We have heard so much about the upcoming warrior Saxa who was quite a mystery to everyone leading up to the Spartacus Vengeance premiere and beyond. Recently I had the opportunity to interview Ellen Hollman, the spunky and entertaining actress, her answers emphasized she isn’t anything like her ferocious character. Ellen was also responsible for turning the tables on Lucy Lawless at the recent Official Xena Convention which was very funny to witness. We asked Ellen about her life, career choices, her charity organization which helps so many children in the Los Angeles area and of course about the force of nature that is Saxa.
Ellen, where did you grow up, tell us a little about your background?
I’m one of those wholesome Midwestern girls you hear about, hailing from Detroit, Michigan. We’re the type of breed that refuse to say “soda” instead of “pop” and still can’t figure out what a vegan is.
Did you always want to be an actress?
Nope. I used to be a landscaper and then went to school at MSU on scholarship for Business and Marketing, minoring in German. How’s that for a transition??
Who is your acting role model and why?
I admire Angelina Jolie’s prowess and sensuality as a woman and Meryl Streep’s uncanny ability to immerse herself completely in a role. If I was able to encompass all those qualities, I would truly be a performance Deity.
What genres do you enjoy more, Drama, Comedy, Sci-Fi, Period Pieces, Modern Day, Fantasy?
Whatever I’m hired to do at the given time really. Try combining all of those together, that’s would be quite the challenge!
Most actors are multi-talented – singers, musicians, performers – do you have any hidden talents?
I can carry a tune, wield reverse grip double daggers, and walk and chew gum at the same time. Don’t act like you’re not impressed…
When you first started to pursue acting full time you must have had career expectations (dreams)… how have those expectations lived up to the reality so far? And how have those expectations changed as your career has grown, then and now?
I’ve always admired strong, heroic, female characters in cinema and I’ll blush to admit, always dreamed of being one. It may have taken close to a decade to achieve this but my god it’s worth the wait. As for the future, I would love to expand my horizons to every genre I can get my hands on but in the mean time? It’s Gladiator Boot camp for me!
Are there any actors dead or alive that you would love to work with and, If so, why?
Lucille Ball just came to mind. Not only was she a beautiful woman that didn’t take herself overly serious, but she was also a forerunner for the entire genre of comedy as we know it today, not just for women, but for everyone.
If you were given a dream project to work on what would it be?
Spartacus. Pinch me now!
Do you watch Dailies? If so, how do you use them? If not… why?
The only footage I’m able to see is in ADR where we have to dub a few lines and actions here and there. I’ll ask for playback over and over just to sneak a peak at the craziness on screen. I think they’ve caught onto that now though, rats!
What’s your favourite TV show that you would love to have a part on?
I love Mike Row from Dirty Jobs. I would hold a bag on snakes for that man any day.
In the last year we’ve been hearing that Spartacus Season 2 will have a warrior woman or gladiator that would be joining the Rebels. Tell us about Saxa?
Hurricane Saxa more like it. She’s a ferocious, tenacious, vivacious force to be reckoned with on and off the battlefield. After a much appreciated alleviation from her slave ship by Spartacus and his comrades, she joins their ranks in their quest to destroy the legions of Rome. In other words, she’s a total badass that doesn’t take sh*t from anyone.
Without giving away too much, which episode introduces us to Saxa?
Episode 7 “Sacramentum”. Have I said too much?
What was the audition process like for Spartacus?
Like any other audition, it was hell. The longest I had ever waited to get into any room. Ever. I don’t even wait in line at DMV for that amount of time. Good thing I didn’t let my ADHD best me as I did manage to get a callback with Steven DeKnight, the creator. I pretended I was from London (faked an accent and everything) to appear more alluring and capable of maintaining a “Mid-Atlantic” dialect eventually required for the character when she does speak English. Worked like a charm! Suckers…
What was it that attracted you to the role?
Besides an insatiable appetite for blood and carnage? The sexy costume and co-stars of coarse.
What surprised you the most about working on Spartacus?
The staggering scale of it all amazed me (we work on FIVE separate warehouse studio lots). I was also beyond thankful for the immediate friendship and welcoming spirits of the cast and crew. They have truly become family.
Have you found anything to be rather challenging?
14 hours a day of blood, boobs, and a barrage of fight sequences… phew!
Did you have to do any special training for the role? Gladiator Boot camp.
How much of yourself have you put into the character? Is there anything you’ve learned/taken from the character?
I give Saxa my all, every last bit… except for the energy I reserve to drag my ass to bed at the end of a killer day! Saxa has taught me to illuminate the strength I already have, but to stand taller and prouder. To die standing up rather than live on the knees.
What has your experience on Spartacus taught you about yourself that you didn’t know before?
There are always new limits I can push myself to, new challenges and new expectations. Never settle for less than my best even if sometimes that doesn’t even suffice. Do it anyway.
What experiences will you take with you from this series that you never thought you would have?
I never predicted taking such liberty with my fight sequences and physicality as I was able to on set. There was an undeniable trust between cast, stunt crew and those behind the camera. It was a dream to take the reigns without being smothered and hopefully deliver a memorable performance because of that trust.
You have been working with some very talented actors, producers and directors on Spartacus, what have you learned from them?
To trust yourself, even if you end up looking like an ass. Dust yourself off and try again.
If you could swap character with anyone one on the show, who would it be and why?
Lucretia. Because she is nothing less than awesome. What I do with a sword, she does with her words.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m born on April Fools day, or if I’m just a prankster in general that inspired my recent ‘punk’ at Xena-Con. Michael Hurst tweeted he was going to be there and when I looked up the schedule I discovered, much to my delight, that Xena Warrior Princess was indeed going to be present for questions and photo ops. Saxa just happens to be a HUGE Xena fan so naturally an appearance was necessary.
Were you surprised by the fan reaction?
If by ‘reaction’ you mean “while I was scantily clad in Xena garb in front of hundreds of die hard fans insisting on a non-allowed autograph did I fear for my very life?” Yes… Yes I was fearful/surprised and ready to ‘get all Saxa on them’ if need be. Thank God she brought me on stage for accolades, explaining I was fellow cast! I don’t think the Warrior Queen herself is used to a warrior-in-training Convention Punking her, ha! She’s such a great sport, I would basketball through a minefield for her.
In 2008 you founded a non-profit organization called Visual Impact Now which provides free eye exams and glasses to children and families who can’t afford it. Why did you create this organization? Was there one specific story that moved you?
I created Visual Impact Now during the writers strike and what began as a simple fundraiser turned into an official 501-c3 organization. I’m an all or nothing type of gal. I have poor vision myself and understand the side-effects on an academic and social level, a disadvantage no child should ever have to experience. Also, to give a child glasses changes their ability to experience the world instantly. Those who participate and donate have the opportunity to see the fruits of their contribution immediately and feel more encouraged to help.
With Visual Impact Now being so successful in the Los Angeles area, would you like to expand it to cover other areas of the US or is the focus just on Los Angeles?
Los Angeles Unified School District has such a high need rate as is that even hosting the annual LA Eye Clinic every year for thousands of children we barely scratch the surface. I would love to eventually set up a year round facility that is able to reach the disadvantaged youth in our very own back yard before considering outside expansion.
How do you raise the funds for it?
Aside from piggy backing on various events such as the Golden Globes Style Lounge, Coachella, Sundance and LA Fashion Week etc. we also host our Red Carpet Annual Fundraiser every year in Hollywood. No one in my company takes a salary, they are there because they choose to be, their only incentive is to make a difference in these kids lives. It’s a beautiful thing.
How can the fans support Visual Impact Now?
I’m going to “borrow” from The Actor’s Studio and ask you the top 10 questions:
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Anything I don’t understand upon first glance.
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Anything involving complaining or gossiping. No space for that rubbish in my creative process. Mountains have never been scaled by those more interested in sniveling.
What sound or noise do you love?
An overly robust laugh.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Tears of anguish.
What is your favorite curse word?
Scheisse, German for shit. It has a classier sound to it doesn’t it?
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would love to operate regional eye clinics overseas, just might add that to the bucket list.
What profession would you not like to do?
Anything I’ve already done, no need to tread on a beaten path right?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Took you longer than expected, you’ve been ignoring our invitation.
Source: AUSXIP Spartacus