Actress Ellen Hollman
When it comes to the women on the STARZ cable network period drama Spartacus: Vengeance, there certainly are no wallflowers. True, these so called members of the “fairer” sex have at one time or another been put in their place by their respective beefy or politically connected husbands or lovers, but they always seem to bounce back by making good use of their beauty and other feminine wiles.
One character who is more than capable of holding her own in a conflict is Saxa, a German warrior played by Ellen Hollman. While she may still have a great deal to learn about the Roman-centric world around her and how to survive in it, she is more than up to the challenge, mentally as well as physically.
“Saxa is a lioness in training and a born leader, but she’s not quite able to fill out her ‘paws’ yet,” explains Hollman. “She takes what she wants with no hesitation, using pure tenacity, ferocity and a dose of calamity. To step into those paws was an utter and complete challenge for me, not to mention an exceptional joy. To have the liberty to perform with complete, unbridled passion and impulse was a daring feat that will hopefully pay off onscreen.
“Aside from the aforementioned ferocious, tenacious stuff, Saxa is a hero in the making. There is no question in her mind that she can match any man regardless of size or entitlement. This may or may not get her ass kicked from time to time, but that’s how you grow stronger at least that’s the idea. With this in mind it was a welcome challenge to face being the ‘first female warrior ever to grace the screen of Spartacus.’
“I’ve been an athlete my whole life, but what can prepare you for such a huge chunk to chew? Well, countless hours in gladiator boot camp, of course, attempting to conjure up the most intense and brutal fight sequences for a 115 pound savage. Needless to say there were plenty of cuts, bruises and scrapes, and that was just to the ego,” jokes the actress.
Already having a varied list of TV credits under her belt, including guest-star roles on such hit TV series as Malcolm in the Middle, NCIS, Criminal Minds, in Plain Sight, Weeds, Numb3rs, Medium, Victorious and Rules of Engagement, Hollman became involved in Spartacus: Vengeance through the usual channels.
“It was not dissimilar to every brave soul who dares weather the audition process; I, too, had to scribble my name on the call sheet and wait for the casting guillotine to beckon me,” she recalls with a chuckle. “This particular audition, however, was so overwhelmed with ‘beautiful, ferocious women who could rival any man in the bedroom or battlefield and come out the victor,’ that I had to sit on the floor in the hallway and wait for almost two hours until it was my turn. Talk about glamorous, huh?”
Spartacus: Vengeance, airing Friday nights on STARZ, is the continuation and second season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which was shown back in 2010. Hollman makes her Vengeance debut in season two’s “Sacramentum,” where Spartacus (Liam McIntyre), Agron (Dan Feuerriegel) and Lucius (Peter McCauley) pose as rich Romans looking to buy a new shipment of slaves hailing from northern Germanic tribes. Despite an unforeseen complication, they succeed in their mission to free the slaves and welcome them to Spartacus’ growing rebel ranks. Not surprisingly, Hollman jumped into the proverbial arena with great gusto.
“I’ve always supported the concept, ‘Under promise, over deliver,’” says the actress. “With this in mind, I not only knew all my lines, but everyone else’s, too. My first day on-set was with my German clan, and being the only one who actually spoke the language, I was reacting to things being said when my other cohorts gazed ahead.
“There was one German piece of dialogue that was supposed to get a crazed reaction from all of us, but I was the only one screaming and cheering at the top of my lungs like a lunatic. Everyone looked at me like, ‘This new kid is an idiot.’ I broke character for a moment, grabbed my sides and without giving the dialogue away, said, ‘Dudes, it says they scream and cheer with unbridled fury. Work with me here, knuckleheads.’ From that point on, the director [Jesse Warn] said for everyone to just follow whatever Saxa does.”
“It’s a rather daunting feat being integrated into an established on-set family as the newest import,” notes Hollman. “You just want to be the cool kid and not get duct taped to a locker. Luckily, there were no lockers and instead of duct tape there were Roman swords and daggers that no one minded sharing. Katrina Law [Mira] and Cynthia Addai-Robinson [Naevia] were my fellow lady rebels and became my pals on and off-set. Meanwhile, the boys and I became like a pack of wolf pups, cracking jokes and roughhousing until the occasional reprimand.
“Saxa, on the other hand, prefers to keep her heritage intact. She’s not sure if Spartacus is a threat, a bully, a leader or simply a man taking on the world against all odds. Like any Alpha, Saxa challenges his stance and may or may not learn her lesson harshly. As time progresses, she develops an affection for these Spartacus rebels socially, romantically and especially on the battlefield.”
Although she appears quite at home working in front of a camera, acting was not initially on the cards for Hollman. “Growing up, I was more likely to be Mary, Queen of Scots rather than an actress,” she jokes. “I’m not Scottish, nor am I a queen, so the chances seemed rather nil. I had my own landscaping and house cleaning business growing up. I was always very athletic, but due to an injury I had to pass up the shot at a track and field scholarship for a business and marketing one. So I’m still trying to figure out how I ended up ‘killing’ Romans for a living.”
Aside from acting, Hollman serves as the CEO of Visual Impact Now (VIN), a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles. It serves as a fundraising and awareness arm for their partner, One Sight, to provide free eye exams and glasses to children and families unable to afford them.
“VIN is my ‘wunderkind,’ my brilliant little child that has grown and developed into a full-on 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization servicing thousands of LA youths,” says the actress proudly. “It started as a celebrity fundraiser with Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, January Jones, Malin Akerman, Amy Brenneman, etc., and has since been involved with Sundance, LA Fashion Week, Coachella and The Golden Globes as well as hosting our own LA Eye Clinics. Not only do we raise the funds, but we roll up our sleeves and firsthand service these financially distraught children with visual acuity’s eye exams and glasses with designer frames and scratch-proof lenses.”
Since the early days of Hollywood and filmmaking, the acting business has been portrayed with plenty of glitz and glamor. While such fame and fortune is not unheard of, it is not the norm, especially with the majority of aspiring or even well-established actors. Yes you can follow your dream of acting, but as Hollman points out, make sure you are fully aware of its ups and downs.
“For every captivating moment on film, every exotic location, every dear friend I have made in the entertainment industry, there has been the heartbreak, the rejection and the sacrifices made to get to that point,” she says. “Both sides of the coin have equally had an impact on my life and I wouldn’t replace a single accomplishment or setback for anything. If [the acting] life were easy, everyone would do it, right? This industry has tested my confidence, structure and ability to never compromise, and in that facet it has been the most enriching experience I could ever ask for.”
With only a handful of Vengeance episodes remaining, is there anything the actress can at least hint at insofar as Saxa’s ongoing story arc?
“Unfortunately, the phrase, ‘Kill or be killed,’ doesn’t really apply to this series,” says Hollman. “If that were the case I’d last for ten seasons. Like all characters worth investing in, Saxa grows from a thieving slave to a lioness worthy of her hefty paws. How she gets there is the intriguing part. If by chance Saxa doesn’t meet a gruesome fate, I would love to see her hone more of her feminine side and, of course, master her reverse grip double dagger skills even more than she already has.”
Please note, all Spartacus: Vengeance photos courtesy/copyright of STARZ Entertainment, and all Ellen Hollman photos by/courtesy of Joe DeAngelis.