Ashley Nicole Rickards (born May 4, 1992) is an American actress, known for her role in MTV's Awkward as Jenna Hamilton, and as Samantha "Sam" Walker, a troubled young girl taken in by Brooke Davis who becomes her foster-mother, in The CW teen drama series One Tree Hill. She also starred in the 2011 independent drama film Fly Away as Mandy, a severely autistic girl.
Life and career
Rickards grew up on a horse farm that catered for children with special needs. She attended a local Montessori school where, at age 13, she had her first taste of acting in an opera production. Rickards graduated from high school at age fifteen and is a member of Mensa. After attending a local talent showcase, organized by Lou Perlman, Rickards traveled to Los Angeles where she eventually gathered a team of representatives. Upon graduating, Rickards began to appear in a number of minor roles, as child labor laws restricted the number of hours she was able to work. After making a number of guest appearances and shorts, she landed the role of Samantha Walker, a runaway foster child, in One Tree Hill for the 2008-2009 season. Although not aware of the show before auditioning, Rickards found that she "learned so much from acting techniques to different ways of shooting things". Her character did not return the following season, while in the same year she had a bit part in her first feature film, Gamer.
Rickards spent much of 2009 attending auditions while a proposed lead-role in the film Dirty Girl fell through. In 2010 she appeared opposite Jimmy Smits in an episode of the legal drama Outlaw while she also auditioned for the lead-role in Awkward. Initially rejected, her manager Adam Griffin sent the producers a tape Rickards had made for Fly Away "to show how she can do anything". The actress landed both roles and filmed the pilot for the MTV series prior to Fly Away, a feature where she played a severely autistic girl.
A former competitive equestrian, she helped to launch the Project Futures Somaly Mam Foundation (2011), which works to prevent and end human trafficking and sexual slavery in Southeast Asia. Rickards writes poetry, scripts, and enjoys painting in her spare time. She also appeared in The Fray's video for "How to Save a Life", and also in The Format's video for "She Doesn't Get It".