Ashana Lynch is wearing a long, padded coat and a beanie, trying to blend in as her friend signs her into a popular London members’ club where we have agreed to meet. After her friend leaves, Lynch sees me and smiles, but I can’t help but imagine the 36-year-old actress kicking me in the face. This was more her style in her groundbreaking role as M16 agent Nomi, who takes on the 007 code number in Daniel Craig’s final James Bond film, No Time to Die, set to be released in 2021. However, today she appears unassuming and no one, except for the reception manager, has recognized her. This wouldn’t be a big issue, except for the fact that we don’t have any club members with us, breaking the club’s rules.
Lynch has a conversation with a server while trying to order peppermint tea without a membership card. The server asks for her name, but her friend is the one with the necessary information. However, using a phone is not allowed here, so her friend cannot be reached. After consulting with a manager and agreeing to pay immediately, the tea is finally served. The situation was uncomfortable. Lynch comments, “This seems like we’ve gone back in time to the 1960s.” The underlying message being that as two young Black women, they feel like they don’t belong. “It’s slightly oppressive, but it’s fine. I just won’t do this again.”
Lynch’s appearance may seem ordinary outside of her usual action roles. However, she gained recognition in 2019 for her role as single-mother and fighter pilot Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel. She also received attention for her portrayal of Bond, leading to her winning the Bafta Rising Star award in early 2022. Later on, she showcased her skills as a warrior in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical film The Woman King, where she flawlessly executed intense fight choreography alongside Viola Davis. In addition, Lynch displayed her singing talents as Miss Honey in Matilda the Musical, and made a surprise appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2023 for a post-credits cameo in The Marvels.
In the upcoming biopic titled “Bob Marley: One Love,” Lynch will portray Rita Marley, a reggae singer and matriarch who was married to Bob Marley. The film, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and starring Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley, will center on a specific period in the 1970s and shed light on lesser-known aspects of the legendary musician’s life. Filmed in Jamaica, Lynch’s family’s home country, the movie will delve into Marley’s rise to fame and his untimely death at the age of 36 in 1981.
Lynch grew up in the London neighborhoods of Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush and has attributed her strong work ethic to her class identity. She became aware of differences between herself and her friends in primary school, as they had au pairs (a concept she was unfamiliar with) and went on regular weekend trips that she believed were only for expensive vacations. She recalls being envious of her friends’ larger homes and how casually they would offer her things. In conversation, Lynch is captivating with her wide-eyed and husky voice. As an adult, her drive to succeed sometimes caused her to overexert herself. Coming from a working-class background, she explains, there is a constant desire to keep moving forward and not miss out on anything or disappoint anyone.
She is a hard worker. In the beginning of her career, she had roles in the 2012 movie Fast Girls, about competing track athletes, and a 2015 stage adaptation of Educating Rita. To cover her expenses, she also held day jobs. One of these was working as a receptionist for the National Health Service, but she still managed to secure the role of Rosaline Capulet in Still Star-Crossed, a period drama produced by Shonda Rhimes in 2016 that follows the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s story. Without the financial support of a privileged upbringing, Lynch had to carefully plan her career moves.
“I was able to film the pilot but upon returning home, I still couldn’t afford my rent or pay off my credit card. In fact, I was even in debt from overdraft fees,” she recalls. During the several months between filming the pilot and the rest of the series, she used her per diems, the allowance for living expenses provided to the cast and crew during location shoots. “I had been so busy filming that I hadn’t had a chance to spend them, so I exchanged them for pounds when I got back to London and used them to buy groceries and other necessities. It was a tough situation,” she adds with a dry laugh. “I had to make a choice between buying eggs or putting money on my Oyster card, and I found myself making that decision many times.”
In recent news, Peter Capaldi, a well-known actor, spoke out about the limited opportunities for actors from working-class backgrounds in the arts industry. He expressed concern over the decrease in representation and blamed gatekeepers for filling the industry with unauthentic and mundane performers. According to research on social mobility in 2022, the number of working-class actors, musicians, and writers has decreased by half since 1970. Additionally, a study conducted in 2021 revealed that actors from middle-class families often falsely claim to be working class in order to create a romanticized narrative about their background.
