Ellen Hollman Becomes Trinity, Fangirls Over Keanu Reeves, And Learns From The Matrix Resurrections – Exclusive Interview
The first scenes of “The Matrix Resurrections” are, for a time, nearly a shot-for-shot recreation of the opening scene of “The Matrix.” We see police and eventually agents approach Trinity in a room and try to arrest her before she does The Coolest Stunts In The Entire World. This turns out to be a simulation seen, and eventually participated in, by Bugs (Jessica Henwick). In fact, it’s such a thorough simulation that even the audience probably isn’t aware that Carrie-Anne Moss isn’t playing Trinity. That would be actress Ellen Hollman.
Hollman’s time in “Resurrections” is brief, but pivotal. She certainly shares a resemblance to Moss, a big part of which is thanks to the movie’s phenomenal hair and makeup team. Even though the scene is short, it still took weeks – even months – to prepare. Hollman’s husband, Stephen Dunlevy, is a prominent stuntman and stunt coordinator – part of the fabled 87eleven team – who also worked on “Resurrections.” As such, she was able to stick around for much of the behind-the-scenes action.
Looper spoke with Hollman about her role in “Resurrections.” She told us about the prep work, what Moss and Keanu Reeves are really like off set, and working with her husband in ways you wouldn’t expect.
Let's begin at the beginning
Let’s start with the beginning. I know where you are, but tell people if they want to look for you, where are they going to see you?
Well, unless you are blindfolded in the entire opening sequence of the film, it is certainly impossible to miss me. [Laughs] I think you will agree on that one. I do not recommend taking a nap in the opening of the sequence. Not only is it impossible, but you’ll miss pretty much a major plot point, wouldn’t you agree?
I would very much agree with that assessment.
Very true, so keep those peepers open, folks! Keep them open.
How many times have you seen the first “Matrix” movie?
How many times this year, or in my lifetime? [Laughs] Those are two separate questions, because let me tell you, when I was doing my due diligence on the entire franchise, my husband and I worked on it. So we just made sure we got comfortable, put on that robe, and just sit there and watch nearly six hours of cinema. The beauty of this franchise is that every time you watch it, you discover something different, and it means something different to you. So, when I saw this movie 20 years ago, when I was five, it meant something profoundly different to me in that stage of my life, than it does right now. You’re looking at it from a different perspective when you know you’re a part of this legacy.
So, let’s be a little more specific. How many times did you watch the opening scene of “The Matrix” to prepare for this?
Why would I do that? Why would I focus specifically on the opening sequence of the original “Matrix”? [Laughs] I think so many times that I could, verbatim, not just perform, but give the dialogue of the opening sequence. I think I was driving my husband nuts, because I’m like, “I think I can handle one little girl.” Just all of that, over and over … I was eating, sleeping, and breathing that entire opening sequence, because once people see the film, they will surely understand why that is. Also, with that homework, you want to carry it with you, make what you bring to [the] screen your own, [while] still paying homage to the original. That was basically the tightrope of a challenge that I was walking.
The casting process
I went in knowing who you’d play. But when I first saw this, I saw you, and I thought, “That looks a lot like Carrie-Anne Moss!”
Well, that is not accidental! [Laughs] That is not accidental at all. In fact, rest assured, that is a very large aspect of how I’ve managed to get caps in this film, and that’s why I was so excited to see all these trailers drop, [because] I nearly made every single trailer. And the audience at this point, even as we speak here on … What’s the date here? December 16th. People still don’t know in these trailers that it’s me, they just assume that it’s her, and that is inside the brilliant mind of Lana Wachowski. That was always her intention, that you keep thinking it’s her. Even in the casting process, Lana was very specific. At first, I didn’t know what character I was going to be auditioning for, but the supervising stunt coordinator I’ve known for years called me in, and the entire action design team is 87eleven, which is essentially my family.
They’ve been a part of my family for many years. My husband’s one of their stunt coordinators, he does the “John Wick” franchise, [and] he just wrapped “John Wick 4.” As a martial artist, I’ve played on the nets with them for many years, and I’ve learned a lot of their tricks. Chad Stahelski, who’s at the helm of 87eleven along with David Leitch, he’s one of my mentors. Not just in the film and television industry, but also as a jujitsu professor, he’s taught me, I would say, 75% of what I know. When I went in there for this alleged audition, it was [understood] that I was a very specific height, very specific features, very specific energy, and something that she was quite adamant about. It’s that you can look the part, but can you be the part? So, what I thought was going to be an audition, it was essentially just an hour-long heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul conversation with Lana Wachowski.
