What many people may not realize is that finding lasting success as model in the ever-changing fashion industry takes a whole lot more than just beauty, it requires someone who is able to evolve with the times and personify the emotional spectrum, someone like international model Ashiko Westguard.
Hailing from the quaint Canadian town of Innisfil, Westguard’s humble, family focused beginnings have been crucial in keeping her head on straight and her feet firmly planted on the ground in the face of staggering success.
Her career first began taking off in her late teens when she signed with Next Models. Soon Westguard was being flown all over the world where the best photographers in the industry such as Neil Cooper, Josh Ryan, George Whiteside, Albert Sanchez and others captured her charm on their cameras.
With a Czechoslovakian mother and a Norwegian father, Ashiko Westguard’s ethnic heritage has endowed her with a mysterious and captivating look of undeniable exoticism. Whether she’s shooting sultry campaigns for the likes of Revlon, Garnier and Dita Von Teese, portraying a dashing business woman for Air Canada or bringing her ebullient smile to the covers of magazines including Essentials, Woman, Women’s Fitness and others, Westguard has a unique way of creating images that stick with us.
Not only is she aesthetically mesmerizing, both with and without makeup, but her chameleonic nature has made her a rarity in the industry. Her range in front of the camera is one reason that she has managed to create and maintain such a powerful place in the public eye over the last decade.
Aside from being a sought after model for massive national and international ad campaigns, commercials and high fashion editorials, Westguard is one of the few who have successfully made the transition into acting. Over the years she has landed critical roles on several television shows including “Kaya” and “Painkiller Jane.” She also took on the lead role of Eve in James Naylor’s 2013 sci-fi thriller film “A Dark Matter.”
In between her busy shooting and filming schedule, Westguard still finds the time to return home to Innisfil, where she connects with her family and friends, and takes the necessary pause from the busy industry life she leads in Los Angeles.
Hi Ashiko, thank you for joining us! For those who don't know you, can you tell us a where you are from and a little bit about yourself?
AW: I was born in Ontario, Canada in a small town called Newmarket at the same hospital as Canadian actor Jim Carrey lol. I grew up primarily a few hours north of Toronto in the country. My parents owned a cottage and campground at one point where I have allot of pleasant childhood memories. It would be so much fun in the summer when kids would be camping with the families. I have 3 sisters, 1 older and two younger.
Im very proud of my roots. My mom actually came to Canada as a political refugee in the 70’s when she was 19 years old. Czechoslovakia was invaded one morning and my mom woke up to army tanks rolling in the streets. She then sought refuge alone in Canada. Eventually my mom sponsored her mother to come. My father is Norwegian, born in Canada. My father is a Canadian champion in hydroplane racing. I credit so much of who I am to my parents. Especially my mother who is such a strong and determined women. My wild side from my father and my strength and courage from my mother.
As a child I always dreamed of being an actress. My family had no idea what to do with me but my mother did enroll me into a theatre group. I had such a hard time overcoming being shy yet I wanted to be an actress more than anything. I laugh now at how silly that sounds but somewhere somehow I got over being shy… well it’s still there a little.
What was it like growing up in Innisfil?
AW: Innisfil has my heart. I love it, It’s my home. Growing up there has been the best thing for me. It’s quiet and peaceful, and we have such a great friendship with our neighbours. It’s a small community and you can walk into a store and be greeted by your name. The summers are amazing. That’s where most of my memories come from. There’s a beach 5 minutes away from my house. My mom and I would walk our dogs around the lake, I actually used to go there as a really young child, so going to the beach is special to me. I love the winters there too. Things just really slow down, when I would go for walks and smell the pine trees and smoke from the fireplaces. It’s heaven to me. Innisfil is more than just a home, it’s my happy place. Throughout modelling I would always return to Innisfil and regroup, relax and spend time with my family. Even when I lived in Toronto I would come home every weekend. I’m so proud to be from Innisfil, and I’m overjoyed every time I return and see familiar faces.
What were some of your favorite parts about the town?
AW: The beach, the cottages… nature. Calmness. The small town vibes. Tranquility. The fork and spoon is a little restaurant that’s so cute and quaint. It’s all the simple things I love about Innisfil.
