Hot on the heels of news that The Matrix 4 wrapped in late November, it’s newest main star, Ellen Hoffman, readied her latest film for release – Army Of One, the story of a powerful soldier who seeks revenge against members of a brutal drug cartel who killed her husband and left her for dead.
As exciting as Army of One is as both a film and as a production for Hoffman, she really can’t wait until she can actually chat about The Matrix 4 – a career changing opportunity to become a member of one of the biggest franchises in movie history.
We spoke with Hoffman about the new film and her experience filming The Matrix 4.
How’s the pandemic been treating you?
You know what? It’s had its many layers. I remember in the beginning, my siblings came and stayed with me because they of course, lost their jobs, as millions of people have. My brother’s a ship captain and his fiancé is a first mate, so their ship got docked and they literally had nowhere to live. So I’m like, “Get your butts over here before everything shuts down.” I had them here for months on end because nobody knew what the repercussions of it meant, because there’s literally been no precedent since what, 1918, as to what you do with the plague. We’ve had some good family time, until I put them all to work, to do a crap ton of stuff around the house.
Oh, that’s good. Did you become a baker?
You know what? I’m not a baker, I love savory. I love meat dishes and salty things and baking just never really did it for me. My husband, on the other hand, if you put anything chocolate or fluffy in front of him, he will devour it. So I think it’s probably a good thing that I’m not a baker, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to get into his pants and the quarantine regime is already something we all have to watch out for. Yeah, how about you? How’s your pandemic been treating you?
It’s not bad. I‘ve been baking more than what I used to do. For some reason everyone goes to the bread, right?
A lot of people did that. It’s so weird, because everyone was like, “Oh, there’s going to be a food shortage, so I should learn how to make my own bread.” I’m like, “What? There’s just no nutritional value in that whatsoever.” It didn’t really makes sense to me.
I did learn how to make ricotta cheese.
Oh, that’s lovely. My brother’s fiancé got me a cheese making kit and I have yet to delve into the world of cheese-making, but it’s there for when I choose to learn how to do it.
It’s fun, and I love making it homemade. It tastes so different than the store, it’s really good.
Right. Yeah, I know. Oh my gosh. I can imagine. I can imagine.
You have a new movie, Army of One. Tell me about the film?
So it’s basically what you get, it’s Rambo and Deliverance with the female lead. That’s what I keep telling everyone, kind of tongue in cheek and no, it’s not an 80s throwback. I’m just being ridiculous, but no, it’s a female led action drama, and now we’re seeing more and more of those, thank goodness. I think it may not be the movie that everyone needs, but it’s the movie we deserve right now.
You’re one of the writers on the film, so I was wondering, what did you contribute to the story?
I came on board late in the game. Once I was cast and read the script, I asked if I could contribute, add an additional female perspective to things. Fortunately, Stephen Durham had no ego about it, and he allowed me to essentially rewrite much of my dialogue, and then develop the story in more powerful directions. Shed more light on the human trafficking aspect of things. Talk about a pandemic in its own right, this is something that is happening right now.
I told them it’s something that deserves to have light shed on it and as interesting as action drama is, I think basing it in reality will make people take it more seriously and also infusing humor. I really think humor is important to add levity to content. So I was able to have some input there, and then my husband and I completely redesigned the action aspect of the film, even from a directorial standpoint. So, we had a big impact in that category as well.
It sounds like you being the producer, the writer, the star of the film, you must really love the story and the final product?
Yes. Fortunately, I was able to spend an additional 130 hours in post-production and have a massive say in the score, so I was able to really bring my vision to light. Like I said, despite coming in late in the game, everyone worked their asses off for this. We didn’t have a massive budget. We had a limited amount of time and resources, and we did the absolute best we possibly could with what we had. I think it’s an entertaining result, and just given how everything is going in the world right now, it gives you an hour, 40 minutes to not think about how stressful things are in your life, and able to be swept away in this bizarre world that we created for you.
