'Charlie's Angels' Star Ella Balinska on Intense Training and Her Catwoman Audition
Before joining the cast of Charlie's Angels, Ella Balinska was already an accomplished athlete who threw javelin for Team London and trained in a dozen types of stage combat — including weapons. Standing at 5 feet and 11 inches, Balinska admits that the stunt work on Charlie’s Angels felt like second nature to her given the unique skills she’s acquired over the years.
“Yeah, it was definitely more streamlined. It’s kind of like riding a bike; you don’t really have to think about it, “ Balinska tells The Hollywood Reporter. “You can just hop on and do it. I suppose that’s what it was like when I was doing all of the fight sequences and stunt training. It was like a dance."
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The word is out on Balinska’s action prowess and physicality as she recently completed a physically demanding role in Blumhouse’s Run Sweetheart Run. She was also a finalist for the role of Catwoman in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Oddly enough, there’s a moment in Charlie’s Angels where Kristen Stewart’s character jokingly offers to pay Balinska’s Jane Kano to cosplay as Catwoman.
“That is a funny coincidence, but I’m very excited to see that Zoe Kravitz landed that role. I think she’s gonna be great,” Balinska admits. “It was an extremely streamlined process. [Warner Bros. are] really great at what they do, and it was another very fun day at the office."
In a recent conversation with THR, Balinska discusses her Charlie’s Angels’ casting horror story, the experience of filming Blumhouse’s Run Sweetheart Run and the prop she broke and “nabbed” from set.
When you were speeding through Hamburg, standing out of a sunroof and firing a gun, did you ever stop and ask yourself, "How did I get here?"
(Laughs.) When you go to the cinema and you watch these amazing put-together trailers, they always show those kind of moments. There was definitely a moment where I was doing it, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is a trailer moment.” That was pretty incredible.
Since Charlie’s Angels is your first Hollywood movie, can you talk about the audition and casting process?
I got an email from my team that was a normal audition breakdown. It had the logline and description of the character, and it was under the name Silver Cloud, which was an alias that it ran by for discretion. At the end of the email, it was sort of like, “By the way, this is Charlie’s Angels.” Before I’d even read that part of the email, I’d read the description of the character and what the movie was about, and I was like, “This sounds like something I want to be involved with.” Then, I got to the bottom, and I was like, “Wow, this is three times as awesome.”
From there, I sent off a self-tape, and in my head, I said, “No one’s going to see this so I might as well have some great fun with it.” The next thing I know, I’m Skyping with Elizabeth Banks and flying out to L.A. to test. I literally landed at 1 p.m., got to the hotel at 3 p.m. and went to Sony Studios at 4 p.m. It was a pretty rigorous day. I flew back home the next day, and I pretty much didn’t hear anything. I’d had a few auditions in between, and then I had a conference call with my team. I thought I was going to get fired [by my agency], but it was my team basically saying, “We haven’t heard anything about the project, but we’ve got someone on the line who might.” It was E.B. (Banks), and she was like, “Hey, Ella, the role is yours if you want it!” Then, the line cut dead, which was terrifying because I kept thinking that Elizabeth Banks might’ve thought I hung up on her after she offered me the role of Jane Kano. Eventually, we managed to get everyone together to say that I would definitely be taking the role.
Did you do a screen test and chemistry read with Naomi and Kristen?
No, I didn’t do a chemistry test. It was just a screen test.
Once the three of you were cast, did Banks engineer any chemistry-building hangouts, or did you guys develop it naturally on your own?
It was definitely very organic. The first time we met was outside the trailers, and we clicked instantly. We all wanted to hang out with each other the second we met. In the stunt room, we did a few physical bonding exercises. We did this fight braid, I’d call it. It was basically breaking down the physical boundaries between us. We were going to be working together in such close proximity, so we got used to how each other moves. We felt really synchronized, and we brought it on to set.
You were an accomplished track and field athlete growing up. You’ve also done a considerable amount of stage combat and weapons training in the past. Did the physical demands of the role come relatively easy for you since you had so many of these skills already?
Yeah, it was definitely more streamlined. It’s kind of like riding a bike; you don’t really have to think about it ... You can just hop on and do it. I suppose that’s what it was like when I was doing all of the fight sequences and stunt training. It was like a dance, especially with Jonathan Tucker. I spent a lot of my fight time with him, and it was honestly like a ballet between us. I had the responsibility of handling most of the hardware in this film, and being able to handle all of that in a really safe, professional and qualified manner was something of great importance, especially since my character was an ex-MI6-trained operative. I suppose it meshed in with the character well and helped on that side of things.
Did you enroll in stage combat training because you knew your physicality would likely lead to action roles someday?
