Shortly after Canadian voice actress Ashleigh Ball joined the cast of The Hub’s fledgling series My Little Pony Friendship is Magic in 2010, her parents threw out a giant box of her old My Little Pony figurines. Though Ball had been a devoted Pony fan — “I think my favorite was Applejack, actually, because she had blonde hair like me,” she says — she didn’t try to save the toys from the trash.
Now, of course, she wishes she had acted differently. “I could auction them off on eBay or something,” Ball laughs. Chances are they’d have fetched a high price — against all odds, My Little Pony has become incredibly popular among both its young, female target demographic and the adult devotees who fill fan sites with Pony-centric stories, art, music, and even their own full-length MLP episodes.
Ball, like the other minds behind Friendship Is Magic, was “pretty surprised” when she discovered the show’s cult following of “bronies.” “I thought it was pretty random,” she admits. But after performing on the series for three seasons, she’s learned to embrace its fan community — “You can’t pick your fans, and it just goes to show that the writing is really amazing… It’s about friendship, right? It’s about bringing people together. And I think the show has done that for a lot of these people.”
Ball’s performance also has something to do with My Little Pony‘s enthusiastic reception. On the show, she plays both confident fan favorite Rainbow Dash and hardworking, southern-accented Applejack. Voicing two characters at the same time can be tricky — “The Iron Pony [episode], when Rainbow Dash challenges Applejack to an Iron Pony competition, is basically me talking to myself,” she recalls. “I remember feeling a little like a crazy person after recording that.”
Even so, Ball has found a lot to love in both of her primary ponies. “They appear very powerful, very strong and competitive,” she says. But as the series has progressed, “we’ve seen both of their softer sides.” That complexity is one of Friendship Is Magic‘s trademarks — unlike earlier Pony incarnations, says Ball, this series isn’t “just [about] giggly, pretty pony girls… The characters are very strong.” They’re so strong, in fact, that Ball occasionally finds it tough to keep her pony life separated from her regular life. While performing a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with her band, Hey Ocean, the actress once found herself slipping into Applejack’s voice, “maybe just because of the country twang.”
Of course, the Pony fans who have been flocking to her shows probably wouldn’t mind if that started happening more often. “You can usually spot them in a crowd,” Ball says with a laugh. “It’s fun playing ‘spot the brony.'”