How was your experience growing up in Innisfil different from the upbringing that you may have had in a more metropolitan city like Toronto or Los Angeles?
AW: Innsifil has made me humble. Every time I would come back from Japan, or Paris or London or NYC, Innisfil just made me feel like a normal person. It’s grounded me and gave me my roots. I think if I grew up in the city I would miss the little things. Innisfil taught me to be ok on my own, and to enjoy mother nature and to just breath and enjoy the little things. Be appreciative of travel and culture, but remember where you come from and how lucky all those experiences are.
Can you describe for us what a typical day in your life is like?
AW: Hearing this question I can’t help but to laugh. I love my bed so getting out of it can be a challenge. Once I wake up I normally reach for my phone; and I don’t check my emails first but intsagram lol yes Im very guilty!! I follow up on emails or see what I need to do with work, who I need to touch base with, update agencies with new images. I love breakfast so really before I get to anything I eat my favorite cereal full of protein. I love getting my workouts in early so having a proper healthy meal with protein is important. I do love coffee in the morning but more than that, I need it. I make my coffee while starting to deal with business. I normally have castings. So I have to structure my day to be able to get the most out of it and get everything done. I also study acting a few days during the week so depending on what work I have to do my day can get quite busy.
I love working out, eating healthy and having a balanced lifestyle. But there’s quite a bit of running around and sacrifices to make while pursuing a modelling career in Los Angeles. Depending on the type of client or image the casting is looking for really does change how I will get ready. I love wearing jeans and a t-shirt but sometimes that doesn’t work, so I have to put some thought into wardrobe. I love looking more natural so I can get ready fairly quick. I do have a few tattoos that I actually cover for castings. So that’s one things I need to find time for. I’m so used to going on castings. I really do enjoy meeting new people and having the opportunity to work so I really like castings and I do enjoy the challenge of getting everything done in the day.
I try and find time to see friends, and speak with my family. That can be a challenge with their busy days and the slight time difference. Social media has definitely helped to make it easier to stay in touch.
How old were you when you first got into the industry?
AW: Honestly it was a little later than most models at the time. I waited until I graduated high school. I went into Next, the same agency that scouted me a few years prior and that’s really when it all started so I was 18 years old. I had this undeniable drive and passionate attitude. I stood tall, strong and proud, and the agents thought that was special and very endearing from what they later told me. I also had a younger sister that was already modelling with Next. She was doing so great and everyone loved her. Actually I’m starting to remember how it happened when I was 18. Ironically Next wanted my sister but she was with another major agency, they called my mom to talk her into having my sister join Next, and I was in the background making such a fuss wanting my mom to tell them about me. They did take a meeting with me, which was to honestly get my sister but they loved me too. Both my sister and I signed with next.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a model or was it something that sort of just happened?
AW: My mom was actually a model when she was younger. I had always seens her portfolio and beautiful images. I believe I always knew I wanted to be an actress but perhaps unsure if I had what it took to be a model. I was actually heavier as a child. But once I started to outgrow that I actually knew I wanted to model. I was always so inspired by my mom. When I was 13 years old I was told all the time I should model. So I got my mom to take photos of me where I would pose in nature and do my hair and makeup. This memory makes me laugh. I was so proud of these photos. I actually felt like I was a model. When I was 14 years old my mom brought me to the first round of a model convention, It was called Model Search America. From here they would invite you to come down to the US to attend their convention. The owner liked me so much that he paid for my family and I to attend. Nothing really came out of it but that was my first time really being around the industry and meeting agents and walking on a runway… so nerve racking. Then when I was 16 years old I was in the Eaton Center Mall in downtown Toronto were one of the biggest model scouts form Next approached me. It was from here that things really started rolling and I really started to believe I could model. By 18 years old I knew this was for me and I believed so much in myself, it’s cute. Now I giggle because I’m also only 5’7 ½ which is on the smaller side. But I was so driven and passionate and also had done my research and there were a few smaller models… Kate Moss, Letitia Casta, Josie Maran.