I went to a drama school over in the U.K. and everyone knew what they wanted to do. Everyone was like, “I really want to do period drama … I really want to do comedy,” and I felt like I didn’t know what I wanted to do. ... When I first did stage combat, it clicked; it just worked. The exams in that balance the performance element as well as performing with the weapons. It’s a real skill, a real craft, a real art to each weapon and learning the history of it. It was just fascinating. It was a great conversation when producers, Elizabeth Cantillon and Doug Belgrade, were like, “Obviously, Jane Kano is a very physically demanding role. What can you bring to the character?“ I was like, “Well, let me just crack out the CV.” (Laughs.)
Jane was my favorite of the three new Angels, because I liked how she dove head first into things. The other two would stop to plan or talk things over, but Jane just went for it. Was that attribute defined at the script level, or did it develop during production?
That’s very humbling to hear. In the beginning of the process, we met with Elizabeth and had a chat about our characters, their history, why they think the way they do and what makes them tick. It was definitely something that came up. With Jane, she makes all these very independent decisions. She’s extremely quick to be uber-pragmatic about any decision she makes and will just commit to it. Working in the field, as she would have done before, you would’ve had to have made on-the-spot decisions without being able to discuss it with someone else. I suppose there was some sort of truth in thinking about her upbringing. Maybe she just did everything and made all the decisions herself. As we were filming, especially the moment where we arrive at the rock quarry, she just goes in straight away. She searches, she assesses and she acts on her decision just straight away. As well as with the script, it just made sense for it to be like that.
Did you get to keep your bowl cut wig?
We didn’t keep the bowl cut wigs; I think those are archive pieces now. I need to drop Camille Friend [hair department head] a text and find out. I did break a couple props. That knife fight between myself and Jonathan Tucker toward the end — let’s just say my character was feeling particularly aggravated in that moment. I squeezed the handle a little too hard, and the knife would sort of crush in my hand. So, I went through a couple of those, and I think I definitely nabbed one.
I know I’m wandering into dangerous territory here, but I couldn't help but notice a particular line at the beginning of the movie as Kristen's character wanted to see Jane cosplay as Catwoman. Since you just went through the Catwoman audition process at Warner Bros., have you and Banks talked about this coincidence?
No, but there you go … (Laughs.) That is a funny coincidence, but I was very excited to see that Zoe Kravitz landed that role. I think she’s gonna be great.
I don't want to get you in trouble, but can you say anything general about that audition process?
It was an extremely streamlined process. They’re really great at what they do, and it was another very fun day at the office. (Laughs.)
Charlie's Angels is about empowered women, and it's never been helmed by a woman until now. Were there times on set where you were you glad to have a woman behind the camera?
Elizabeth Banks makes such a safe environment. She’s an actor’s director, and she knew exactly what she wanted. She was absolutely going to get it. (Laughs.) I think what’s so great about this film is that you see a real accurate and genuine depiction of women in the workplace. You see us working together, you see us winning, you see us failing, you see us laughing, crying and being real human beings. Elizabeth says, “We’re not superheroes. We don’t have special powers.” One of her main visions was to have these women fight smarter, not harder. With that concept, there’s something incredible that can be achieved with a woman behind the camera.
Compared to most studio action movies, I really appreciated how we visited some unique locations. How was your time in Istanbul?
It’s a vibrant, energetic and immensely cultured place. It was stunning. We were driving a Lamborghini Urus through the streets, and suddenly, the call to prayer happened during a take. We all just stopped and were taken aback by how incredible that moment was.
Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on the experience of making the film, what takeaways stand out?
I had just come off a six-month shoot for a 26-part TV series in London, where I was the lead. I wrapped that on the 31st of August, 2018, and then I flew to Berlin on the 3rd of September, 2018. I was just impressed with myself at how you can really do anything you put your mind to. It’s the opening statement of the film. That, coincidentally, tied in quite nicely, but I do mean it in a genuine way. There was a time when I was watching these films and seeing these women who were inspiring me. And now … it’s flipped. There’s a potential that I am going to be inspiring that person that I was, watching those women do what I’ve just done. That’s pretty powerful.
How'd your Blumhouse movie Run Sweetheart Run go?
Wow. What a visceral experience. Run Sweetheart Run was a project I was really excited to work on because Shana Feste is a really exciting filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film. Working opposite Pilou Asbæk was definitely a fun experience, too. It contrasts to this as these Angels are going straight towards the action and the excitement. We’re not shying away from it. It says it in the title twice, but my character in Run Sweetheart Run is running. (Laughs.) That was interesting to shoot as well because the whole shoot was night shoots and on location in Los Angeles during that rainy February we just had. My character is also barefoot through a lot of the film. It was really immersive and demanding, which complemented the performance.
by Graeme McMillan
by Aaron Couch, Borys Kit
by Graeme McMillan