Ashley Aufderheide cannot believe what she’s seeing. “That’s Britney Spears??” she exclaims. We’re playing 90s trivia and StyleCaster has just shown That 90s Show star an early photo of the pop icon. It was taken before the turn of the millennium and shortly after the release of her debut album, …Baby One More Time. Picture low-rise, baggy red velour pants, white sneakers, a cropped semi-sheer top and that trademark candy floss smile. The turbulent but optimistic 90s, perfectly summarized in a single image.
Aufderheide wouldn’t be born for another six years after that photo was taken, but she’s had to immerse herself in the dot-com era to authentically embody Gwen in Netflix’s spinoff of the beloved sitcom That 70s Show. The fashion, the music, the sense of rebellion; she’s absorbed and gained a deep appreciation for it.
“When I was auditioning for Gwen, I literally just went in the car by myself, drove around listening to Veruca Salt, just belting my heart out,” she says. “And then I just practiced the lines in the car to really get into my own headspace, far away from everyone else.” She’d thrash to Green Day, Bikini Kill and Alanis Morissette, among others. Aufderheide’s character is your classic riot grrrl—a confident, unapologetic member of a third-wave feminist movement that combined punk music, gender equality and politics in equal parts. “As a character, it’s super central to who she is so I definitely wanted to incorporate that into every scene, whether it was stated explicitly or not,” she says. “I didn’t even know this until we started shooting but apparently Gwen is inspired by Gwen Stefani,” for whom the 90s were a Golden Age but er… those days are behind us.
Scouted for modeling at two years old, Aufderheide transitioned to acting at the age of eight—her first role came in 2014 with Infinity Polar Bear and a year later, she starred as Melissa in the controversial TV show The Slap based on the novel by Christos Tsiolkas of the same name. She has nine acting credits to her name but already presents herself as a humble yet seasoned pro. “Acting was the best fit for me,” she reflects, “And I love playing different characters in different genres. I feel like I’ve been able to explore a lot, so I’m very lucky.”
What did you do for your audition for That 90s Show?
I auditioned in October 2021 and I sent in a video of myself. I had to sing a song by Veruca Salt and then I performed the scene when Leia [the daughter of That 70s Show characters Eric and Donna played by Callie Haverda] and Gwen first meet in that scene in the bedroom. I did a bunch of chemistry reads and then I got hired. Because I live on the East Coast, I went to the West Coast in January of 2022 to shoot it and the show’s come out a year later.
Let’s talk about chemistry because that’s what a lot of people loved about That 70s Show—how well the cast seemed to get along. What did you as a group do for That 90s Show to get to know each other?
We all clicked right away. Gregg Mettler, the showrunner, asked us if we had met before or if we knew each other because our chemistry was just that strong. We first met over Zoom and then we immediately clicked in person. All of us. Each one of the kids; ate lunch together every single day, we hung out on the weekends, we went to the movies, and we went to one another’s houses. We really just tried to maximize the time we had together.
Because I live on the East Coast it’s definitely strange not having them around, but we do keep in contact, FaceTime, texts, and all that. And we wanted to spend time together, it wasn’t a mandatory thing. We just all really liked being in one another’s company.
What’s it like filming in front of a live audience?
It was so incredible, being in front of a live audience. I had never done it before. I had no sort of theater background. Because it was a multi-cam for cameras and in front of a live audience, there were plenty of people watching and there’s pressure. Still, it’s good because it motivates you to say the line the best you can, have the best delivery and the best timing because you want to get the laugh. You want the audience to enjoy it.
It’s heartwarming knowing that the audience left thinking okay, ‘That was worth my time.’ In the first live audience show, I cried because I was so happy to be there. The energy from the audience, you can’t replicate it anywhere else. It’s an incredible feeling.
You’ve said everyone loves Gwen’s costumes the best. Do you have a favorite outfit or a piece of clothing that maybe may have found its way into your own personal wardrobe?
Well, they don’t let me keep anything, which is fine, because I feel like in a [potential] next season, I could reuse some things. I think my favorite outfit… I remember during one of my costume fittings when I put on that Green Day shirt, there was just something about it. I loved it. Yeah, I think that outfit, with its little skirt. I thought it was very cute. But also, all of Gwen’s costumes in episode three when they go to the mall I think are really cool.
I love how there are lots of references to That 70s Show in the props and set design. Like how the sofa from the living room has been moved to the basement. Do you have a favorite Easter Egg or prop from That 70s Show that fans should look out for?
There are these grapes! They’re either in the living room or the basement. They’re not real grapes obviously, they’re glass, kind of blueish clear. I just kept playing with them so they wouldn’t get moved around. So yeah, that’s a nice Easter Egg.
I have to talk about fan theories concerning your character’s father, saying that Gwen’s dad is Steven Hyde, who isn’t in the show because of ongoing criminal proceedings. What are your thoughts on those theories?
I have seen those fan theories. I’m not one of the writers. So really, none of it is in my hands. I don’t know if I have any theories myself on it. I feel like that’s more of a question for the writers. But it’s interesting to see what people have to say and the theories they have.
Any reactions to it?
No, I don’t really have any real reactions. It’s more just reading overall what people think of Gwen and who she is as a person. The people that are connected to her.
That 90s Show is available to stream on Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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