IN CONVERSATION WITH ELLA BALINSKA
Actress and producer Ella Balinska made her feature film debut in 2019 as Jane Kano in SONY Picture’s ‘Charlie’s Angels’. Next, she will star in Netflix’s highly anticipated live-action series ‘Resident Evil’, which premiered worldwide on July 14 and the Blumhouse-produced feature film ‘Run Swetheart Run’, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is slated for global release on Amazon Prime in 2022.
Ella, we are able to see you in Netflix’s ‘Resident Evil’ this summer, where you’re playing the leading role of Jade Wesker, who fights for survival in a world overrun by the blood-thirsty infected and insane creatures. What can you tell us about this highly anticipated series and your experience of filming such a live-action project?
It was so much fun. I’m a big fan of the ‘Resident Evil’ franchise, so to be part of this really warms my heart. We shot for a hundred days out in South Africa, and the art and props and costume and world building producers, they did such a good job of creating this post apocalyptic dystopia. My character Jade’s, the older Jade’s, timeline plays part in 2036, but then you also get a split timeline, which happens in 2022, where you essentially get to see the lead up and the build up to how the T virus outbreak happened.
You star in ‘Run Sweetheart Run’, which premiered at the Sundance Film in 2020 and will be globally release on Amazon Prime this year. In the film you play Cherie, a timid and hard-working single mother, who is set up on a blind date with Ethan. When things quickly turn sinister, Cherie must find a way to escape. What is the biggest thing you learned from this story?
The journey with my character in ‘Run Sweetheart Run’ was such an interesting one, because she was with me for a very long time. We obviously shot this at the beginning of 2019 and we had the premiere at Sundance in 2020, but then when Amazon came onto the project, they wanted us to shoot some extra scenes and change some of the narratives. So we actually managed to adapt the story even more and kind of give it more time for it to really develop. The premiere that we’re gonna have this year is sort of like a second premiere, because it’s an entirely new film. As for my character, she is tenacious, but she starts off not knowing that she is. She starts off just living in her little bubble, in her world that she knows, and kind of settling for her routine that she has. She’s not really asking any questions and keeping her head down. But along with her fight for survival she also discovers her voice, which is something that in a way is not just stereotypical and sort of cliche, but very empowering to be part of.
You trained at the Guildford School of Acting in London, where you graduated with honours. Recently you established a scholarship at your Alma Mater for students from the global majority – supporting and deepening understanding of cultural identity and authenticity whilst training their craft. Why is understanding of cultural identity and authenticity so important to you?
I think because it really lends itself to the authenticity of the stories that we see in life, on our screens. There’s always actors that plight to find truth. In my opinion that’s kind of how it begins, the truth of knowing yourself, knowing where you came from and how your culture shifts and changes and pushes the needle in the industry that you are in, and how you can in return do that and make space for people who are coming up after you. I just wanted to give sort of pathway for recipients of the scholarship to do so, but then there’s a knock on effect because if you go and see a play, you’re not gonna go see it by yourself, you’re gonna bring your friends. And suddenly there’s new writers being introduced into the curriculum and that’s really what I wanted to encourage where it might not have been done before. I’m very proud of it.
You have quickly became a voice for your generation and continue to break down barriers across multiple genres. In October 2022, you’ll become the first leading female of colour in a performance capture video game, with your role as Frey Holland in Square Enix’s new epic ‘Forspoken’ for PlayStation 5. How was it working on a project for Playstation?
I’m still waiting for someone to be like “Hey, she did it first”. So until that day I will happily take the batton. I am a massive gamer dork. I was delighted to film it because I’ve always been intrigued how those kind of projects are done. It’s such a different medium. With TV and film, everything’s trick is in the eyes, smoke and mirrors. You can make something else somewhere completely random. With video games however, it really is just you with some dots on your face, in a dotted suit, carrying a huge camera on your head and it is the peak of human imagination. It really is nothing but you in this space while building with your peers around you. So that really felt like it was taking me back to my theater roots.
‘Forspoken’ is an open world game. It’s got the fantasy and there’s an adventure story element that comes with it. It’s an Eza Kai style, so a character from our world that gets transported into another.
You continue to cement your place in fashion and philanthropy as well, notably as the Global Ambassador for the iconic Panthère de Cartier jewellery collection. What does this ambassadorship mean to you?
It is one of my biggest career highlights today. Honestly, not only to be the face of a brand that is so historic and iconic and has such unbelievable craftsmanship that goes into all of their pieces, but also the fact that Cartier uses their platform in a way that it really makes a difference. It’s not just some paid ambassadorship and then off we go, they’re actually out here trying to do good in the world.
I love the fact that I’m able to align myself with a brand like that. And also, it speaks to my personality too. I love a bit of a Panther, the strong, empowered woman making choices for herself, going out there and never being afraid to try and get what she wants. And I think the Panther is an incredible symbol of that.
In 2021, you were invited to join the British Fashion Council as a founding patron of the BFC Foundation Charity. Can you share with us more about this Foundation Charity and the projects you work on with the BFC?
It’s a kind of a similar reason why I started the scholarship, which lends itself to my industry in acting. But also, I love the idea that people’s culture and backgrounds can really shift the industry that they’re in and the British Fashion Council does just that. It empowers designers to put every single ounce of who they are into their work, without being afraid that it’s gonna be rejected simply because it’s not conforming to the norm. And I love fashion. I work very closely with my stylist, Jason Bolden, and we obsess over it. It’s another way that I feel I can help make a positive impact in things that I’m passionate about.
So when you say that you love fashion, I have to ask you how would you describe your style?