You play Brenner who becomes one powerful woman, as the film progresses, and it’s nice to see powerful women as leads in movies. Is that one thing that drew you to that role?
Yes. I was involved in a series called Spartacus, my gosh, nearly nine years ago. Ever since that, I find myself being cast in these strong female roles, whether it’s as the villain or the heroine, and action is one of my favorite genres. It always has been, and I’ve fortunately been able to do a lot of my own choreography and stunt work. Given my relationship with the stunt community, including my husband, who’s part of 87eleven Action Design team, the same guys who did Deadpool, John Wick, Atomic Blondes, etcetera. So I’ve been able to be part of their world, and train alongside them for years now. So it’s taking that knowledge and bringing it to the big screen myself.
You mentioned Spartacus, Saxa, she’s a bit of a pop culture curiosity. People love her. What makes Saxa so iconic?
She’s a woman who doesn’t apologize for her weaknesses or her strengths. She just is and you can take it or leave it. She’s also based in history, female, German warriors actually existed back in those times. It was such an incredible honor to bring that clan to life and see how she grew from a slave, from a rebel, into a warrior part of the rebel forces against the Roman army. She was willing to sacrifice her life for the betterment of her people.
Do you see yourself in Brenner or Saxa?
Oh my gosh, absolutely. I definitely have fire running through my veins. I don’t know where it comes from, but ever since I was a little girl, I would be the first to run out the door, barefoot, climb trees. I loved wrestling with the boys on the playground. I wasn’t a play with Barbie dolls, wear tutus, kind of girl.
With strong roles like that, you’re certainly a role model for young women. Is that an aspect of who you are or strive to be?
Yes, absolutely. I was raised by an extremely strong, single mother who worked 60 hours a week, and raised four children, without a nanny, without additional help. Growing up in that type of scenario, you don’t. Oh, sorry. My cat is crying right now.
Did you hear that? Here I am going on and on about, let me tell you about my life and my cat’s crying. We have a lot of work being done in the house right now, so I have her in the office with me. She’s like, I want to go on play outside. Can we get on? I’m like, “No, you are not going to be part of the HVAC system. Not today, young lady.”
I have a bunch of Zoom interviews today, so I can only imagine that she’s going to be an epic part of it.
Like I was saying, the strong female influence growing up, certainly impacted the trajectory of my career. Growing up with Xena Warrior Princess and Tomb Raider, those kind of strong female heroines in the cinematic world. I always wanted to be like them, and being the oldest of four, I always had a protective instinct in me and I always wanted to bring that to the screen as well.
You guest starred in a lot of my favorite shows in the past, like NCIS, Lethal Weapon, CSI, Medium, Criminal Minds. Is there a personal favorite of the guests appearances that you’ve done?
Well, one of the more recent ones was NCIS. It was such a pleasant experience working with all of those veterans. My gosh, it’s one of, if not the most successful series in history, just with the collective following it has. I think it has something like 22 million viewers. It’s incredible how long they’ve managed to captivate audiences, week after week.
Honestly, it was only supposed to be a couple episode run, and they were really happy with what was brought to the table, and they allowed me to actually create my own choreography and they’re like, “We need to keep this girl around.” So they ended up making me the main villain, into more than one season. It was unexpected, but just goes to show you, if you just put your head down and work your tail off, you can see the results of your actions, literally and figuratively.
I always said that if I was going to be a guest on CSI, I always wanted to be a corpse. I don’t know why, I just did.
Oh trust me, no, you don’t. It’s terrible. It’s so terrible. Oh my gosh. It’s so terrible, being a corpse. Especially on the table, when they’re dissecting you, because the table is a flat metal surface, and keep in mind what you see on screen may only last three minutes, but that may have taken eight hours to shoot. So you’re lying there, stiff as a board. You can’t breathe while the camera’s on you, and you’re lying on a sheet of metal hour after hour, after hour, doing nothing. Believe it or not, doing nothing is really hard, especially when you like to run around and be physical, like I do. Being still is actually an extremely difficult thing to do.
