Ella Balinska is an action hero for a new generation
After starring alongside Kristen Stewart in the 'Charlie's Angels' reboot, the British actor slays in Netflix's new 'Resident Evil' series.
Ella wears Prada. Jewellery Mondo Mondo. Photography Daria Kobayashi Ritch
On the Charlie’s Angels press tour, Jimmy Kimmel asked the reboot’s three stars which actress was the best fighter. “Ballistic Balinska,” Kristen Stewart said, as the co-leads unanimously agreed on British actress Ella Balinska. “I went a bit nuts and trained in 13 weapons,” she explained.
While most actresses intersperse interviews with skincare or makeup tutorials, Ella has a Vogue training video. Unlike many other workout videos you might find on YouTube, none of Ella’s kicks, squats or Russian twists are propelled by aesthetics. There’s no mention of calories burned, sculpted limbs or shredded six packs. Rather, the actress’ main motivation is much closer that of an athlete: to remain in “fighting fit” condition for the next race, game or in her case, role. In that case, move over Tom Cruise — Ella Balinska is the next great action star.
“I’m lucky that I’ve been able to make really interesting choices that make me excited, that are moving the needle,” the 25-year-old Resident Evil star says. “I’m always talking about the eight-year-old I’m trying to inspire in the way that I would watch things and think, ‘Wow, I want to do that.’”
For eight-year-old Ella, that was the likes of Catwoman-era Halle Berry or the Zoe Saldana-helmed Avatar. Action films led by women were few and far between during Ella’s most formative years, and even rarer on screen were women of colour in positions of power. For a soon-to-be 5’11 netball prodigy (basketball’s cool little sister, for the American reader), Hollywood felt very far away. Then it came calling.
“It’s exciting to see aspiring actors who never thought they’d be able to permeate this industry realise they have a shot, but also back-of-house decisions — decisions are now being made ‘upstairs’ that are making a positive ripple effect in the industry,” Ella says.
“Sorry for swearing,” she laughs, while musing on “fucking cool female creators”. As if her athleticism and acting chops weren’t enough, the star’s undeniable charisma is packaged in an endearing British politeness. Every sentence is punctuated with a self-effacing giggle, each revealed accomplishment accompanied by some anecdotal rejection. Still, few young actors can relate to Ella’s early career success. Cast as the lead in two consecutive movies and one TV show over a three-year span — all before graduating from The Guilford School of Acting (where, by the way, she now has a scholarship in her honour) — the actress experienced unprecedented momentum. Then, seemingly overnight, it came to a screeching halt.
As of March 2020, the Londoner was permanently marooned in Los Angeles. Due to return to England a few days before the pandemic hit, Ella’s outgoing flight was unexpectedly cancelled. Uprooted and unemployed, the actress doubled down on her hobbies. Via a series of Instagram lives, she offered fans fitness classes and a glimpse into her gaming prowess (yes, she’s a gamer). More than anything, she took the time to “internally reflect”, forcing herself to derive self-worth beyond booking the next job.
“But there is nothing more static, no bigger build of unleashed energy than a non-working actor,” she says. “I was trying to find ways to offset my creative urges — doing things that I’m not very good at, but we’re going to have to become comfortable with failure.”
On October 3, 2020, the night before Ella’s 24th birthday, she received a note from her team: “Hi, is there any update on Resident Evil?” Two weeks earlier, Netflix had reached out with a role in a new series based on the popular franchise, out now on the streaming platform. From its video game origins to the demanding action sequences, the part checked all of Ella’s boxes — but this was the first she’d heard about it.
“A lot of people had sent me messages and I just hadn’t seen it,” she remembers. “I’d essentially been ignoring them. I immediately met with the producers on Zoom, sent a tape and then I got a phone call that I got the role.”
While Ella had secured a slew of powerhouse roles pre-pandemic, she credits COVID-19 with allowing writers the chance to “tell these kinds of stories”. Now more than ever, she’s seeing women at the helm — both in front of and behind the camera. There’s still a “long way to go” when it comes to visibility, Ella reveals, but an insurgence of inclusivity in the film industry now feels inevitable.
“What was interesting was that because it was a complete stop, there was nothing else to do but look inward and see the choices that we’re making,” she says. “We became hyper aware of other people and other people’s stories because we literally had nothing left to do, but also because, hopefully, we wanted to. Everything was a lot louder because we could focus and pay attention.”
Ella’s mother, a life coach and mental wellness expert working in the midlife sector, often tells the actress it took her until age 40 to “figure out” much of what Ella has at 25. The newly instated Angeleno keeps her circle close, and still manages to squeeze in games of netball between set days down in Santa Monica (which, naturally, she is quick to invite me to). Her commitment to fitness, specifically, has allowed the star to avoid much of the societally-conditioned self-image issues that plague young women — especially those in Hollywood. She even advises fans to take her own imagery with “a pinch of salt”.
“Everybody is a human being with different genetics, or different budgets,” Ella adds. “What you see on social media can be really overwhelming these days: you ‘like’ one post and you’re going to see 100 more. If you’re in a place where you’ve got a healthy foundation to start or maintain this journey, that’s the most important thing.”
If this is Ella Balinska’s journey, there’s no telling what might be in store for her final destination. This October, Ella will debut as Frey Holland — the protagonist of the action role-playing video game, Forspoken. It’s one of many projects on the horizon that bridges all of Ella’s interests — the others (both film and fitness-related) are yet to be announced. And while there will likely be many more weapons, workouts and eye-watering combat scenes on Ella’s horizon, her most impressive feat will remain widening the door for the eight-year-old girl in her wake.
“For me it’s always a pleasure,” Ella says of her work. “I do have to adapt and deal with people literally throwing themselves at me, but for as long as I can do it, I’m going to keep on doing it because I love it.”
On screen and off, you can bet they’ll keep coming.