Ellen Hollman is no stranger to the action genre with roles in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, The Scorpion King: The Lost Throne, NCIS, Love & Monsters, Lethal Weapon: The TV Series and more. Her latest project is called Army of One and has her playing a former Ranger called Brenner Baker who stumbles onto a Cartel’s compound. Her husband’s killed and she’s left for dead. The Cartel made two mistakes, killed her husband and left her alive. They won’t live to make another.
Ellen chats to us about making the movie as well as The Matrix 4 and more.
First of all, congratulations on Army of One; it was great to see sort of a female Rambo. How did you get involved with the whole project?
It’s so funny, I keep telling people I’m like, imagine if Deliverance and Rambo had a love child, too (laughs). I mean, it was an absolute blast to shoot it. We shot it Alabama, over the course of just a few weeks. It was from beginning to end, just absolutely non-stop, 14 to 16 hour days. At the end of the whirlwind, we’re like, oh, I think we just made a movie. I think this is what’s happening here. My husband and I came in a little bit later on in the game. Thanks to Steven Durham, he allowed us to take liberties with a lot of the dialogue, some aspects of the script and, of course, action design. That’s something that my husband and I definitely would like to think we thrive in, at least attempt to. So the existing producers and crew were very generous in that aspect.
Had you finished shooting before the pandemic started?
Oh yeah, we finished well before; I put in an additional 140 hours of editing with the extra downtime actually. So I thought to myself, “OK, you might as well might as well add to this to this project while I don’t have anything happening at the moment”. So that was something; you just got to keep busy, right?
Yeah, that’s the thing. I mean, I’ve been doing so much DIY over the past few months, I can’t build anything else anymore. Just trying to stay sane…
Isn’t that so funny? Yeah, I mean, in the beginning, I swear, we went to Home Depot probably like five times a week.
IKEA for me a lot of the time; I would go every few weeks.
Yeah, it’s a great, great idea.
So for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, can you tell us a little bit about your character Brenner?
Yes. Brenner is a former Ranger in the military and that’s something that you learn that’s more of a reveal later on. It’s something that you can see in the trailer. But of course, she’s a woman who loves her husband and unfortunately, he meets an untimely demise. What you think is some kind of romantic love story turns into a bloodthirsty revenge story. We do touch upon some grounded aspects of things that are happening as we speak, such as drug trafficking and human trafficking – things that that are major problems in the world today. So it does have a grounded aspect to it with drama, action and some tongue in cheek humour. We wanted to infuse all of that in a 90-minute package for you.
There was nothing in it that pushed credibility so the action generally felt authentic…
Right, and that’s something that was really important to me. I mean, I joke about the Rambo thing, but you don’t see me running around with massive cleavage, wearing latex… nothing against that. I mean, I love superheroes, but it’s it’s very gritty and all the action was done by me. I didn’t have a double. It was all very authentic. It was shot authentically. You’re not cutting around a double. It’s the actual performer’s doing everything, which also adds that element of realness to it.
The location itself is a character and some of the places that we shot, certainly were not the most comfortable, including the scene where there’s a massive fight we have with the Butch character. It’s in this barn and it was completely infested with spider nests.
Yeah, so I’m not I’m not sure if you’re a fan of spiders or not, but they definitely made their debut. I didn’t notice it actually, because we shot from, I want to say, midnight to about seven in the morning, which is always rough. But it wasn’t it wasn’t until some of the coverage we did in the latter end of the fight on the monitor, they could see a giant what could have been a black widow spider just crawling right near my face. Apparently everyone at the monitor was just freaking out. As soon as they yelled “Cut” I was like “hey, guys, how did that go? Are we ready to move on?” And everyone’s just biting their nails, staring at the monitor. I was like “what? What are you guys freaking out over?” then I watch playback and I was like “oh my God!”
I would have cried for you.
Seriously, it was like a horror film because once I saw that spider, I looked at all the hay bales in the barn. I know it was kind of hard to see. It was dark in there, but they were all completely covered in spider webs and spiders.
Yeah, I would have burned it to the ground.
(laughs) Don’t think that didn’t cross my mind.
