Ellen Hollman Talks Spartacus: Vengeance and her debut as Saxa
As regular viewers know, the hit Starz series Spartacus: Vengeance has no shortage of eye candy for both male and female watchers, along with plenty of medieval action to boot. Just when you thought you couldn't possibly have more beautiful and compelling people on the same screen together, along comes actress Ellen Hollman, who makes her debut as Saxa in Episode 1.07: Sacramentum airing Friday, March 9 at 10 PM ET on Starz. The actress will shake things up for both Katrina Law's Mira and Dustin Clare's Gannicus... with a memorable kiss between Saxa and one of those characters in her debut episode. I recently had the chance to speak with Ellen Hollman about her new German warrior character Saxa on Spartacus: Vengeance. Take a look at what she had to say below.
From what I've read about Saxa, she's this feisty German warrior who loves kicking ass. I was curious how an audition goes for something like this. Did you have to display any physical skills when you were reading for this part?
Ellen Hollman: I have a background of athleticism, and I've done just about every sport under the sun. I do have a stunt reel, so that definitely helped making it to the final round, with my stunt reel and my ability to speak German. I guess there aren't that many that fit that bill in Hollywood (Laughs).
I can't imagine there are a whole lot of actresses with those skill sets.
Ellen Hollman: Well, they wanted a tall, muscular blonde woman, who can speak German and fight. It's like, 'Uh, maybe you should go to Germany?' I was pretty fortunate with that.
With your background in stunts, how much do you get to do on the show? Is it pretty much all you, in these heavy action sequences?
Ellen Hollman: I don't think they really expected how full-on I would take the role. I was in boot camp early every morning, all day, every single day, days off, weekends, I would train. I didn't even get a double. I did all my own stunt work. Everything was blood, sweat, and tears. Thank God for the amazing stunt team. We called it Saxa Daycare (Laughs). So, the house of pain, gladiator boot camp, became Saxa Daycare.
I heard the whole cast does the boot camp before each season. How intense is that, and how long were you in that before you started shooting?
Ellen Hollman: We're actually shipping off soon. We have about four weeks of boot camp before we start shooting. If you're not intimidated by flipping monster truck tires and sledge hammers and chains, and all those sorts of things, then it's the perfect exercise. When I arrived, it was the latter part of the season, and the cast was shooting every day, so it was basically me in gladiator boot camp, with all the stunt guys, all day, every day. I felt like G.I. Jane almost. I basically felt like I really had to prove myself. I was more than willing to put in my time, and I would actually do double-time. The stunt guys would take a break, and the extras would arrive, and I would do the exact same thing with the extras. I would be dead at the end of the day, and it was definitely G.I. Jane style, minus getting kicked in the face or anything like that (Laughs).
After your debut, are you on board for the rest of the season then?
Ellen Hollman: Yeah, it's going to be Episode 7, and that's where Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) essentially alleviates my Germanic tribe from this slave ship. In return, we join their ranks against the Romans. Every scene seemed to increase and, towards the end, they put me in just about every fight sequence, every major fight that happens. I was extremely fortunate to see the fruits of my labor pay off. Basically, if you get one of these shots, that must mean you're doing something right, because they're willing to sacrifice their time and money to see you kill Romans at 400 frames per second.
I also read that Saxa gets a bit enamored with Gannicus (Dustin Clare). Can you talk a bit about how that relationship plays out?
Ellen Hollman: Saxa doesn't like to discriminate between men or women. She basically takes what she wants, when she wants it, and when she's done with it, she kicks it to the side. She sees Gannicus as a challenge. He's god of the arena, and Saxa looks at herself as goddess of the arena. She sees him as an equivalent and a conquest. You'll see how the growing interest grows as the episodes progress, without giving too much away.
Are they setting you up as a series regular next season then?
