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Interview - Ashley Ganger

On October 16th, Netflix premiered its new controversial series Grand Army from creator Katie Cappiello.

The series follows the lives of five students who attend Grand Army High School in Brooklyn, New York. As with any other teenager, the series follows them as they traverse life, school, sex, violence, drugs and what the future holds for them.

One of the stars of the series is Ashley Granger, who plays Meera. For Ashley, this is her first professional role and one she considers a life changer.

We had the chance to sit down with Ashley to talk about the series, the importance of this role and what fans can look forward to with the first season of Grand Army.

Pop Culture Principle - Doing our research, we read that when you were younger, your mother decided to send you to summer theater camp to help you shyness. Is that true?

Ashley Ganger - Yes! It is true, I was super shy and speaking to new people was extremely nerve racking for little Ashley haha.

Pop Culture Principle - How did her sending you to the camp help you with your shyness and being an introvert?

Ashley Ganger - It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Imagine facing one of your biggest fears head on. One of two things can happen, either you don’t respond well to it and find yourself not participating and sitting in the corner or you can try your best and see what happens. I’m glad I chose the second option. Once I broke the barrier and found my footing absolutely loved performing.

Pop Culture Principle - Can you tell us a little bit about the audition process for Grand Army?

Ashley Ganger - Yes of course! Grand Army was my second big audition with an actual character. Prior to this I was going to commercial auditions. As soon as I read the character description for Meera I wanted it badly. I worked on the scene with my acting coach and went to the audition. In my head I thought, “How often is it that someone books the first huge thing that comes their way, haha yeah right no way!” Fast forward two callbacks later here we are. Funny enough Sydney Meyer, who plays Anna Delaney, was the reader in my second callback and then I reconnected with her on set, so that was fun.

Pop Culture Principle - Since this is your first professional acting gig, can you tell us what it was like for you to step on set for the first time?

Ashley Ganger - The majority of that day I was full of nerves. I had no clue how to read a call sheet. I didn’t even know what blocking was. Luckily Amir, who plays my brother in the show, really helped show me the ropes and guide me through a lot of the beginning days of filming. Honestly the whole cast and crew did such an amazing job of creating a safe and judgement free space. I remember being so amazed and thinking EVERYTHING was the coolest thing ever. I learned so much my first day on set and every day after that. I loved it.

Pop Culture Principle - What can you tell us about your character Meera?

Ashley Ganger - Meera is a badass. She is a young girl who is very firm in her beliefs and loves to challenge her parents old school mentality. She isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes, which is completely normal for a teenage girl but she handles situations so well. She’s bold and unashamed. She’s super close with her brother Sid, but doesn’t like when he interferes with her independence.

Pop Culture Principle - Can you think of one similarity and one difference between you and your character Meera?

Ashley Ganger - I think one similarity is that we’re both feminists and really stand behind what we believe in. A difference is that she has a brother and I am an only child so it was really interesting to imagine what it would be like growing up with a whole other person.

Pop Culture Principle - With Meera rebelling against her parent’s old world and traditional ideals, do you think she’s doing it for the sake of rebelling or does she have a message?

Ashley Ganger - She definitely has a message. I think a great example for this would be in episode two when she says “… they have dreams for me too, be a good girl, be a virgin, marry an Indian guy, have Indian babies.” She’s rebelling against the mentality that follows immigrant parents from India and how a good Indian daughter is supposed to behave. Meera is born in America, she doesn’t resonate with any of those ideas yet those pressures are still placed on her. It’s very uncommon to see a super sex positive feminist Indian girl in film and television and I’m glad she Is the opposite of a female Indian stereotype.

Pop Culture Principle - You rarely see major storylines on television that involve Indian families. How important was it for you to have this storyline being told on Grand Army?

Ashley Ganger - Honestly, extremely important. This is something that hits so close to home. Growing up it takes a toll on your self-confidence when you don’t see actresses, actors or anyone in the media who looks like you. I think delving into the home lives of not only Indian people, but Pakistani and middle eastern people as well, is extremely important in helping people understand us better. This storyline on Grand Army is an Indian storyline that isn’t forced or stereotypical, it’s just true. It’s also exciting to see shows like Never Have I Ever and now Ms. Marvel, it feels like we’re moving in the right direction but there still needs to be more. I’m excited for young Indian boys and girls to feel represented and seen and I’m so grateful to be a part of that.

Pop Culture Principle - Grand Army boasts a very diverse cast. How important is it to have a diverse cast when talking about issues with teens in today’s society?

Ashley Ganger - The importance of having a diverse cast in today’s generation is huge. Growing up, the majority of the teen or young adult shows I watched weren’t inclusive. A diverse cast means people, who all look different and come from different walks of life. I think it’s important for teens to see themselves represented in some way or another. It makes the content more relatable. Having diverse narratives and characters also ensures that people will be exposed to stories they maybe didn’t know existed.

Pop Culture Principle - Once the series is released, it’s bound to stir up controversy with the subjects it covers such as racism, sexuality and more. Do you think it’s important that these subjects are tackled head on?

Ashley Ganger - I mean why not? Being a teenager in 2020 is kind of insane. We are the generation that is no longer allowing these subjects to remain taboo. Now is the time to open the dialogue and talk about these very real issues that don’t go anyway because we’ve been sweeping them under the rug for so long. If we don’t do it now it’s never going to happen.

Pop Culture Principle - People will inevitably compare Grand Army to shows like Euphoria. Do you think comparisons to other shows helps or maybe hurts Grand Army finding its place on television?

Ashley Ganger - I think there’s room for more than one young adult show out there. As much as people may compare the shows, in my opinion they are very different and tackle different issues, not making one more important than the other of course. Euphoria is honestly one of my favorite shows, it’s amazing and to think that this is the level people are comparing us to! We are in really good company.

Pop Culture Principle - The last line in the trailer for Grand Army is, “We need someone to hear us." I think that is an important line and speaks to how teens feel this days. Would you agree?

Ashley Ganger - Oh 100%, this show is about making people feel seen and heard. Being a teenager today, with this social media monster constantly on all of our backs, is such a huge challenge. Also, It’s hard navigating this really crazy world, look at what this last year has consisted of, I’m still 19 and I feel like everything I thought I knew I don’t anymore. Point being, it’s a crazy world and growing up in it is even crazier and Grand Army truly highlights that.

Pop Culture Principle - What can fans look forward to with the first season of Grand Army?

Ashley Ganger - Oh man fans have a lot to look forward to. Grand Army’s strength is in its details so it’s important to pay attention! Fans should get prepared to be challenged and asked a lot of questions without receiving clear answers. I really hope everyone loves it!!

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We'd like to thank Ashley for taking the time to talk with us. Grand Army is currently airing exclusively on Netflix.

**All Grand Army photos courtesy of JASPER SAVAGE/NETFLIX**

**All other photos courtesy of George Pimental**

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