A friend of Ella Balinska, the star of Charlie’s Angels and Resident Evil, gave her the ultimate Christmas gift: a tricked out suitcase for her PlayStation with a screen inside so she can play on the go. “Game. Changer,” Balinska says, “especially for me. Before, I was carrying my PlayStation 4 in my hand luggage and you can only imagine the nightmare that it was going through security.”
The 26-year-old Londoner isn’t just a gamer. She finds games help her decompress while on the job. She tells EW this while in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, a day before the video game that she now stars in, Forspoken, comes out.
“The projects that I’ve done thus far [are] very action-adventure, intense, protagonist-oriented. For some reason I’m just very much drawn to those characters of recent,” Balinska explains. “It’s hard to just be there in that heightened state and then immediately shut off. Really tricky. So [with] video games, it’s like, physically I’m not really doing anything, but at least my brain’s still active a little bit as I wind down, and eventually it calms me. So I would say, yeah, it’s part of the process.”
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images; Square Enix ‘Resident Evil’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’ star Ella Balinska now headlines the ‘Forspoken’ video game.
Lately, Balinska plays Call of Duty to stay connected with her friends remotely. She also enjoys therapeutic indie releases, like Dyson Sphere Program and Baba Is You. (“I love to hate that game, but I also hate to love it,” Balinska says of the latter.) The game that she’d play to win a bet would be Super Smash Bros. or any of the Tekken titles. It’s fair to say she’s played a lot, so when she had the opportunity to act in a game, she wasn’t going to say no.
“It was a massive career achievement for me,” she says of bringing to life Frey Holland, the central figure of Forspoken who has her own Alice in Wonderland journey (a story that’s referenced in the game) from New York City to the fantastical land of Athia.
It’s been a long process for the actor. Balinska started filming the motion-capture performance for Forspoken even before filming began on Resident Evil, the Netflix series in which she played the lead, Jade Wesker. Addressing the show’s cancellation by the streamer after just one season, Balinska says, “I’m super proud of the series that we made. I think it’s an amazing story in itself as a standalone series. Sort of framing it in my mind as a limited series is quite nice for me.”
Her showrunner, Andrew Dabb, had clued her in as to where the show would’ve gone had they continued. “It was interesting and exciting, but I guess there are so many stories that remain untold. So this unfortunately was one of them,” she remarks.
Netflix Ella Balinska’s Jade Wesker wields a chainsaw in Netflix’s ‘Resident Evil.’
It’s not lost on Balinska that she’s coming off of a video game series adaptation to debut her role in a video game. As Frey, she can cast an array of spells, with the help of a sentient cuff attached to her arm. (She aptly calls him “Cuff.”) That includes parkour magic, which is how Freya traverses the treacherous environments of Athia.
That’s not to say Balinska herself was parkouring in her motion-capture suit. Though she says the crew did record her walking, falling, jumping, running, and talking. “Even the way my hands are positioned now,” she mentions through a Zoom screen, “they have a position like that in the game.”
The concept sounds a bit generic on paper: a down-on-their-luck reluctant hero tumbles through a portal into a magical world where she gains powers and becomes the savior its people needs. But Balinska was sold on the character.
“She’s very bold, she’s unapologetic. She’s not like characters that we normally see,” Balinska says. “She’s just so ‘out there’ in terms of her reactions to everything. I was so fascinated to know what it would be like to have this super explicit character who has so much emotional trauma in life thrown into this situation where she’s having to almost discover herself as the game goes on.”
The actress, who has described herself as British, Polish, and Caribbean, was also aware of the representation her own likeness would bring to the game as a woman of color.
“The representation is awesome for young gamers, or of any age, who might not be used to that,” she adds. “For it to be there is a huge step in gaming, I think.”
It all feels like a full circle moment to Balinska. Her introduction to games came as a kid accompanying her mom to hair appointments in London. “I used to go downstairs to play video games with [the stylist’s] son. That was the first time I really started to get into it,” Balinska says. “Now, I’m so proud to think that he’s gonna be downloading and playing the game as me.”
Forspoken is out now on PC and PlayStation 5.