I couldn’t even believe it. It was such an out-of-body experience, because the pre-production office was located at 87eleven, and I was constantly in there anyway. I already felt comfortable in that environment, so she was essentially in my playground, and she could see the camaraderie between myself [and the rest of the crew]. She didn’t mention anything about the role, we just talked about life, and as it turns out, we have so much more in common than we could have ever anticipated, and at the end of our hour-long powwow, she gave me this incredible embrace, and she said, “Welcome to the family.”
This is real life
I’ll never forget this moment. I was looking over her shoulder, and making eye contact with Jess Henwick, who’s a buddy of mine actually. Before this film, she was a buddy of mine. We worked on “Love and Monsters,” and just like fell in love with each other. And I looked over her shoulder and she mouthed, “Oh my God, this is what is happening, oh my God!” And I mouth back to her, like, “Is this my life? What is happening?” Totally fangirling, totally fangirling. And then when I released the embrace, I just played it cool, I’m like, “Ms. Lana, it is an absolute honor to be part of this family,” when inside I was shrieking, I was shrieking. And when I walked out of 87, my whole body, it was just shaking. I’m like, “What just happened? What did … oh my God.”
One of the prerequisites for this role is that she wanted an actress that could do all of her own action. She did not want to double, she did not want to cut away, so that meant that I had to do everything myself, which was … Thank God I had the preparation of just previous jobs being in the action genre, I was able to really have that foundation from judo, jujitsu, and choreography that I was up for any challenge, but this certainly pushed me beyond anything I’ve ever done before. And that’s what Lana does — she will push you further than you ever thought you could go before, and the end result, I believe, speaks for itself.
Carrie-Anne Moss as a standard
So you’ve spoken about meeting Lana. I know you don’t actually share a scene, but did you meet Carrie-Anne Moss at any point?
Oh my God, absolutely. Carrie-Anne. So, one of the other incredible aspects of Lana is that there is no separation between past. It doesn’t matter if you share the screen together. You all train together, you all stretch together, you all have meals together, you are part of the family. She’s very big on family, even in the production tent. So, half of my work is done in San Francisco, the other half in Berlin. And in San Francisco, there was an entire airport hangar that was ours, and it was essentially the Matrix circus. There was this massive tent … That’s where we ate lunch, that’s where there were couches, and lamps, and music constantly playing where people could lounge, and nap, and congregate. That’s where a lot of production chats that happened.
Then you had the mats, which, I say “mats” casually, but this is like a whole full-on gym that they designed. Keanu, Carrie-Anne, Jon Groff, Yahya, Jess, Eréndira, all of us would congregate, we would do our morning routines together, stretches, training. And Carrie-Anne is such an essential part of this, as is Keanu, and I’ll never forget one of the first moments we had with each other, where I was sitting in the hair and makeup trailer. This is such a surreal moment, it’s one of those other moments where I’m like, “I’m going to remember this the rest of my life. How is this happening right now? This is incredible!”
I was sitting in the hair and makeup trailer. To my left is Keanu with Alexandra, his girlfriend, who is awesome. He’s listening to his hardcore rock music and getting his hair done, I’m sitting in the chair, and then beside me is Carrie-Anne, getting her hair done. I don’t know if you know this, but I have long, past the chest length, curly blonde hair. I’m German, so I’m very blonde hair, green-eyed, and I’ve had it my entire life, this long, blonde, cascading hair. For the role [in this film], I had to chop off all my hair and dye it black, as in, my hair is not just black, it is like a black hole, a succubus, that is how black this hair was. When I was sitting in the hair chair, our head of makeup … What they do is they put your hair in a ponytail and they chop it off. She put my hair in a ponytail and I felt like I was about to go into the guillotine, [Laughs] because as a woman, your hair is like an extension of you, it is part of your identity, and that is something that I was willing to sacrifice.
Drastic and necessary changes
I wasn’t the only one. Every castmate had some insane hairstyle, but some even had to go bald, so I had to shut up because I actually didn’t get the bitter end of the stick. So, when I was sitting there in the chair, I was trying not to tear up because holy s***, Carrie-Anne Moss and fricking Keanu Reeves are sitting there right next to me. I’m like, “Oh my God,” I was like, “Keep those big girl pants on. Oh my God. Oh my God, what is happening?” And when they chopped off my ponytail, I just … It was like this gasp, and I had a hard time breathing. Then, all of a sudden I feel this hand holding me, and I look over and Carrie-Anne’s like, “It’s going to be okay. I was where you once were, and it’s going to be okay.” I’m like, “Thank you Carrie-Anne Moss, thank you, Trinity!” And I’m like, “Oh my God, what is my life right now?”