Have you had a chance to live one of your fun goals, through any of the roles that you’ve played?
Oh my gosh, yes. As of recently, in fact, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to top this. I was able to be part of The Matrix franchise. In fact, we just wrapped in Berlin, and not only was I able to be part of the franchise, I got to share the screen with my husband. I got to share the experience with my husband, Stephen Dunlevy, who was not only in a cast role, but he’s also part of the stunt team, and rigging coordinator. So, that was something that was, out of the two decades of my career, probably one of the top three moments. I don’t know how I’m going to actually surpass that. Maybe by asking that question, the universe will throw something my way, but Oh my gosh, it was incredible.
How did you get to be part of The Matrix family with Matrix 4?
Coincidentally, I have been training with my husband’s stunt team for six years or so. My background is Jiu-Jitsu and I’ve learned a lot of the action choreography, through Chad Stahelski and the 87eleven Action Design team, and I just became addicted to it. Just what they’ve managed to do on screen, because of that, I was in there all the time. I would train for my own films and television shows, with the incredible stunt team, and because I was in there all the time, the stunt coordinator, Scott Rogers put me up for a role.
My husband, who is part of the rigging team, part of the stunt team also of course, put in a good word. He better, otherwise he’s sleeping on the couch, but I actually ended up having a meeting with Lana Wachowski. I thought I was going to have to audition and I was prepared to do whatever I had to do, but Lana Wachowski just wanted to meet me. What I thought was just going to be a handshake, turned into an hour, deep and meaningful conversation. At the end of it, she gave me a hug and said, “Welcome to the family.” It was quite surreal. The next thing I know, I’m in San Francisco and then in Berlin.
I know you probably can’t talk about the movie itself, but can you talk about your character at all?
I cannot talk about or reveal anything. As part of The Matrix Universe, they like to keep everything tight lipped. So unfortunately, I’m not able to mention any details. It’s amazing, because things can kind of slip and then, all of a sudden, there’s a snowball effect, and then people start making assumptions and I’m like, “Oh God, I don’t want to get in trouble.” I don’t want to get in trouble.
I bet you can’t wait to see it on screen?
Just from what I’ve been able to see in playback, and what we managed to do, practically on rooftops in San Francisco, these are things that are public. People have managed to take photos. Like Passerby’s have managed to take photos of some of the things that we did, but Lana likes to shoot things practically.
So if that means flying helicopters through the streets of San Francisco, and jumping off buildings, then, well, guess what you’re doing? You’re doing just that. I will say it’s a highly physical role, probably one of the most challenging of my entire career, which makes it that much more fulfilling.
I wanted to ask, where did you meet Stephen (Dunlevy)?
We met on the set of Spartacus.
Yeah, he was on the stunt team. He played the role of the Egyptian.
Did sparks fly from that point on?
You know, they actually didn’t. I was friends with all the stunt guys. We were all very close and same with the cast. In fact, we’re all still close with one another. I just congratulated Simon Merrells and Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who are our dear friends. They just both starred in Lord of the Rings. So we are beyond elated for them, and we’re still near and dear to Liam McIntyre, Anna Hutchison , Todd Lasance and Christian Antidormi. We’re such a close knit family, and Stephen became part of that close-knit family. It wasn’t until he was in Los Angeles, that all of a sudden, you look at someone in a different light. You think, “Oh wait, you’re not actually a six foot four, bald guy with a mullet, who’s trying to kill us. You’re actually a really nice Australian guy. Okay.” He looks much different with hair, I’ll tell you that much.
What’s up for you in 2021?
More producing, writing, creating, and development. I want to get more in the leadership aspect of things. Obviously, still keeping up the skillset for whatever job may come next, but to see a project stem from an idea, into a full fledged product on screen, is more the trajectory of where I’m moving now. More than ever, women have incredible opportunities to have a seat at the table, and I plan on being at the head of it.