Ellen Hollman: I hope so, because I just signed my contract in blood for next year (Laughs). Yeah, they have me on board. Basically, this was almost a test run. They wanted to see what the character would become after a recurring role. It helps a lot, as an actress, to go through that much training. My weapon of choice, that is actually my real choice, is the reverse grip double daggers. Not only do you have to fight with a sharp metal object in your hands, you have to do it opposite. Training in that, and also keeping your physique intact, along with the German dialogue of the performance, it's a big bite to chew, which is why they didn't immediately consider it as a series regular role. They basically wanted to see if I'd f*&k up (Laughs). The fact that I'm on board for the entire next season next year is pretty exciting. I can't wait to get over there.
Can you walk us through an average day on the set? I would have to imagine it's kind of an overwhelming experience being around all these people who are hardly dressed, and all these amazing set pieces. Would you say it's an overwhelming experience to be on the set every day?
Ellen Hollman: The first couple days, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I get to play with weapons, be around a bunch of half-naked gorgeous men, and get paid for it? Are you kidding me? (Laughs). Weapons, and gorgeous men and women. It's a dream. An average day would be I would wake up at 3:30 in the morning, have my jet fuel coffee, do my abs and my stretches, leave by 4:15 AM, and then, it depends on which set, because there are five sets we work on, five different locations. I usually get there around 5 AM, and then I'm in the makeup chair for a good hour and a half or two hours. It takes a lot to make me look like I have mange. We call it the seven layers of hell. The dirt, the blood, the scrapes, the slashes, dreadlocks in the hair, bruises, some of which are actually mine. There's such a continuity, and, as you know, television is not shot in sequence. If you decide to decapitate someone on Day 7, and you do a reshoot for that scene, they have to do it all over again to match it. Just keeping track of the blood is a full-time job. So it's 3:30 wake-up time, stretching, abs, 4:15 pick-up, 5 AM for makeup, 7 AM rehearsal, and then we generally start shooting around 8 or so. Then you're looking at about a 6:30 wrap time, and that's another hour or hour and a half of getting out of all the dreadlocks and everything, and then, we go train, at least my part. By the time I'm off the set, I'm at the gym training from 8 to 9, have dinner, then do it all over again, all day, every single day. It's crazy right? It's crazy town. You get so used to this world that there is the threat of losing touch with reality, as well as the sunshine. You forget what the sunshine looks like (Laughs). You find yourself walking the streets, waiting for Romans to jump out at you.
I also heard you have an interesting scene with Katrina Law's Mira. Did that actually make it in the episode, that impromptu kiss?
Ellen Hollman: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Wait until you see the look on her face. We didn't tell anybody. I actually became really close with Kat. She just took me right in. For myself, I'm always looking to raise the bar. What haven't we seen? Oh, perhaps we haven't seen a female rape scene, where a female is actually attempting to rape a male. You may or may not see that in Episode 7. Like I said, Saxa takes what she wants, when she wants it, and when she's done, she finds something else. It's almost like she's an alpha male. You don't look at her like she's a slut or a whore, you look at her almost like a guy. She sees conquests. The scene with Mira... at first, Mira and I butt heads, because it's alpha female vs. alpha female, so Spartacus pairs us together, makes us partners in a fight. Without giving too much away, it's a pretty interesting fight, and at the end, I may or may not show my gratitude and affection to an unassuming Mira (Laughs). The look on everybody's faces... I became Saxa. It wasn't even Ellie. It was like, 'I can't believe Saxa has the gall to do that.' You almost become the character. She has the gall to rape a man, she has the gall to manhandle Mira. It's like, 'Oh my God. Who is this person?' It was a glorious moment. Then they kept coming in for close-ups, saying that last one was out of focus (Laughs). Sure it was.
Excellent. That's my time. Thanks so much, Ellen. It was great talking to you.
Ellen Hollman: Thank you so much for your time and your interest and being a supporter of the show. We definitely give it our all. We're working for seven or eight months at a time, and when we get back to the States, you guys get to see the final product. Without you guys, we wouldn't have a reason to gel, so thank you for that.
Spartacus: Vengeance will air Ellen Hollman's memorable debut as Saxa in Episode 1.07: Sacramentum Friday, March 9 at 10 PM ET on Starz.