His filmmaking debut in 2004's After the Past garnered him the 2003 Audience Choice Award at the Malibu International Film Festival, and competed in festivals across the United States; his following project, The Distance (2006), met with even greater success. It not only earned Adams two more nominations, one of which was a win for Best Documentary, but competed internationally at other film festivals and eventually received pick-up by Image Entertainment for distribution.
Adams became noticed on the Hollywood scene in a major way during his years on Ryan's Hope, and after the soap bid farewell to viewers in early 1989, he was in high demand for new ventures. ABC immediately cast him as the lead in a two-hour movie pilot they were hoping would be picked up as a weekly series, Thunderboat Row. Even though the movie was well received, it never became a series. This was followed by a guest shot on the syndicated revival of Adam-12, just before he was cast as François Gaultier in Lionheart (1990), starring Jean Claude van Damme. On the heels of Lionheart's success at the box office, Adams was catapulted into heavier movie roles in The Arc (1991), Original Intent (1992), the indie flick I'll Love You Forever..Tonight (1992), the cult horror favorite Puppet Master 4 (1993) and with an appearance in the short The Privledge Cage (1994). Occasionally during this time, Adams still turned up in some guest roles, including in two episodes of ABC's The Young Riders in 1990, playing young Jesse James (in the program's third season, the role would be taken over full time by Christopher Pettiet).
In late 1994, Adams returned to series TV full time as Agent Dan Sandler on the action series Vanishing Son, which ran as a part of Universal Television's Action Pack in first-run syndication. Although Vanishing Son was successful as a series of four made-for-TV-movies aired under the Action Pack banner during 1994, the weekly series was less so, and was cancelled after 13 episodes in May 1995. In the following TV season, he co-starred as Max Houser in the syndicated serial drama Acapulco Bay, an American adaptation of the Mexican telenovelas Tu o Nadie and Acapulco, Cuerpo y Alma. Things in a sense came full circle for Adams on Acapulco Bay, since one of his co-stars was the woman he credited for launching his career, close friend Maree Cheatham (who played Victoria).
Subsequent movie roles for Adams included Deputy Steve Stowe in The Stranger (1995), a cameo in Mother (1996), and large parts in Striking Resemblance (1997) and Water and Power (1999). He continued to appear in guest shots on popular cable and syndicated series, including an episode of Renegade in 1997, and on Pamela Anderson's V.I.P. in 1999. By this time he was now going professionally by Ash Adams (for reasons discussed below), but despite the identity change, in certain credits of his listed above from 1996 or later, he continued to be credited as Jason Adams.
In the early 2000s, Adams put aside time to specifically focus on live theatre work, at first committing to popular productions at the Actors' Studio in New York City. It was there where he starred in Mass Appeal and Return to the Chicago Abyss. He later returned to the Los Angeles area to star in the local production of Hurly Burly in 2004. In between the latter two plays, he made a guest appearance in an early episode of ABC's 2003 revival of Dragnet. The most important development in Adams' career outside of his acting at this time was his preparation for a filmmaking career. Before he had finished his stage work in New York City, Ash had already started raising funds for an inaugural movie project of his own, while launching a production company which ultimately became his independent film marque Bravado Pictures.
During production of After the Past, Adams had also been in the late stages of writing another screenplay that would have been Bravado Pictures' sophomore project. This screenplay, titled The Darkness, ended up being sold by Adams in 2004 to Locomotion Films in Montreal, and another previously complete script for a project titled Ready, Set, Go! was also sold off by him in the same year to Franchise Pictures.
The film was in production starting in late 2004 and during most of 2005, before its official release at the Roving Eye Documentary Film Festival in 2006. The Distance won the Roving Eye festival, thanks to in part of the movie's star power and the attention it received while in production. This does not take away from the fact that it was the raw, gripping emotion of Adams' storytelling that earned The Distance its merit; his raised profile as a filmmaker caused the film to be picked up by the Ohio Independent Film Festival not long after. In Ohio, The Distance continued to be the darling of audiences and critics alike, and received a second nomination for Best Documentary. During this stage of its run, Julie Washington of the Cleveland Plain Dealer called The Distance "heartbreaking and unforgettable". The momentum built up from its nominations and win, combined with the heavy star power and critical buzz within the industry it was receiving, allowed The Distance to then travel abroad and compete internationally. Later in 2006, it was screened at the Montreal World Film Festival, the John Huston Puerto Vallarta Film Festival and at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. The Distance became Adams' first widespread success, and such a distinction was topped off when Image Entertainment acquired the film for mass distribution. It was released on DVD in late 2006.
Fresh off the success of The Distance, Adams at first announced that his next project for Bravado Pictures would be Indultado ("forgiveness" in Spanish), a second documentary project. The film would explore bullfighting from the inside out, and dive head first into the violent and dangerous lives of Matadors. Scheduled to begin shooting before the end of 2007, the project has since been put on hold; it is likely that it will resume development and pre-production at a later date. Also in 2007, Ash acquired the rights to the boxing-themed Robert Anasi novel The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle, which for a while stood as the third official project for Bravado. This too has now been shelved, but Adams as of late is still immensely interested in adapting and producing its film counterpart. Im the midst of proposing these projects, Adams was in the middle of completing a new screenplay, Once Fallen, that would in time be added to his roster.
Set in the incredibly cinematic and visually stunning city of San Pedro, California, Once Fallen is a racy crime drama about a man having to rebuild his life after having everything ripped away from him by incarceration, falling in love with the forbidden and the twisted family dynamics of a violent crime family. The script for Once Fallen was complete in the fall of 2007, and even before it was done, Adams had his core casting choices in mind when he was writing. Ash collaborated once again with good friend Amy Madigan to not only co-produce Once Fallen, but to also star. Madigan's husband, critically acclaimed dramatic actor Ed Harris, has also come aboard for a principal role, and the framework of the crime drama led Adams to naturally cast Michael Madsen (returning after his role in The Distance for Adams and Bravado) and Dennis Hopper. For the first time since After the Past, Adams returns to an on-screen role in Once Fallen, playing Chance (aka Rath). Pre-production on this latest project began during the 2007 holiday season, and as official production was underway in the spring of 2008, Adams announced that the film would be a 2009 release.
From its inception, Mavericks has been produced by Adams, Bill Via, and Michael Madsen, who was Adams' first guest on the series. Between April and June 2007, Adams had stated in his blog entries that Mavericks was to debut in June, but at the last minute, he and Via decided to hold off on the debut so they could work on the format further. The revisions they went through took somewhat longer than they expected; viewers did not see the first previews of the final product until early in 2008. Finally, on the week of March 22, 2008, Mavericks premiered. Each installment of the program is in four parts, and has one guest actor per show. Michael Madsen was the first guest, as scheduled; subsequent editions have had Ash sit down with actors he has worked with recently at Bravado Pictures, including Amy Madigan and Andy Dick, while Veronica Cartwright and Taylor Negron have been other subjects.
For the most part, the public confusion and credits mix-up between the two actors has been long over, with the exception of a few movie and TV credits that, up until recently in 2008, still interchanged some between Ash Adams and J. Leland Adams, on the Internet Movie Database. It was thanks to the efforts of Ash Adams himself for getting his Ryan's Hope credits in particular removed off the IMDb resume of J. Leland Adams. For the record, if one visits the Ryan's Hope listing on IMDb, both Adamses will still be listed as having played John Reid Ryan from 1986-1989, but of course only Ash did. J. Leland Adams did not make his first on-screen appearance in a project until 1994.