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Ashley Tisdale on High School Musical, her makeup line Illuminate and newest role as Producer.

By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Posted On Jun 07, 2016
Ashley Tisdale on High School Musical, her makeup line Illuminate and newest role as Producer.

Ten years after graduating from High School Musical, Ashley Tisdale is too busy finding glee in her new roles as designer and producer—not to mention a plum part opposite Jason Biggs—to bask in the glory days of yore. Here, she tells us how she keeps hitting the high notes.

Every actor dreams of creating characters larger than life; roles so thoroughly iconic and memorable, it’s as if they animate themselves to the point of stepping off the screen and into a life all their own. If she didn’t know any better, affable, adorable Ashley Tisdale might be convinced that Sharpay—the unforgettable popular girl she inhabited for High School Musical, with a whopping 13.1 million Twitter followers 10 solid years after that film’s debut—might actually be her living and breathing alter ego. But Tisdale, 30, is just that good—and she’s not stopping there.  The talented actress, singer, and producer has graced both the big screen and small and produced shows such as Young & Hungry through her production company, Blondie Girl. And when detractors prepared to down on her debut album, Headstrong, in 2007, she silenced them by entering the Billboard Top 200 Chart at number 5. If that wasn’t enough, Tisdale recently embarked on an entrepreneurial path poised to set the fashion and beauty worlds on fire. In April, her new makeup line, Illuminate by Ashley Tisdale, was launched to social media fanfare while her role as active creative director for Signorelli translated into her first comely collection in January. Oh, and she’s a newlywed, too. NEW YOU caught up with marvelous, multifaceted Tisdale in the City of Angels to talk about her new indy comedy, Amateur Night, co-starring Jason Biggs, finding beauty from within, and letting the world around you be your guide.

NEW YOU: How did Illuminate by Ashley Tisdale come about?

ASHLEY TISDALE: I love to do my own makeup and I wanted to be able to share my secrets and tips with my fans. I met with BH Cosmetics, the company doing Illuminate with me, because they just know how to do makeup so well and at such an affordable price, which is so important for my audience. I’m very hands-on, so it’s nice to see the reaction of how people are loving it.

NY: Why do you insist on being so involved?

AT: If I’m going to put my name on something, it has to be something that comes from me. I’m a very creative person. I have a production company [Blondie Girl], I have The Haute Mess, which is like an editorial site, and I am now a creative director of Signorelli T-shirts. I like to do a lot of things and that’s just because, as an actress, we really are kind of at the whim of other people. I love coming up with ideas, whether that’s shows or whether that’s makeup. The packaging itself was all my idea and it was inspired by an Elle beach cover.

NY: What’s the best secret you’ve discovered about applying makeup? 

AT: When I was younger I thought of makeup as putting tons on, especially when I was in middle school. I learned that it’s better to be natural and if you want to do a crazy color, there’s a way to do it. The reason I called it Illuminate is I feel like makeup is supposed to illuminate you. It’s supposed to enhance your natural beauty. I am someone who loves a glowy, beachy look.

Fadil Berisha
Fadil Berisha

NY: Tell us about your role as creative director for Signorelli.

AT: We expanded the T-shirt line for Fall 2016 into layering and jackets. So we’re heading into more pieces in the line, which was always the goal. [Signorelli] has been allowing me to be free and to be the creative director of that. Just the fact that I was like, “I think we need to change up the logo,” and it was me on a computer just playing with different fonts. I found this brush stroke font and I loved it, and so they were just like, “Okay.”

NY: You know, that’s good because a lot of people think, “Oh, she’s just putting her name there,” but that doesn’t sound at all like your M.O.

AT: No, there’s a lot of hard work that comes with everything that I do. Anything I’ve endorsed in the past, it’s always something that I use, or needs to make sense. I’m not just going to put my name on something, but specifically with the clothing and with the makeup and obviously production, it’s a piece of me.

NY: Tell us about your role alongside Jason Biggs in the independent comedy Amateur Night, directed by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse.   

AT: I am one of the prostitutes. It’s based on a true story; the director’s story. I always love challenging myself as an actress and in this part of my life right now, I just like to do things that people don’t expect from me. So when I heard about the character, Fallon, that she is a real person who is a prostitute and who was saying that the women weren’t victims… It was their business and that it was very much the card that they were dealt and they decided to be businesswomen about it. Fallon is grungy and a rocker. I drew on [the  music of singer and rapper] Kesha. I listened to her music before I would get to set and it brought me into that moment.

NY: What did you take away from this role?

AT: One of the lessons I learned was being free and just going for it rather than being scared. I think a lot of the time, we’re like, Oh, I wonder what people are going to think about this role? or I wonder how this is going to come out? Amazing things come when you get out of your comfort zone.

NY: What have you learned as an executive producer?