What was the first agency you signed with and what kinds of jobs were you being sent out on?
AW: The first agency I signed with was Next. They were amazing, one of the best if not the best. It was this hot fresh agency that had an amazing list of models. I was always told since I was so short not to expect to travel and do major runway shows or campaigns or even to travel to certain markets. But that did not phase me. I knew I was going to do all those things. I first started off doing some commercials, and some catalog and fashion shoots, and hair campaigns… then I eventually started doing editorials, bigger campaigns and more commercials and honestly working a lot. I worked very hard but I always wanted this more than anything. I was on time for castings, always happy and smiling, trying to win clients over. I was on time for jobs, never had problems making friends on set and things were just easy. My agents loved my attitude and commitment and I believe they knew they could rely on me to be on time and work… So it was just a great start to my career. I travelled to all the places I was told I wouldn’t go, and I worked there doing amazing jobs. I love modelling and I think that shows both in my photos and when clients meet me.
Some of my first jobs were for Buffalo Jeans, Sears, The Bay, Honda, Sony, Nikon, Nike, Coca Cola, Motorola, Marc Anthony Hair Care, and Fashion Magazine (Toronto) and Clin d'oeil magazine in Montreal. The first market I travelled to outside of Canada was Japan.
How old were you and what was the experience like for you travelling to Japan for the first time to work?
AW: When I travelled to japan I was 19 years old. It was one of the first markets I travelled to for modeling. It was such a huge culture shock. It was the first time I went to such an exciting place. The difference was massive, the flight was long and when I got there I knew I was in another world. The people in Japan were very sweet but everything felt so fast paced. There was the language barrier and the way of interacting that separated me from everyone there right away. Modeling in Japan was an experience I will never forget. There were several managers in the agency that made the schedules and all the castings each model had to go to, we would go in a van with several other models and change vans depending on which casting we had to go to. It was very interesting. I liked it though. I became friends with some of the other girls… but then there were times you would start to compare yourself to others and become slightly insecure. You would see some clients take more to other girls and wonder what’s wrong with me.... I was there for 2 months and that was hard. I started to get really homesick, and miss the times that I actually could call home since there is a 14 hour time difference.
The jobs I did were mostly catalog, long days with over 15 different looks. Some jobs were in studios while others were on location. Not everyone spoke english so at times it was difficult to connect and know what the client wanted. While I was in Japan I travelled to Korea for a job that I booked while in Japan and that was another culture shock. I worked extremely long days…
The things I loved most about Japan was my off time, exploring the markets and shops and the fashion and shopping.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite shoots so far and what made them so special?
AW: For Garnier I booked a hair care job, with packaging world wide. It was an achievement for me as lots of models were at the casting. I was so proud of myself when I booked this. I think I called my parents immediately! I shot it at Pier 59 Studios in NYC… Just being in that studio where amazing artists and models have been made me feel special. Beyonce had just been there shooting. There was a bit of pressure knowing all the clients were there, and the makeup and hair team as well as the photographer had already done lots of amazing campaigns. I loved working with a women though. She was so supportive and encouraging. I had all these extensions in my hair, and felt beautiful…. I just knew the image they wanted was a beautiful confident women. So I embraced that and imagined beautiful inspirational images in my head to give life in my eyes.
I booked a world wide commercial for Axe Deodorant that was shot in Vancouver. I ended up shooting out there for a week and it was my first time traveling to Vancouver and also my first time filming a big budget commercial. It was filmed like a mini movie with several locations. It was really fun and exciting and I learned so much about working on set. The commercial aired worldwide and everyone saw it. It was just an exciting project to be part of.
For Dita von Teese Lingerie I shot with such a talented photographer Albert Sanchez. He shoots a lot of big budget cutting edge advertisements and celebrities. Im also a huge fan of Dita Von Teese who is a fashion icon. To actually meet her and shoot with her and her team was amazing. Her lingerie line is gorgeous and so sexy. Dita had the best team from hair and makeup to stylists… Gregory Arlt was the makeup artist who works with Gwen Stefani. We shot in Quixote studio with Dita’s vintage car as the backdrop. The images are gorgeous and this job will forever be one of my favorites.
