Kentucky native Ashley Eckstein has certainly made her mark in geek history. Currently voicing the only apprentice of Anakin Skywalker on the Clone Wars series, Ahsoka Tano, Ashley is also the creator of HerUniverse. If you have not checked out this website, DO IT. Ashley decided to create merchandise specifically targeted to women when she isn’t bringing life to the young Jedi!
L: Let’s jump right in and talk a little about Ahsoka. She begins her journey as an 14-year-old when the Clone Wars begin. Was it difficult having that childlike mind frame and then having to switch to an older, more mature Ahsoka?
AE: Um, you know that’s a great question because I naturally have a young sounding voice and when I first went to audition for Clone Wars, I auditioned for Padmé and they stopped me before I could even get the first line out of my mouth. I literally….as I was saying it they stopped me and said, ‘no we’re sorry you sound too young for Padmé but would you mind reading for this new character?’ They didn’t tell me who I was reading for yet cause it was so confidential and um, my voice just naturally kinda fit that age range. Actually my voice is pretty high-pitched and it sounds real young! It was actually pretty easy in the beginning to play a 14-year-old girl and as the show’s gone on I’ve had to speak in my lower register. I’ve definitely had to become a lot more darker, more serious. Dave Filoni jokes with me in the studio that I have to ball up any cuteness, any girly-ness I have and throw it out the studio because she’s definitely grown a lot and really I try to put myself in her shoes. The Clone Wars have gone on for 2 years now in the series and it’s really taken its toll on all the Jedi. There are battles day in and day out and I have to keep that mind when I’m doing the episode.
L: Great insight! I’d never have imagined stuff like that coming into play.
AE: The Clone Wars were a tough time!
L: Were there any episodes or story arcs that were more fun to do than others?
AE: I have to say, personally, from this past season, season 3, I loved the Mortis trilogy! It was a fun trilogy or story arc to do because it was so challenging and covered so many emotions. I had to play an older Ahsoka in her 20s in a vision and play a dark side Ahsoka where she was evil and taken over by the Dark side and you know, Ahsoka died in those episodes and then I had to play her in present day. Just that wide range was fun to do. More so than that, the story and writing was fantastic. The animators really upped their game in those three episodes.
L: I know the inclusion of a brand new character not in previous Star Wars canon upset a lot of fans. In fact, I have not sat and watched much Clone Wars, not because of Ahsoka, but because it rendered one of my all time favorite story lines non canon. Did the fans original aversion to Ahsoka bother you?
AE: Well, you know, I have to admit that when the movie first came out, all the backlash began and it was nerve-wracking thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m the new Jar Jar.’ We’d been working on Clone Wars for 2 years before the audience saw anything and we’d become so emotionally attached to these characters and we’d completed the entire first season before the movie came out. I knew after the first season she would go in a direction the fans would like her to go and I knew they would be pleased with her evolution over time. After the movie which was 4 episodes strung together, she came across as overbearing. No character is perfect at first. In order for a character to grow they have to start somewhere. You have to have flaws and things that will improve. I think they appreciate how far she’s come but in the beginning it was definitely nerve-wracking.
L: Odd question, I know but if real, honest to God aliens landed in front of you and offered you any position on their planet, what position would you want?
AE: Um…wow. Okay this is where some fans may roll their eyes but I’m definitely a romantic at heart. I love all the fairy tales at heart. I was a huge tomboy growing up and something happened as I got older and I had to play catchup and watch all these romantic comedies and get a feel for things. I love princesses and not just Disney princesses…I’ve watched a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones and what’s her name….
L: Which one? I’m a big fan!
AE: The long-haired blonde one. Da…something?
AE: YES! I liked how at first she was unsure and now she’s discovering her power and I dunno, maybe going and being the alien princess? That was a long-winded roundabout answer but that’s what I’d be. I’d marry the alien prince.
L: As a voice actress, do you have any freedom to ad lib?
AE: Um, every now and then we are. You know, that’s one thing that Dave Filoni is really great at, we’ve gotten to know our characters and it’s almost like we know their tone and slang, how they’d say things. I’m able to change a word or two but in terms of ad libbing beyond that, we don’t do that. The writing team is truly fantastic, top-notch, and we never really have to change anything. Every now and then there’ll be something. They had Ahsoka saying ‘yeehaw’ and while I’m a Southern girl at heart and I’ve been known to say that, Ahsoka wouldn’t say that. We’ve gotten to know them well enough to change things they wouldn’t ever say.