However, for Lynch, growing up in a caring but not affluent household is not a made-up story. The conversation of class is crucial as an artist’s success can often give the false impression that they came from a higher level and simply crossed over – despite this not being my personal experience. My working-class upbringing has equipped me with valuable skills that have helped me navigate the industry, such as resilience, determination, and the ability to persevere despite facing rejection. Until there is a shift in the system, says Lynch, “in true working-class fashion, [rejection] can fuel a hunger that drives individuals to create projects despite hearing numerous no’s. This can often send a louder message to those in power.”
Lynch is the youngest of three siblings and the only girl. She acknowledges that her tomboyish nature may have been influenced by her two older brothers, but she also believes that her upbringing played a role. She was vocal in some ways, but not in others. As the younger sister, she felt protected, but she never relied on her brothers for protection. Her mother worked in housing and her father in social care. She also spent a lot of time with her maternal grandmother, who she credits for shaping her strong personality. During our conversation, she casually mentions her self-confidence and problem-solving abilities, which she attributes to her upbringing. Exploring her early years seems like a good place to understand how she developed these traits.
Did she eagerly dive into the first day of school, or hesitate? “I was quite anxious. This happens on the first day of anything,” she laughs. “Whenever I’m in a new environment, I feel like I’m back at my first day of nursery school and no one is listening to me.” Lynch had eczema and accommodations had to be made to prevent flare-ups. “For example, I had to drink soy milk instead of cow’s milk because soy milk was not as popular in the 90s.” This also meant having to explain her skin condition to doubtful adults. “From a young age, I learned how to use my voice to stand up for myself, even though I wasn’t as confident and outspoken as I am today.”
Miss Honey, who was once her deputy headteacher and is now a supportive figure in her life, reminded Lynch of the changes she has gone through. “After Matilda, I caught up with her and she said, ‘You were so determined to sing and be on stage, but you were so shy! We had to find different ways to help you come out of your shell.'” Amable helped bring out Lynch’s confidence.
While filming Matilda, Lynch had to embody the character of Amable. As the formidable Miss Trunchbull, Emma Thompson portrayed her role with such conviction that Lynch felt the need to protect the young actors on set. In an interview with The Wrap in 2022, Lynch described how Thompson’s portrayal was so convincing, with her prosthetics, teeth, and massive boots, that the child actors were in awe. However, off-camera, Thompson was actually warm and nurturing towards the children. Lynch explained that with so many children on set, it was important for them to understand the difference between playing a character and being themselves.
When I inquire about the well-known performers she has worked with, including Daniel Craig and Viola Davis, she responds: “They have always allowed me the room to grow and find my own path. If I have gained any insight from them, it’s that no matter how seasoned you may be, there will always be new experiences. Everyone feels first-day-of-school jitters.” She was comforted to hear that they also experienced nerves. “Many of them are not afraid to share their anxieties or admit when they are unsure about something.”
Lynch’s loved ones supported her pursuit of singing and acting during her childhood, without pressuring her to have a backup career plan. She attended the Sylvia Young theatre school on weekends and later enrolled in the Arts Educational Schools in Chiswick. She became aware that her Jamaican heritage influenced her idea of home in unique ways. “A beautiful, luxurious kitchen with a Dutch pot,” she recalls with a laugh, “or a bowl of plantain always present on the counter.”
Additionally, the music of Bob Marley was featured, which held personal significance due to his worldwide success.
During Lynch’s childhood, she often listened to Bob Marley and the Wailers at full volume while doing chores. This fond memory has influenced her current enjoyment of cleaning, as she sees it as a spiritual experience when playing their music on weekends, along with other reggae legends.
How does it feel to have portrayed Rita Marley, a well-known public figure from Jamaica? Intimidating? “Insane, insane, insane, insane. So insane. And I’ll probably say that forever.” A moment of pause. “Many people ask, ‘Are there any roles you aspire to play? What is your dream role? What is your dream genre?’ And there are certain things I do not contemplate, that I do not consider.” One of which was the Marley family. “I never imagined, ever, ever, ever imagined, acting as Rita. I am still trying to put into words how I feel, beyond feeling honored and grateful.”
Rita, along with her children Bob, Cedella, and Ziggy, as well as Ziggy’s wife Orly, are all credited as producers of the film. Upon receiving her role, Lynch eagerly asked about Rita’s whereabouts and made arrangements to visit her. Rita graciously welcomed Lynch into her home on two occasions, sometimes accompanied by Cedella and her daughter Sharon (who was adopted by Bob). Lynch describes the experience as similar to being in a heavenly realm, with Rita being a god-like and ethereal figure in the distance. After freshening up, Lynch was greeted by Rita’s daughter Sharon, who relayed Rita’s excitement about her energy and presence. Lynch is touched and grateful for the warm welcome.