I was reading that you’ve had training in jiu jitsu; how did you prepare for this role?
Yes, absolutely. I do have a background in jiu jitsu, and for the past several years, I’ve been fortunate enough to train with my husband’s stunt team 87eleven, and they’ve done films, everything from the John Wick franchise to Deadpool to Atomic Blonde. So I’ve been fortunate enough to train alongside with them not just with jiu jitsu, but also judo, aikido, and combining all of those aspects in choreography, specifically catered towards TV and film.
When you see people being thrown onto the ground, they are OK, but you are only as good as your game. Chad Stahelski is at the helm of 87eleven, he’s the director of the John Wick franchise and then he’s very adamant about knowing both sides. Your typical morning drill is you learn, let’s say 10 to 15 beat choreo and then once you learn your stuff, you have to learn the other person’s stuff and then you do it right handed and left handed. So that way, no matter what for camera, sure, you may be able to do some Choreo, but if your cameraman’s stuck in a corner and can’t cover it properly, they’re like, “ah, well, it’s better if the throw goes over here”. Then you have to be able to be ambidextrous and be able to shoot and trade sides. It’s just as mind boggling as it is body boggling if that’s even a thing (laughs).
It is now.
(laughs) I coined that here and now. I am The Action Elite (laughs).
I feel like we need to have more of Brenner; are there any plans for a follow up for a potential franchise?
Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for saying so. With any film you make, you want to button it up nicely enough where if there isn’t a sequel, it still comes full circle but we also left some Easter eggs in there, too. There are so many more things you could explore in regards to the human trafficking/drug trafficking aspect, because that hasn’t reached its denouement. That wasn’t actually solved. So we left some bigger elements open to interpretation so that we could leave it open for the sequel, because I feel like nowadays more than ever, the female action heroine is being taken more seriously, even if she’s not running around in a flashy costume. I feel like she’s being respected for what she’s capable of doing. Charlize Theron in The Old Guard or what have you where it’s like “oh, wow, OK, like you can actually kick ass”. She actually trains in 87eleven when she’s prepping for her stuff. So, we’re in the right place for that. I just feel like it’s the right time and place for all of that.
To answer your question that is not outside the realm of possibility…
How did you find working with Director Stephen Durham?
Stephen is so generous in the fact that where he is so open minded to what you want to bring to the table and in my case, what you want to steamroll and change and adjust and add (laughs) and take away. He was so incredibly generous with that, where a lot of directors aren’t as collaborative. Like I said, when my husband Stephen Dunlevy and I came into the picture, I was basically like “OK, if we’re going to come in and be a part of this, this is what we want to do with it. Are you open minded to us taking the liberty?” Because this is kind of our wheelhouse and we’re used to working on much bigger budget content. So we will accommodate this small budget in this tight schedule. Just trust that we know what we’re doing. I mean, there were days where Stephen Durham let us take over second unit. We would collectively, between my husband and I, we would direct a second unit. There’s times where as soon as it’s cut I’d call “I think it’s time to come in for coverage here and we didn’t cover this insert here”. He had no ego about us being more collaborative than like “OK, you’re just the actor or you’re just the producer or writer”. So for that, I will always be grateful because I think that the end result really turned out to be something that he’s quite happy with. I think it’s surpassed expectations.
It seems to be sort of a natural progression that you would end up maybe directing yourself someday. Would that be of interest?
Yes, actually, it’s something I am certainly interested in. I’ve been able to do quite a number of shorts and proof of concepts that have got really great traction. There’s quite a handful of things that are in development as we speak and being on the directorial side of things is certainly interesting to me. Like I said, I think more than ever, having women behind the camera can only benefit this industry now.
What do you like to jump off the page of a script whenever it comes in front of you?
