Give her a hand: Wilkes alum drives men ‘Mad’ in TV, movies

Bill Thomas, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Sometimes, opportunity knocks at the most unlikely moments.

For instance, Ashley Gibson was a corpse when she found her calling. Or, rather, it found her.

“I was playing a dead body on the TV show ‘Monk,’” she explained. “It was when I first moved (to California from Pennsylvania).  I had only been out here for two months, and the lead actor Tony Shalhoub told me I had beautiful hands.

“He kept talking about them, and he told me I should get in touch with his agent because I could make a lot of money. So I met with his agent and she signed me, and I’ve been working as a hand model ever since.”

Though Gibson, a 2007 Wilkes University graduate, admitted hand modeling isn’t exactly something she ever imagined herself doing, the experience has turned out to be a rewarding one. It’s also something that’s proven more challenging than she initially expected.

“I do both print ads and commercials. For commercials, they’ll bring me in to do things that are very precise. I know it sounds silly, but I did a Häagen-Dazs commercial where I had to get the ice cream to roll onto the spoon in this perfect shape. You have to do it all day long and it’s just you, so there’s a lot of pressure.

“I didn’t realize everything that went into the job, but I’m pretty good at it now,” she said, laughing.

More than anything, Gibson’s modeling – which includes work for Avon, Mazda, Charmin and the movie “Friends with Benefits,” where her hands doubled for Mila Kunis’ during the end credit sequence – along  with her work as an extra in television and film, represents for her another step deeper into the world of show business.

It’s a world Gibson had wanted to be a part of for a very long time. Without the support of her Wilkes University teachers, though, the one-time communication studies major confessed she may never have been able to take that first step.

“The best thing about Wilkes is that you can really get to know your professors. I got a lot of backing, specifically from (communication studies professors Jane Elmes-Crahall and Bradford L. Kinney and assistant business professor Matthew J. Sowcik). They let me come into their offices all the time to talk about this crazy idea I had about moving to California and working in entertainment,” she said.

“There were a lot of people who told me ‘Don’t do that. Just stay in Wilkes-Barre and work for the newspaper or something.’ I’m so appreciative of all (my teachers’) help.”

Inspired to chase her dreams, Gibson moved to California in 2009, intending at first to find work in public relations.

It was a task that turned out to be easier said than done. However, her efforts would quickly lead to new ventures which Gibson said she found far more fulfilling.

“It’s really difficult to find a job out here if you don’t have any connections, so I started exploring other areas,” she explained. “I heard about an open casting call they were having for ‘Entourage,’ looking for extras. I’d been here for a couple months and still not found anything in PR, so I figured this might be something fun to do and also make some money.”

Spoiler alert: Gibson got the gig. From there, she said, it was just a snowball effect of getting to know more people in the industry and picking up more jobs as an extra and stand-in on TV shows and movies like the Golden Globe-nominated biopic “J. Edgar” and the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson drama “The Master.”

Most recently, Gibson’s been rubbing shoulders with the likes of Al Pacino and Christopher Walken on the set of “Stand Up Guys,” an action-comedy due out next year. Of all the projects she’s appeared in, though, Gibson said her favorite is undoubtedly the critically acclaimed AMC television series “Mad Men.”

“I was a secretary in the office throughout Season 4,” she said. “The people were great and I loved that it was a period piece. It was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. It was really fun being in period hair and make-up every day, completely transformed into somebody else.

“It was also amazing to see how talented the cast members on that show are. I was basically going to work, but I felt like I was getting free acting lessons every day.”

Though she had no prior experience as an actress or model of any kind before her westward pilgrimage, Gibson hopes to continue doing both in the future, and is already ambitious about getting parts in bigger projects, including more film work.

The time she’s spent in the entertainment industry, it seems, has proven quite addictive.

“I was ‘bit by the bug,’ as they say.  I really can’t imagine myself not being on a set now,” she said.

“I can’t imagine myself not doing this.”