AT: I’ve had the company [Blondie Girl] for around eight years. When I first started, I just knew I wanted to produce because I have a lot of ideas. So I teamed up with a producing partner and through the years I learned as a producer. Young & Hungry is one of the first scripted shows out of the company and it’s been really successful. We’re going into season four right now. I really found my voice there because we were producing a lot of unscripted stuff. I just really grabbed onto it because I grew up in that world. Being a producer is just being hands-on from the very beginning to the end, it’s not just creating a character.

NY: What surprised you about being on that side of the process?

AT: For us, as a company, we’re really about women’s empowerment. Our main stories always have a woman character. When you think this is right, but other people validate that idea,  you’re like, “Oh, yeah I totally know what I’m doing!” It feels like you’re finding yourself in that.

Fadil Berisha
Fadil Berisha

NY: Sounds like you found a whole new side of yourself.

AT: I’ve always been a very independent person. As a woman, I just never wanted to rely on anyone specifically, except for myself. I remember we produced a Disney channel movie called Cloud 9, and we changed the ending based off me being like, “I don’t want her to do it for the guy. She’s got to do it for her.” I love what’s happening right now because it’s really important for our younger generation. I have a niece who’s five years old. For her to look up to strong women? That’s amazing.

NY: Do you spend a lot of time with family?

AT: Family is super important. We actually do Sunday night family dinner and it’s something that we all love. It’s really nice to have parents who aren’t in this business. I’ve been in this business since I was three, so [my mom] has been on this journey with me for a long time. I obviously do things on my own, but it’s nice to be able to call her when I’m having a bad day and just have her advice. It is the same with my dad. He used to coach Pop Warner football, and so whenever I’m kind of having a rough day, he just comes at it like a coach. He’s like, “This is what you have to do…” and it’s very inspirational. It nice to have parents who are really supportive and are always there for you; they keep me grounded.

NY: Are you going to be in High School Musical 4?

AT: No. Looking back, it was such a perfect thing for its time and was so pure that I just don’t know how you go from there. High School Musical didn’t make us, we made High School Musical because of our friendship, how close we were, and the magic there at the time. Kenny Ortega just made it what it was. Disney is an amazing company so I’m sure they’ll find some way to do it.

NY: Was it hard to transition from such an iconic movie like High School Musical to who you are now?

AT: Yeah, it’s totally been challenging. I think people in this business put you in a box and label you for what they think they know of you and what character you have played. Sharpay was such an awesome character, but at the end of the day it was a character; it wasn’t me. Anything that I’ve gotten since then, TV-wise and movie-wise, is me really fighting for it. I think that journey is what makes me so grateful for everything. If I was handed stuff all the time I don’t know if I would be the person I am today. It’s a blessing to have been part of something that was so huge and impactful and all of the cast members are still my best friends today. Monique Coleman actually always laughs because I loved Jessica Simpson, especially at that time. Monique just never understood it, but I think I just could see that she was a really smart businesswoman and I could see that what she’s done is amazing. Recently, Monique called me and said, “You know I used to make fun of you all the time. Now I see what you’re doing and now I understand it. And now I see what [Jessica Simpson] has done.” It’s pretty cool to have been part of something with friends and to see where we all have gone.

NY: Are you going to continue with your singing career?

AT: I love to sing and I am in the studio right now, kind of just playing around and seeing where it takes me, but there’s no immediate future. I want to make sure everything has its time.

NY: You write about heartbreak and love in your songs. Is it tough to have a relationship in the spotlight?

AT: I wouldn’t say it’s tough. I’m very private about my relationships. I’m a huge social media fan, but I think there’s a fine line of keeping what you want and what’s close to your heart private. I choose what I will put out there. Once you feel like you’ve given everything away, it’s hard to get that back.

NY: How did you know your husband, Christopher French, was the one?

AT: It’s just one of those things that is very natural after being in relationships where you’re trying so hard to make it work and then you’re just like, “This is not right.” When you meet the one you’re like, “Oh! This is what it supposed to be like!”

NY: Tell us about your work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

AT: My aunt passed away from cancer, my grandma survived breast cancer, and I know a lot of people who have had their parents go through it, but to see children go through that is really hard. My husband and I went there two years ago and we made cookies with the kids. I love to visit with them and bring their spirits up. Just a couple of months ago we went back and one of the little boys who was going through chemo two years ago was walking out cancer-free. I didn’t recognize him at first and he was just like, “Hey I made the cookies with you two years ago.” He was so healthy and beautiful, just so sweet and happy and positive. I mean, that’s what they bring to these kids. There are kids laughing and they’re having fun. I think that’s what helps them get through it. It’s pretty amazing to see what they do.

NY: What would you like people to know that they don’t know about you?

AT: From an outer perspective it looks like, oh wow, it’s just so easy to do what she does. Until you’re living in someone’s life, it’s hard to assume. I remember being 18, doing pilot after pilot and not getting picked up. And I was like, “I don’t think I’m meant to do this.” Then Suite Life of Zack & Cody came in and I auditioned and that changed my whole career because then I went on to High School Musical. I think right when people are at the moment where it’s the hardest is when stuff happens. If you want to do something, you’ve just got to keep going for it.

Fadil Berisha

Photography by: Fadil Berisha