I definitely look for dynamic content. I also look for things that are unique, that don’t fall into the stereotypical tropes than one might see, particularly for women – bringing it back to women. I too often will read dialogue that is written for women by a man, how they think women talk to each other and I’m constantly just hitting my head against the wall like women don’t talk like this! We are just as vulgar as you guys; we swear and we’re just as dynamic as our male counterparts. A lot of times what you see in movies is the woman sets up the joke for the men to knock out of the park. That’s why I love the movie Bridesmaids, because it is quirky, and it is goofy. I swear to God, when I saw that movie, I’m like, this is how women are with their girlfriends. This is how we are and I feel like it’s starting to be brought to the big and small screen. Not nearly enough, in my opinion. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Booksmart, but that was another one that’s hilarious. Olivia Wilde did such a great job with that and my goal is to bring more content to the screen like that. That’s wittier, that’s funnier, it’s kookier, grittier and infusing that with action. I do love and understand that genre as well.
What is it that keeps bringing you back to the action genre?
I think it’s because I understand it; like anything the more time you spend at it, hopefully the better you get at it. I can walk the walk just as much as I can talk the talk and that’s once again because my mentor Chad Stahelski that’s what he does. He directs one of the most successful franchises in cinematic history, but then he shows up six days a week on the mats doing judo, ju jitsu, etc. I literally just sparred with him this morning. We all get tested regularly and they’re in pre-production for John Wick 4 that my husband’s working on. I’m basically in there learning the choreo and workshopping things. So I’m able to if I say “OK, I think that we should come out here, you should throw them over your head and throw this punch here X, Y and Z”. If they ask me “so what do you mean?” I can get out of my producer chair, take off my heels and show you exactly what I’m talking about (laughs). I think that’s unique. I don’t think you see that very often. Also, the ability to understand wit and humour; it’s hard to bring humour when you yourself don’t have a sense of humour (laughs). I’m also not afraid to look kooky, goofy or ugly or dirty or any of that. Not at my age. I don’t care anymore.
I think you should have a word with Chad and see if you can come on as an assassin for John Wick.
Oh, don’t think I’m not weaseling my way in some how (laughs). Either in Four or Five of the series. But with him, you just have to show up and do the work and then one day he’ll literally just point to you. He is a very unique individual; my husband trained with them for years and years and years. It was until one day Chad just said, “OK, you’re coming to Morocco” or “you’re coming to New York” and there’s the next five months of his life and now he’s coordinating. Stephen literally was one of the head of departments on Matrix. He was over there engineering and designing these insane rigs and we got to work together on that. It was just such an incredible, surreal moment of my career to see us both being on similar trajectories and working together. So it’s a dream; It really has been but holy smokes it’s a lot of hard work (laughs).
What would you like audiences to take from Army of One?
It’s not the movie you asked for, but it’s the movie you deserve (laughs). Like I said, if Rambo and Deliverance had a love child, it would be Army of One. Just allow yourself to be swept up into the story and into the ride. It’s a hell of a lot of fun and you’ll maybe learn a thing or two (laughs).
You mentioned The Matrix earlier; is that your next film or do you have anything else in the works?
At the moment, I have a film called Love and Monsters that’s out right now with Michael Rooker, Dylan O’Brien and Jess Henwick. I literally just wrapped Matrix 4 in San Francisco and Berlin. That should be coming out, I want to say December 2021.
Yeah, it’s coming to HBO Max and theatrical release at the same time.
I couldn’t believe it. I’m like, how are they going to do that?
Given the circumstances of everything that’s happening, you know, it’s new. It’s uncharted territory. Love and Monsters was originally called Monster Problems but you can find it on all the streamer sites now. Matrix 4 will be out and then there’s several things in development. I got some irons in the fire, so hopefully I’ll be able to announce something soon from a collaborative standpoint with these same guys that I have that I am used to helping the out with. Fingers crossed for all of that.
I’m hoping that things can get back to normal sooner rather than later.
Yeah, the entertainment industry, they’re still chugging along. We’re still going. A lot of it has gone international just given so many restrictions. So we’ll see. It’s going to definitely change the way that people shoot movies and television shows. I hope movie theatres aren’t extinct because I love going to the movies. It’s one of the things that inspired me to be a part of them. I think for now, the safest thing to do is really focus on the streaming aspect. I want to see Matrix 4 in the theatre. I mean, this movie was not meant to see on your iPhone. It’s like you want to feel the sound system and you want to just be completely engrossed in the experience.
Well all the very best with the movies coming up and I hope they’re all success.
Thank you so much and thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it and for your support.