L: It probably helps it comes across more natural.
AE: Dave has let me bring my own sarcasm to Ahsoka and so I trust him in terms of what he thinks she should say. There’s a very fine line between being bratty and joking around.
L: How did you go about creating HerUniverse.com?
AE: Oh jeez, I had the idea, uh, over 3 years ago and it took me a while to convince people there was a market for female sci-fi fans, you know, cause I found in my research that close to ½ of sci-fi fans are women and it didn’t make sense that there wasn’t any merchandise for the women to buy when 85% of the consumer market is women! So women are the ones doing all the buying and close to half of all sci-fi fans are women and it just wasn’t adding up. It’s like, why isn’t someone catering to this fan base, because there are so many passionate women who love sci-fi just as much as the men do.
L: Which is definitely true. Whenever I try to buy sci-fi clothes I skip over the girl clothes immediately because there’s never anything available and go straight to the guys, so HerUniverse.com DEFINITELY stood out to me as a fan.
AE: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I have to thank Lucas Films and SyFy cause we just announced a deal with them. Pretty much from the beginning, Lucas Arts gave us the opportunity to make Star Wars merchandise for women right out of the gate and then Syfy as well, they believe in their female fans, are listening to their female fans and I just have to thank them for the opportunity to play with their property.
L: I’m really excited. I cannot wait to see the SyFy designs. Do you personally approve every design?
AE: Yeah, I think the biggest misconception is that HerUniverse was started by someone else and I’m just endorsing the brand. It was my idea from the beginning and I’m involved in every single step. I’m not an artist so I work with an artist to create the look or I can go through Lucas Art’s style guide of images that I can pick out and mix and match things from. I’m involved from the initial concept to the hang tag to the wash and dry test of every shirt. I can’t stand when shirts I buy shrink to half their size so it’s something very, very important to me.
L: That warms my heart because a lot of times, things become commercialized and the personal touch is lost.
AE: HerUniverse is a full-time job. It’s what I do all day long. It needs extra attention and now that we have the new Syfy line coming out I wanna do my best and make sure everything is perfect.
L: I read somewhere online that you designed a dress when you were 11 or 12. Do you plan on expanding HerUniverse to all kinds of clothes? I for one, would embrace a Death Star skirt.
AE: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, I would love to, that’s definitely in the future. The hard part with HerUniverse is I feel there’s so much catch up to do because the guys have so many items. The women don’t have much of anything and it’s kind of overwhelming. Dresses are something I want to get into but it’s going to take a while. Everyone’s body is different and they have to be custom made and printed. We buy the blank t-shirt and do the printing ourselves so dresses are a bit more tricky. Definitely in the future.
L: Let’s talk a little about the Star Wars Tours.
AE: It’s a great event. We just finished the first weekend. It’s Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I actually host a show called Behind the Force which is a behind the scenes look into the Clone Wars. It’s such a fun show. We just had Dave Filoni and we’re gonna have Matt Lanter (voice of Anakin) and Tom Kane (voice of Yoda) and it’s just a fun time. I’m really excited because HerUniverse has 2 new shirts and kids shirts for the first time. They’re for sale at Disney which is a dream come true for me. They’re not available retail yet so to walk into Disney World and see them for sale is crazy for me. I was there at 5:45am before anyone else. I took video, I’m such a cheese ball.
L: Do you have any tips for people who want to get into the voice acting industry or just wanna start their own business?
AE: Practice, lots of practice. For voice acting and acting in general, I started out in community theater and got an agent in Orlando where I grew up. The actors unions are very important and must be joined. I’d look up SAG.org and do your research. Listen to people’s voices and get into mimicking until you can carry a full conversation in another voice. You know how people say it’s fun to people watch? Listen to other people. You need to be able to do all kinds of voices on cue. For a business, I don’t know where to begin. If you have a dream to do something, never give up. It sounds cliché and cheesy but it took a good 2 years for HerUniverse to get off the ground. I can’t tell you how many people told me no and it’d never work. If Plan A fails, go to Plan B. I think I went to Plan G before it actually happened. When a door slams, a window opens. I truly believed there was a market for this. Don’t give up and keep going.
L: It’s great that you’re enjoying what you do!
AE: You have to enjoy it otherwise you’ll be miserable!!
Many, many thanks to Ashley for taking the time out to call me. You can meet her at Disney’s Star Wars weekends from May 20th to June 12th at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando or at San Diego Comic Con this July. Take a look at the clothing she has available at HerUniverse or check her out at her official website !