How long were you with Next for?
AW: I was with Next for about 8 years. I travelled to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Paris, Spain, Denmark and NYC through Next Models…. After Barcelona I felt like I needed a change. Sometimes the model out grows the agency and you need to step back to reevaluate your life. Personal growth is very important. I then signed with Chantale Nadeau as a manager and she had placed me with Sutherland Models in Toronto and Montage Models in Montreal.
What magazines have you been in?
AW: I shot two covers for Women magazine, and maybe 30 pages of editorials inside several magazines. I shot the cover for Femina magazine as well as had editorials inside. I shot the cover for Women’s Fitness and editorials inside, the cover of Essentials Magazine plus editorials inside, I was on the cover of Sweat Equity plus tear sheets inside; and I was on the cover of Verve Magazine plus editorials inside. I’ve also had campaigns inside Bazaar Magazine, as well as in many other magazines.
What campaigns have you recently shot that are about to come out?
AW: I recently shot for Cafe Royal. I was a bond girl and Robbie Williams is James Bond. I shot it in Slovenia. It was such a great experience and job to be part of. I love travelling so any time I get to travel for work it’s amazing.
I recently shot for Skechers here in California, Sun Dream cruises, and Carnival Cruise. Rolls Royce is another job I shot recently that has yet to come out. I also shot for Honda, which should be out soon.
What was it like for you when you first made the transition into acting after already being well known as a model?
AW: For me the transition wasn’t very easy. I was an actress as a child but the more I modelled I became so aware of the outer appearance and physical state, it was hard to be in character…
Modelling makes you so aware of your body, but as an actor you want to be natural and not pose. I think I had to earn respect from casting directors and really earn my place and show them I was not just a pretty face but a talented one. I grew so much from studying and that really helped me. Studying with renowned Canadian teacher David Rotenberg at pro Actors Lab really gave me a nice footing, along with Andrew McIlroy in Vancouver.
What was your first acting role?
AW: As a child I was in several plays. My first role was a villager in small theatre production in Keswick… It was the Stephen Lee Cock Theatre, and the play was on the tip of my tongue. My sister actually landed the lead, as much as I wanted to be an actress I was so shy.
I have played everything from a congresswomen to a vampire. The lead I had a couple years ago as Eve in the Canadian feature film “A Dark Matter” was definitely a role that pushed me to grow and made me rise up to the challenge. I was coached by David Rotenberg and learned a lot from the other cast members as well. I worked hard on getting to the core of my character. I learned so much from that project and role.
How did it feel playing that character and how did you prepare for the role?
AW: Playing the femme fatale character Eve was very interesting. She was so vulnerable and dark and beautifully complicated. I feel like during the filming I really took on Eve in my life. I was happy to finish filming though. Eve was evil and used people as pawns… It was hard to be her for a few weeks… especially with consecutive night shoots...
Have you experienced any negativity or people questioning your talent as an actress since you became known as a model first?
AW: Yes all the time, I feel like I had to and still have to work harder to show people that I’m talented. I think it’s so silly that others judge… I try not to let that get to me. I work hard and I study so I feel like I have a solid foundation to hold my own, but I do feel there is more pressure.
What are some things that most people don't know about you?
AW: That I’m funny :) and free spirited and love adventure. I love to laugh and just have a great time and live as much as I can in the time I have. I love movies and books, and I love antiques. Im very family oriented. I love my friends. My mother is my everything. She is the one who constantly inspires me to keep going to create new dreams and to believe in myself. I am also a HUGE dog lover!!! I just love dogs so much. I don’t have one in LA yet… but soon :)
Aside from modeling and acting, what would you say your best or most unique personal talent is?
AW: This is hard, I feel like I have a talent for communicating with people, being there for friends and family. Encouraging others and motivating them. I love life and all it has to offer. I love to make people laugh through jokes, or impressions or being silly, I wish I played the guitar or something. I do love making things. I love refurbishing furniture, and designing and sewing bags and garments. When I was younger I thought I might want to be a designer and make handbags.