They enjoyed homemade meals and engaged in long conversations. Lynch recalls, “We shared laughter over young love and reflected on vivid and intense memories.” She adds, “There are many interviews with her and I have read her book, but nothing compares to feeling the connection with her.” Rather than simply taking notes on Rita’s mannerisms or posture, Lynch was seeking a more organic approach to inform her portrayal. In the movie, Rita serves as the foundation of the story, according to Lynch. She explains, “Despite all the challenges, she was able to endure with grace. That is no easy feat.”
Later, during filming, Lynch utilized their shared time to deeply explore her character. Ziggy and Cedella were also present to offer advice to her and the rest of the cast on set. Lynch expresses gratitude for their guidance and support, saying, “I am grateful that they were by our side to address any questions we had. Things like, ‘What should her bracelet look like?’ and, ‘Is the head-wrap appropriate?’ But also, whenever I doubted myself, I drew from Rita’s energy that I had spent hours soaking in. Sometimes I’m not sure if I made the right choice, but I know it felt right.”
After completing her role in One Love in early 2023, Lynch decided to shave her head a few weeks later. This was her way of letting go of the character, as she had previously worn a wig for the role. When asked how she decompresses after a difficult job, she deadpans and says that she usually isolates herself and limits her phone usage, giving herself as much time as she needs. Once she feels like she can be at peace with herself again, she allows herself to relax. She has also learned to take breaks between jobs, something she did not do in her 20s when she thought she only needed a few days. Now, she realizes the importance of taking longer breaks, stating that she would need six months to fully recover.
She appears to alternate between extremes: periods of intense work followed by periods of rest instead of venting. To reach this point, she had to learn how to stand up for herself. Lynch recalls a ballet instructor who believed she had poor posture because of the shape of her back. “I was very aware of my Blackness, or my melanated-ness, because of how different my body was. Something that many older white women wouldn’t consider when telling you to ‘stand up straight’. And let me tell you, I have excellent posture,” she says with a smile, shifting in her seat. Her teacher was unimpressed and Lynch didn’t challenge her. “That was an example of me not learning early on how to use my uniqueness instead of being taken advantage of. I was taken advantage of in that moment because this white teacher didn’t understand and took it out on me.” Lynch quit ballet shortly after, around the age of seven, and switched to track and field and netball.
Growing up as an active child and teenager, Lynch was well-prepared for physically demanding roles. In her role in The Woman King, she performed her own stunts. One particular move proved to be the most challenging for her. She describes it as having to run in a straight line, similar to a long or high jump event, then jumping on a man’s back like a bear, rolling on her back while still holding onto him, and finally landing on her feet with a strong pose. She imitates the pose with her arms forming an angular X and recalls how she couldn’t stop laughing while attempting it. She couldn’t believe that she was able to jump on a man like a bear and stay there. This scene became the opening scene of the film, and she admits that it was quite insane. As she talks about it, she starts to laugh to herself, jokingly mentioning that although the director Gina is wonderful, she still hasn’t fully forgiven her for making her do that move.
Undergoing ninja training for No Time to Die, doing live stunts in The Woman King – they all initially sounded impossible. Lynch says directors seem to see her and think, “Go on – I bet you can do this.” When she was asked to skid along a balcony floor on her shoulder while being shot at, in No Time to Die, “my life flashed before my eyes. So it’s not a challenge in that I don’t believe I can do it. It was more, ‘How do you trust me to do it? It did not make any sense to me, it did not compute in any way. Until I did it. And I thought, ‘Wow, that was actually a much easier barrier to break than I’d anticipated.’ Really easy.”
Reflecting on her past self, Lynch now understands that she pushed herself towards confidence instead of embracing her introversion as a strength. “I used to think that I had to overcome my shyness and anxiety in order to become confident,” she says.
The No Time to Die stunt team informed her that she was the only individual who did not sustain any injuries during training and filming. Her determination to push through physical strain and self-doubt seems to have paid off. She credits her childhood experiences and training in ballet for her athletic abilities. She also expresses gratitude towards her ballet teacher for instilling those skills in her. She playfully raises an imaginary cup and cheers to her teacher, before pausing and smiling. She adds that now she gets to showcase her skills by kicking people in the face on screen.