It was such a surreal moment, but she had such an incredible soothing presence. She is a deity among mere mortals, she is just absolutely … she’s like a lioness, and she just really calms me. And Keanu’s like, “Hey, it looks pretty rad.” He’s like, “Everything great, everything’s just really great.” He’s always known me with my long blonde curly hair, because he’s good buddies with my husband. However, some of the other people in production, when I walked in with my short black hair, some people didn’t even know who I was, and reintroduced themselves. I’m like, “Guys, I’ve been on the mats with you for weeks now!” So, that long-winded question in response to Carrie-Anne Moss — she is an incredible human being.
The stunts of The Matrix
These movies are famous for really innovative stunts, and obviously they’re a lot different than, say, the “John Wick” stunts. They’re a lot more Hong Kong, I guess you could say.
Right, it’s heightened reality.
When you’re doing things like running on the walls, what’s that like for you?
Yeah, the challenge behind this is that I don’t have an extensive background in such detailed wire work. I’ve jumped off of castle ramparts in Romania on descender cranes, I’ve done jerk vests and things like this, but this was complicated, because it’s such a brilliant engineering feat to have a human run sideways, because that is not the way gravity works. So, we had Ralph Hagar, which was the German team, and then my husband is actually one of the stunt coordinators on “Matrix,” and also one of the rigging coordinators. His background is engineering, and he’s an incredible rigger, so there’s a lot of trust already there, because your life is in their hands. And we had such an incredibly skilled action design team, that from the fight choreography to the wire work, I trusted [all of them] … They were my girls, my boys. We flipped each other over one another’s head for seven years now, in judo. So I’m like, “Okay, I trust you to put some wires on me.”
But it took … I was there to train ahead of time, nearly four to six weeks, my God, it’s such a blur. Nearly four to six weeks, because to be able to seamlessly … It’s funny, because it’s just a few moments on screen, but Carrie-Anne Moss, of course, did it seamlessly. So it’s like, “Well girl, you better do this, you better do this seamlessly as well.” Because not only do you have to remember all your choreography with fervor, you also have to propel yourself onto a wall, and then at the same exact time you’re motivating yourself, they’re loosening the wires in order to accommodate your movement, and then you’re also jumping onto another wall. It’s something that takes countless hours in order for that precision to come across seamlessly on screen.
Believe it or not, that was actually some of the hardest wire work. It’s just a lot of timing, it’s just really muscles that you’ve never used before are necessary. So, in rehearsal that was one of the trickiest things to do, yet on the day, we got it in like two takes, we were actually like, “Wow, we blocked out like two hours, but we did it in like 15 minutes.” I’m like, “Cool, what do we do now?” We did it. I’m so obsessive with preparation, I’m sure I drive my husband nuts. Just when you think you’ve got it, I’ll do it a hundred more times, so that I eat, sleep, and breathe it, because choreography is dialogue without words. You can spend just as much time memorizing that choreography, or that dialogue, per se, as you do what’s written on a page.
Fighting with my family
So, since your husband was involved, and you only have a few scenes, were you still around for a lot of this, when your scenes were done shooting?
Well, it’s a really fun thing that perhaps you’ve not realized: The main agent that I am fighting in the opening sequence of “Matrix Resurrections” is Agent Jones, played by Stephen Dunlevy, my husband. So, Lana, in the casting process, wanted just a huge brick s***house guy to play the agent, who also could do martial arts, which is actually a tricky thing to find. My husband, who was coordinating, she’s like, “Well, how about you fight your wife? Let’s keep it in the family, I really want you guys to work together.” And he’s like, “Uh, cool, I’m working like 12 hours a day doing the rigging and the other stuff, but yeah, I’ll try to learn the choreography with my wife.”
So, I actually had to practice all the choreo with the stunties, and then Hubby, on his one day off, he and I went to the facility and based just on memory, I taught him the choreography for our sequence. And the only time we actually legitimately went through it was the day that we were shooting it, and he was on a lunch break. No pressure, because there were a lot of big hits, and our sequences were very high-risk because they were practical. I really was climbing up the fire escape, hundreds of feet off the ground. I really was being chased by SWAT helicopters in 30, 40 mile-an-hour winds on top of a building, I really was getting clotheslined by my husband going full speed, and then flat-backing. I really was getting the crap kicked out of me, into a full-on scorpion kick, into yet another flat back. And this is all done in [single takes].
So, just the preparation was unbelievable, and to have my husband be a part of this legacy with me was something I will forever be grateful for. I’m still pinching myself. I’m going to show the kids someday. “Oh, look, kids! Look at mommy and daddy beating a living snot out of each other on a rooftop in San Francisco!”
It’s insane, right? Like, how is this a real thing? How is this like, “Hey hon, remember that time that we were shooting ‘The Matrix’ together as the entire opening sequence? Wasn’t that cool?” How do you top that? I’m not going to say it’s impossible to top, because then that will limit the possibility, but my brain cannot comprehend anything more effing cool than that. It’s kind of like, “Cool, I’m done. I guess I can just retire now, I think. Yeah, maybe I can just move to an island somewhere, and…” I don’t know. It’s pretty surreal.
Yes, Keanu Reeves is that nice
You dove into it a little bit, but you clearly know Keanu Reeves. You say he’s a friend of your husband, 87eleven, he’s a big part of that. Just tell me a little bit about Keanu Reeves specifically, I know you told me about the hair thing, but what’s he like as a person? I’ve heard nothing but good things.
Keanu Reeves is not someone who desires attention, does not desire the limelight, he does not desire acknowledgement nor does he desire accolades. He is by far the most humble artist that I have ever had the honor of meeting. As a fellow performer, who’s been in the industry over 20 years, I can say that his heart and his kindness are what has allowed him to become the megastar that he is today. He doesn’t have the type of energy that draws you to him, because he doesn’t want that. For example, we have the table read, and I was walking down the hallway, and I just felt this shoulder brush next to me, and I look over, and it’s just Keanu! I’m like, “How you doing bud, great table read!” He’s like, “Oh yeah, no. I just had a really good time.”
You don’t notice him. If that sounds like a strange thing to say, he’s not this succubus. Wven on the mats, even if I’m just sparring with some of the 87 boys, or with Chad. Ironically, Chad Stahelski was his double in the original “Matrix,” and now the director of the “John Wick” franchise, which is also an incredible full-circle situation. You’ll be on the mats cooling down, and right next to you is Keanu, stretching. He always wears his woven hat, a winter hat, — even in the dead of summer, he wears his hat. And all of a sudden you look, and he’s right next to you, you don’t even notice.
From one franchise to another
I had the opportunity to shadow Chad. He was directing “John Wick 4.” I went over to Berlin just to learn from him and Dan Laustsen, to see how they set up shots, and one-ers and everything. I was behind the monitor for countless hours, and in between sets, Keanu would be sitting next to me. And most of the time it’s about ju-jitsu, we’re both ju-jitsu freaks. So I’ll be like, “Oh my God, have you watched this video?” He’s like, “Oh my God, have you seen this video?” And you forget that you are conversating with one of the most epic actors, not only of our generation, but generations that have come before will continue to be, because he’s just … There’s no one like him.
And anytime, for example, there is some kind of discrepancy, which happens in production, he was the first one to solve the problem. Like, oh my gosh, for some reason, catering isn’t there today for pre-production for some reason. Because, Germany, there’s language barriers, things happen. So, he would just have a food truck for everyone. Yeah, just things like that. “Oh, you don’t have a car to get you to help with your bags, to move all the equipment. I’ll just hire a car service for you.” Even for the premiere, I swear, he’s in love with Dunlevy. He’s like, “Hey, if you want, I can fly you out. And yeah, I can put you at this hotel, and yeah if you want to be on my … You want to ride with me? Do you want to be on my guest list?” I’m like, “We’re already there Keanu, but thank you.”
You forget that it’s him, he’s just so wonderful, like, “Hey, do you guys want to have breakfast in the morning?” You forget it’s him, it’s just really, really surreal, and I almost feel that it’s only when you see social media, when you see the trades or whatever, you’re reminded of how massive of a star that he is. So yeah, it’s a pretty neat thing to witness.
87eleven are the real stars
I want to read something to you. Earlier this year, I spoke with Donnie Yen, which is an amazing name drop.
When I asked him about “John Wick 4,” he said, “I can tell you I’m having a wonderful time. Keanu Reeves is a wonderful soul, gentleman, best guy I ever worked with, just a great guy, same as Chad.”
He also said that Chad really understands action sequences better than anybody else, so the work you guys are doing at 87eleven is phenomenal. I think you guys are the best stunt team in America right now.
They really are. And I have so much respect for stunt men and women. They’re the first ones in, last ones out, and many times, they’re like the shadow. They’re the ones that elevate the material, yet your focus is your lead actor. Yet, those performances are not possible without these underdogs, and Chad has been doing this for, my God, I don’t know how many decades. He’s got like six black belts. He understands action, because he can do it. Everything he teaches, he also preaches, and he’s capable of doing. That’s what makes him stand out from the rest, because directors, a lot of times, have second units shoot all the action.
Chad would rather be tarred and feathered than have anyone shoot his action, because it is his. It is as much of the story as anything else. So in his opinion, he’s like, “Why would I let someone direct a part of this story? It’s my story.” That’s, in my opinion, what separates them from the rest. And that’s why they’ve managed to be as successful as they are, and I will say, I’m not a stunt person. I’m an actress who does mixed martial arts and respects it wholeheartedly. I have learned and absorbed an endless myriad of tricks from what they’ve taught me, and I carry that forward through my career.
“The Matrix Resurrections” is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.