Exclusive Q&A: Actress Ella Ballentine (“The Monster”)

 

Ella Ballentine first came on my radar after watching the tense thriller Standoff earlier this year. Her latest film The Monster is a unique horror/thriller and coming-of-age mash-up, featuring first rate performances from Zoe Kazan and Ballentine. During our talk, Ballentine talked about her memories of The Monster, deep love for acting, and why West Side Story is one of her favorite films. It was a very engaging conversation, and hopefully her easygoing humor comes off in that chat.

What is the key for you in playing an intense scene? Is that a natural thing for you?

I don’t know. I guess it really depends. It helps when you have something to act off of. With Standoff, Laurence Fishburne is a really great actor – so he was really scary. So that was very easy to play off of.

For The Monster, having Zoe be such a dark mother and having a really freaky and supernatural monster looking you dead in the eye, with its glowing eyes and scary teeth, that’s easy kind of easy to play off of. I can (say), ‘oh this is frightening so I will just make this come out and act with my inner feelings right now.’

I’ve had scenes in movies where it’s a bittersweet cryfest or where you have a couple of tears because it’s happy crying. But stuff like this I really love because I just get to let it all out and go crazy. There’s no holding back, which is really fun for me.

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Speaking of no holding back, can you talk about your scenes with Zoe?

All of the scenes with Zoe were really intense but they were easy to do because she’s such an incredible actress. I was just playing off of her and us working together. That particular scene, in the garage when we’re yelling at each other, I still remember it because I actually have a scare from it.

What???

I’ll explain!! (laughs) She’s wearing these massive heels and it was really fun in between takes, I kept saying she looks like a really pretty stewardess. 

Because it’s so intense and she’s dragging me out into the car and I’m pulling back from her – her heels completely scraped along my foot and sliced it open. So it was bleeding and during the whole take. On my close-up, I was just playing off of the excruciating pain I was in (laughs). I’m pretty sure that was the take they used because I think that was the best one.

Did you immediately go to the hospital?

It was just a scrape, but I it hit a spot that bleeds a lot. I still have a faint little scar. And it’s a scar that I hope never goes away. I’m so happy with it. Every time I look at my foot people (say) ‘What happened there?’ And I’ll (say) ‘Let me tell you!’ (laughs)

Ella Ballentine Credit: Photo by Albert Camicioli, courtesy of A24
Ella Ballentine Credit: Photo by Albert Camicioli, courtesy of A24

This movie can also be seen as a coming of age film. Was this a coming of age for you as well regarding working with such a great cast and wonderful material.

This movie was really interesting and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. For me, watching the film was cool because I got to see it as a horror film. My mom got so mad at me because I was yelling at the TV. I was telling my character, ‘Why are you doing that? Don’t walk that way! You’re so stupid! Who do you think you are? It’s night time!!’ (laughs) I was really scared the whole time.

It’s also a drama and it’s about this toxic relationship between this mother and daughter. They don’t belong anywhere near each other, but they still need each other. Without one another, it’s just impossible for either one of them.

Filming that and getting to know the two characters and finally being able to watch it, it’s so fulfilling. Especially Bryan Bertino, the writer and director of the movie, the whole film he wrote – some parts were personal to him. When we were filming it, I would always ask him, ‘what do you see in the scene?’ It was a very collaborative experience.

(Regarding the) coming-of-age (story), it definitely has a lot to do with that. It’s about this young girl who, even though she’s basically had to raise herself, she needs a mother figure. 

Is acting your first love? Or do you love singing and dancing just as much? Do you see yourself dabbling in all these forms of artistry in the future?

I love all of them. Acting is definitely my main one. It’s the one I think I excel in the best out of all of those. It’s something when I miss out for even a month I feel empty. I know that sounds so cheesy and whenever I tell people that I say ‘I’m really sorry, I don’t know how to word this.’ There is definitely a piece of me missing when I go a while without acting.

Recently I’m getting into singing and music. That came a lot from Bryan. We would have a scene the next day and he would send me a YouTube link to a song he was listening to when he wrote that scene. I would listen to the song as I’m rehearsing the scene. That got us in the same frame of mind. Since then, music has been really affecting me in so many ways so I’ve been listening to so many different genres.

I sing every day. I have two ukuleles in my room so when I go to bed I have an artistic release right there. And I love dancing. It’s definitely not my strongest thing. But it is something that I am really proud of. I’ve been dancing since I was four years old. I started that before anything else.

I wish I was a visual artist. I wish I could do that. I can’t. I’m terrible. (laughs).

Can you name a movie that you watch over and over again for inspiration or entertainment?

One, or can I name multiple?

Multiple is great.

Okay sweet. Definitely Almost Famous. 500 Days of Summer. West Side Story and When Harry Met Sally. Those are my top four.

It’s one of my favorite musicals if not my #1 favorite. That and Bye Bye Birdie as well. They just have these beautiful songs in them. It’s just also such a beautiful story.

I read Romeo & Juliet every year (note: West Side Story is based on R&J). It’s something that happens by coincidence, but I always do. And I absolutely love the story. I love romance and it’s something I can always go back to and sing along with.

For the other movies, When Harry Met Sally – that’s just a fun comedy but again there’s romance in it which I love. 500 Days of Summer is such a real romantic comedy. It’s much more modern. Almost Famous is so amazing. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it now.

Are you getting different offers? Are you working on something right now?

I haven’t been really getting different offers. I just want to take whatever comes my way because I love what I do so much. I don’t have anything down the road. I wish I did. If you know anything in the works, I’m around! (laughs).

You’re really great in this and we’ll talk on the next one. Thank you Ella!!

Thanks bye!

***The Monster opens in theaters and On Demand Friday, November 11th. Ballentine is also the lead in Anne of the Green Gables which premieres on PBS November 24th. The trailer’s below: