He helped garner an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best debut performance for actress Darling Narita as the lead in his 1995 indie police drama "Bang" and gave a boost to the then-fledgling acting career of future "Charlie's Angels" star Lucy Liu by casting her in a supporting role in the same film.
He also spotted Mischa Barton, now a star of the hit TV series "The OC," and cast her, at age 13, as a juvenile bank robber in his 1997 action-thriller "Pups," starring Burt Reynolds.
Now, London-born writer-director Ash (he dropped his last name professionally) believes he has found another rising star in his latest indie endeavor, "This Girl's Life." The R-rated film is about a young woman who becomes the family breadwinner for her Parkinson's-afflicted father, played by James Woods, by starring on a webcam porn site 24 hours a day.
Her name is Juliette Marquis, who, Ash noted, will be seen this fall gracing billboards and the pages of magazines as the new face of Bebe, the nationwide apparel chain.
Casting unknown actresses who go on to bigger things has become something of an Ash trademark.
"At first, people thought that by playing opposite James Woods, [Marquis] would be overawed and overshadowed by him," Ash said. "But she more than holds her own." Critic Roger Ebert took notice of Marquis' performance in the film, recognizing her as "an actress who is going to be a big star."
"In our industry, it's the men who get the big money and get the most accolades, but I've always hoped and believed in strong roles for women as they used to be with actresses like Greta Garbo," Ash said. "I look for someone who I think makes a great actor, someone who can be a vehicle for the truth and somehow be able to translate truth on the screen where you just believe them. All those three actresses have that."
The Ukrainian-born Marquis spent a year in quarantine as a child following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the former Soviet Union. Her parents eventually left for America, where Marquis now pursues her acting career.
"This Girl's Life" opens Friday at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in West Hollywood and One Colorado Cinemas in Pasadena.
-- Robert W. Welkos