I’m very practical. I used to answer it like this maybe four years ago, and I’m actually standing by the same word. I’m always dressed for whatever I’m doing for the day. But also, in terms of when I’m actually being styled, I love clean, color coordinated looks. I love beautiful silhouettes that are quite strong, cause I’m quite a tall person. And I just really enjoy adding the finite details that sort of pull a piece together. That’s the part that gets me really excited.
Additionally, you also recently joined Clé de Peau Beauté as one of their newest faces. In your role, you will champion the brand’s high-quality products and support their global philanthropic mission that empowers girls to find their voice through education. Why do you personally believe education is so important for all the young girls?
Honestly, I think knowledge is power. Knowledge is putting yourself in a position where you are able to make informed choices that are great for yourself and the people around you. This is something that is so important. And I think every young woman should have the opportunity to be in that position. That’s why Clé de Peau Beauté’s philanthropic endeavors are so close to my heart. Women have such incredible minds. Some of the greatest inventions have come from these incredible female historic figures, and we should hope and strive to continue that pattern. This is an amazing way to help make that happen.
If you had to choose one woman in the world as the most powerful one in your eyes, would you be able to choose one?
I think the answer to this is actually symbolically answered in ‘Charlie’s Angels’. But when we women work together and come together and use all our incredible brains as one, we’re unstoppable. And I think that is something that is super powerful and I definitely have as something that inspires me.
What do you love to do in your spare time? Do you have any unique hobbies?
I’m literally in my little gaming cave. I love PC gaming. Because I live in the States and I have all my friends and family back home in the UK, it’s a great way to stay connected, but still having fun. I can log on during the day and the day’s just finishing off over in Europe and I can chat with them. I also love working out. I love fitness. And I love driving my car. I love stunt driving. I’ve got my two certificates of completion. I did motion picture driving and safety clinic, of which I have passed both levels. All of those stunts that you see in ‘Resident Evil’ with the car, a lot of them were done by me.
When you mention that you have all your friends and family in the UK, what do you miss the most about home now that you’re living in LA?
I’m so lucky that here in the States, I have found my tribe and I love them to pieces. I call them my chosen family. The thing that I would love is for one day to have both my family and my chosen family come together. It’s so frustrating that because of the distance I can’t make that happen right now. But soon hopefully it will and that will be something that’ll be very soul filling for me.
To have such people around, it’s very grounding. It’s important to have people who remind you of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place, in any industry. To have people who can support you through when things get tough, but who can also celebrate you and be your biggest fans whenever you succeed, is invaluable.
Where would you like to see your career in the next 10 years?
I am in a very exciting place right now, where I’m sort of finding my stride in things. The roles that I’ve taken to date, I’ve done quite a lot of action projects, a lot of thriller action style projects. However, I’ve got things in the pipeline, which completely take a different turn from that. I’d love to be able to look back on a body of work and be really proud of everything that I’ve done. I always talk about the little eight year old that was inspired to be able to do something like this and hopefully there’s someone out there who looks at my work and looks at what I do and thinks “I wanna do something like that too”.
It’s important that you’re doing what you love, because then it never feels like work. At the end of the day, when I go to bed and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, that’s when I know that I’m doing the right thing.
In your next big-screen endeavour, you’ll star in Hugo Keijer’s ‘The Occupant’, which is due to commence filming in 2023. This is also a project, where you will step behind the camera for the first time as a producer.
This is a new one for me. I think this is a great script to try and do that with. I’m very good at running for my life, so thankfully I won’t have to think too much on that side. That’s why I think I have a little bit more bandwidth to be able to contribute to a lot of the creative decisions, which I’m looking forward to doing. This story in particular, I think we can do it in a way that is so visually striking and so engaging, it’s got some great plot twists in it. So I think combining all of those visual aspects, alongside the performance and the writing altogether, it will be something that I’ll be really proud of.
What are you most excited about stepping behind the camera as a producer?
Just being part of the creative decisions. Obviously you work with the director and you find your character, but also I’d love to be part of the process more when it comes to cinematography and what can we portray about the character in this certain moment. It’s almost like less of a job and more sort of adding a person into the presentation at work, having another creative mind kind of make this project better than you ever imagined it to be.
What do you think is one thing that is missing in Hollywood at the moment and that Hollywood should portray more both in film and TV?
After the success of ‘Coda’ and how incredible that film was, I am so here for representation around disability in film. There was this amazing TV show ‘Love, Death & Robots’ that I watched. In season 3 in the episode called ‘Jibaro’ the story follows a deaf knight on a medieval night. It is one of the most phenomenal pieces of animated storytelling I have ever seen. I would love to see more of that.
With all the things happening in the world and particularly in the US currently, do you have a specific cause that is the closest to you and you would maybe like to raise more awareness on?
The philanthropic projects I’ve aligned myself with thus far really speak for themselves. I will take any opportunity I can to speak about girls’ education, to talk about inclusivity for the global majority within the industry. During the pandemic, especially in the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, it was a huge educational shift for all of us and myself included, because I’m half black and also half white. It was learning about my historic and cultural background, the significance of what BLM is for me, but also learning and understanding my half white privilege and how that ties into everything. It’s an ongoing thing, so I can only encourage people to keep that going and to keep learning.
You asked me earlier why is women’s education so important. Well, it also goes for human beings. Knowledge is so important, because it’s so powerful and we could be so much more empathetic and caring and compassionate with each other when we come from a place of understanding.
Interview by JANA LETONJA
Talent ELLA BALINSKA
Photographer MAX MONTGOMERY
Styling RAZ MARTINEZ
Make-up FIONA STILES
Hair JUSTINE MARJAN
Styling assistant DIAMOND BUCHANAN
Photography assistant DANIEL BYUN
Editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA