The Matrix, to me, has always been a symbol for mindfulness, for really seeing the world around you. Ellen Hollman uses this philosophy in life and onscreen. She plays Echo, a reflection of the Trinity character in this past December’s release, “The Matrix Resurrections”. The reason she exists is because Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is such a powerful character, especially for women. Ellen is a master of her art as an actor.
I learned a lot about stunt coordination, practical effects, and filming action scenes in masters through our conversation. Before you read the rest of this interview, I encourage you to see the film in the theater, or stream it on HBO Max, particularly to catch Echo’s scenes in the beginning of the film. With her training and her life experiences, if there ever was a real-life mirrored Trinity, Ellen would be it. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Echo will get a series or a film of her own. I’m definitely down for that.
How did you get into acting? And how did your parents as musicians influence you to get into the arts?
Growing up, I was surrounded by classical musicians. My mother was a master pianist, and my father still to this day is a violinist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I did play both instruments, but at the end of the day, I was an absolute tomboy. I was involved in every sport that you could possibly imagine: I was a pitcher and a first baseman, a forward in soccer, a long-jumper, and I did the 4×100 relay. Basically I’m like a Border Collie. If I don’t run around, I will chew the furniture.
I have a background in Mixed Martial Arts, which has been helpful in this particular career of mine. However, I first went to school for Business and Marketing at Michigan State University and chose to take a year off because there was something in my gut that was telling me that it wasn’t the right path for me. When I took the year off, that’s when I found myself living in New York. I enrolled in a few acting studios, and I thought, ‘What if I could be a performer?’, not necessarily as a musician like my parents, but as an actor. As fate would have it, I ended up being lured into the performing arts and within a couple years, I was working steadily in Los Angeles. That gap year turned into a 20-year career.
It was certainly a learning curve but if I were to pass along any advice from my experience, I would say to allow yourself to seek other possibilities. Muster up the courage to find those other tributaries that may lead you to a completely different life than you may have anticipated. You just may surprise yourself.
I was impressed when I looked at your IMDb page. What attracts you to certain projects?
I find a lot of the time that the project finds you if you’re open to it. I love the fusion of the action genre, whether it’s action/drama, action/comedy, or action/sci-fi. It’s not just mentally challenging, but physically challenging as well. That’s what has interested me the most in the past, but I also thoroughly enjoy rom com’s, dark comedies, etc.
What brought you to “The Matrix Resurrections?
It’s actually a lovely family-oriented story, certainly unorthodox, which has always been my career path. My husband, Stephen Dunlevy, is a stunt coordinator and we met on the set of “Spartacus” ten years ago. He coordinated on “Matrix Resurrections”, “John Wick 4” and also “Unchartered,” which is coming out soon with Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg. We’ve been such a collaborative duo since the day we met. We love partnering on projects together, not just from an action standpoint, but a producing as well.
Also, his stunt team, 87eleven, is among the top in the world. I’ve had the honor of training alongside them for years now, preparing for numerous high octane roles as an actress. Chad Stahelski, who is the director of “John Wick”, is one of my jiu-jitsu professors, who has probably taught me over 75% of what I know at this point. He teaches the philosophy behind the choreography and how it should always be story-oriented. 87eleven was the brilliant action team behind “The Matrix” franchise and I was so used to training with them on the mats that when I was in San Francisco shooting “The Matrix Resurrections,” it was just a natural thing. It was just another Saturday trying to kick each others butts on the mat.
When I was initially called in to audition and met Lana Wachowski, I was prepared to perform dialogue or fight choreography, but we ended up having an hour-long heart to heart conversation instead. She wanted to see who I was as a human being. Of course, I had to fit a certain height, size, and facial features in order to mirror the ever so iconic role of “Trinity,” so it seems the stars aligned. Lana also wanted her actress to do all her own action and fortunately, with the help of my 87eleven family, I was able to perform the physical tasks that were necessary…not without plenty of blood, sweat and tears though!
That is unbelievable. I rewatched your scenes last night and it is so impressive.
What people don’t realize is that everything we shot in the opening sequence was practical. I literally climbed up a 100-foot ladder, 300 feet off the ground, while being chased by SWAT helicopters with automatic blanks being shot at me. Not to mention 40 mile an hour wind in 20 degrees amidst insane fight choreography on a slippery skyscraper rooftop…it was a challenge to say the least! I was fortunate to have my husband work beside me as Agent Jones, so there was an incredible level of trust and years worth of experience doing action together.
The film was shot in San Francisco and Germany?
We shot half of the film in San Francisco, and the rest was in Berlin. However, the entire world shut down in between and we didn’t go back to work until 6-7 months later. No one knew if we were going to finish the film, it was so unsettling for so many reasons.
How was it working with Carrie-Anne Moss? How did you channel the Trinity legacy?
You do your best to pay homage to the original, but you don’t want to replicate it. You want to make it your own. Not many people know this, but I literally flipped everything that Carrie-Anne Moss did as Trinity, so if she picked up the phone with her right hand, I picked it up with the left. My character’s name is Echo, so I chose to essentially “echo” everything that she did on the screen when possible. That’s a fun little easter egg that people can find when they watch it. Lana Wachowski also didn’t want it to be identical. That’s the whole point of the opening where it looks familiar, but something is off. It is its own Matrix, essentially. And if Echo exists, how many more versions of Trinity are there? Her mere presence opens a world to endless possibilities.
Aside from the legacy that Carrie-Anne has left behind on screen, offscreen she is so incredibly supportive. I have long blonde curly hair and it’s a major part of my identity. When they chopped it all off and dyed it black all in one sitting, I was in shock. Carrie-Anne held my hand and she said, “It’s going to be OK. I’ve been right where you are, it’s going to be OK.” I’m freaking out because Trinity is holding my hand right now, telling me everything is going to be OK. So god dammit, everything is going to be OK!
Lana was all about us being a collective family, so there was a giant circus tent, an actual giant circus tent, where we had the production office in, and it had the training facility, the lunch areas, the production tables etc. all under one roof. You would have Keanu and Carrie-Anne doing choreography as I’m finishing stretches, as Jess Henwick is warming up. And we’d all eat together. It was a very communal experience.
Thank you for sharing all about your experiences with “The Matrix Resurrections”. I could talk about Trinity all day, but I wanted to close with one more question. Can you talk to me about the Gracie Academy Women Empowerment Program?
The Gracie Academy Women Empowerment Program is an incredibly significant program. Everything they teach women, regardless of size, regardless of strength, empowers them to defend themselves when necessary. Gracie Academy is owned and operated by the Gracie family who have been friends of mine for years now. Eve Torres Gracie and I met on “The Scorpion King”, and it was her first time doing on-camera fight choreography for a film. I showed her the ropes and we had an incredible sequence together. I learned so much from her and vice versa. I’ll never forget when she told me she had a feeling I would love to explore the world of jiu-jitsu and not much later, I went to Gracie Academy and I’ve been addicted ever since. I eventually completed my Women Empowered program as well as Assistant Teaching Certification. From there, I went on to get my blue belt and eventually purple under Hugh Fitzgerald. Being in the film and television industry has been a great privilege, but to have something outside of that to constantly learn and grow from has been an honor.
For more information about Ellen, visit her IMDB page.