonderful.
How has your experience with Dr Who fans ‘whovians’ been? I feel like I have friends all over the world now. It has been such a humbling experience. I can be rather shy, and I really didn’t think I was going to be able to handle being myself in front of a lot of people. I always was perfectly happy, actually preferred losing myself in characters. But what I found was, I liked meeting the fans more than they liked meeting me. In a nutshell, it has been a gift, and I am grateful to be considered a small part of the family.
Would you ever like to return as Grace Holloway in a physical role (TV)? I would love to continue to explore Grace in Doctor Who stories. But, alas, the rights to Dr. Grace Holloway is owned by Universal, I think. BBC (and Big Finish) are unable to bring her back. Such a waste. She was an interesting character, and I think challenged the Doctor in entertaining ways.
What is your favourite role to date? Grace was certainly one of my favorites. A role I played in a mini-series called Intruders was incredibly challenging. And then maybe the character of Dawn in THE OC. Also, challenging. I DO love a challenge!
Can you tell us abit about your life and interests off screen? I practice Bikram yoga, love to write and sing. And I love watching my daughter, Paton Ashbrook, on stage at Juilliard, where she is currently studying to be an actor/singer. I can never describe how proud I am of her. She is amazing!
As an active musician, who are your musical idols? Joni Mitchell, Patty Griffin, Billy Holiday, Annie Lennox, Sean Colvin, Ed Sheeran, James Taylor, Stephen Sondheim, Nick Drake, Adele and many, many more.
What is your personal favourite TV show and movie? Well, I’m really enjoying Scott & Bailey right now on ITV. And my favorite movie is Harold and Maude.
What upcoming projects do you have? I just released my second album, All Good Dreamers, which you can find at http://www.daphneashbrook.com/store/. All the songs that I chose for All Good Dreamers comment on the complexities of love, dreams, and just being a person in today’s world. Navigating your way through all the noise and tragedy that seem to roll through our lives daily. This music helps me through it.
And I am currently finishing writing a film called Once More With Feeling, that I will act in and will begin filming soon. I am very excited about this project. I love the challenge and I think it’s going to be fantastic!
I have another project that I am working on, but unfortunately, I cannot say a word. It’s a secret at the moment, but it should give the Doctor Who fans some happiness! Stay tuned!
Keep up to date with Daphne at www.daphneashbrook.com