Ashla Taylor Talks Portraying Shania Twain: 'It Was Natural For Me'
Since she first broke onto the national music scene some 25 years ago with her debut album, the idea that a young female artist might consider Shania Twain a role model is far from foreign. But, Ashla Taylor is getting a chance to take that admiration of the crossover queen to a level that few get the chance to do.
Taylor is stepping into the shoes of the best-selling vocalist with her portrayal of Twain in this week's episode of The Price of Fame, a docudrama series that airs on the REELZ Channel this Sunday (Feb. 18, at 9pm ET / 6pm PT). She tells Billboard it’s something she’s been working toward for years. “It was so natural for me to fall into that character. I have been studying Shania for a long time. She has been my personal and my musical influence in life. Needless to say, I didn’t have to do a lot of character study.”
The Alabama native says that seeing Twain in 1998 had a profound impact on her life. “When I was eight years old, my grandmother took me to see Shania. It was my first concert. I saw her in her glory, and I remember thinking – even then – that was exactly the kind of woman I wanted to be. The light just turned on for me, and I began to study everything about her – her music, her writing, her voice."
Once she started digging into Twain's backstory, Taylor says it wasn't hard for her to find common ground with the country legend. "Because I was such a fan, I started to study her personal life story, and I found out that we had a lot of similarities," she explains. There were a lot of things that I could relate to, and she really inspired me as a woman. It started as a musical thing, and when I got to really know her story, it became personal. I kept telling myself over the years that if Shania can overcome, then I can too. I really hope to meet her one of these days, and tell her that it was because of her that I could do this.”
Taylor moved to Nashville, and began to develop her skills as a performer. Then, one day the phone rang – with some interesting news. “I heard from my agent that there was an opportunity to play Shania. She told me it was a long shot, but let’s send it in. I thought there was no way. Nothing in my brain told me that there was even a chance that it would happen. Two days later, I got the call, and they booked me immediately. They couldn’t have cast anyone who was more humbled by the experience.”
Taylor -- who also cites Dolly Parton and The Judds as career influences -- says that that she was a fan even before Twain’s sophomore album, 1995’s The Woman In Me, broke her through into the career stratosphere. “I had been watching her on TV and fell in love with her first video, ‘What Made You Say That’ [from 1993]. She made such an effect on me. I was a fan of hers then. But, it was The Woman In Me that became such a string influence on me as a songwriter.
Taylor, who has been featured in a stage production of The Wizard Of Oz, says that being on a stage is her natural habitat. “I’m more comfortable in front of a camera or on stage than I am in front of people. I have this ability to go into another realm when I’m in front of the camera.”
Of the Price of Fame series, which also features Johnny Depp, Robin Williams, Prince, and Carrie Fisher, Taylor stresses that the goal was to show all areas of Twain’s life.
“It shows her as a child all the way to her Now record. The girl who plays her as a child is phenomenal and such a great actress. We look like sisters. It doesn’t touch a lot on the glitz and glamour. We all know that. There’s a lot of details about the price of fame... Her family was poor and couldn’t eat sometimes. Her mother was taking her to bars to play just to keep the power on. She worked for her father’s business, which I can relate to. It’s so scary in the parallels that Shania and I have. Then, her parents were killed in a car wreck, and she was left with the responsibility of having to raise her siblings. She had all of that on her shoulders, but she kept singing and creating music. “
Twain’s ascent to the top of the music scene is also documented, as is her marriage to producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. The Price of Fame also deals with the couple’s divorce in 2010. Taylor says that telling that particular moment wasn’t easy. “The scene where Mutt tells her that he wants a divorce was one of the hardest and best scenes for me as an actor. I got to sink into the emotion of the moment. That was painful as an actor, and I took on those emotions. The tears are so genuine, because I can feel the pain of someone jerking all this away from me, and what that would feel like – losing the man you love.”
As seamless as her portrayal of Twain may be, Taylor is also very much her own musical artist. Her new single, “Nothin’ About Love,” will be released to radio on Monday. The track is from her EP, Truth Is……