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By most people’s standards, Ella Balinska has had a very strange few years. While the past 24 months have been unusual for everyone, Balinska’s life has transformed entirely.
In November 2019, she went from being a relatively unknown actress who supplemented her income with a sales assistant job at Selfridges to becoming a bonafide Hollywood star and Cartier ambassador, after making her film debut in the Charlie’s Angels reboot alongside Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott. As her career started taking off, the pandemic arrived. In March 2020, she left her home in London to fly to LA for what she thought would be a week. The first lockdown was announced soon after and she found herself grounded in LA for months, forcing her to create a new social circle in, it’s fair to say, challenging circumstances.
That summer, her role in Netflix’s Resident Evil took her to South Africa for six months, where she filmed a TV series about a pandemic in the midst of a pandemic. Travel restrictions prevented family and friends from visiting, so she created another family in the form of the cast and crew. A year and a half after waving goodbye to her mother (the model and chef Loraine Pascale), she returned to her family in London.
“That initial hug felt so special,” she tells us. “Over the last few years, I’ve centred in on myself and realised what matters to me, what things make me happy and who I’m with when I do those things. During that period of time when I was away from my biological family, I found my chosen family – a group of friends who I can call on for anything and we can share anything with each other. It almost made LA feel like home.”
Balinska has been on both a professional and personal journey of late. The murder of George Floyd and the consequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement prompted her to reflect on her own heritage as a bi-racial British woman. When the racism uprising was at its loudest, she was surrounded by strong, powerful and positive Black voices who encouraged her to delve deeper into she was. “It was life-changing for me,” she explains. “I started to learn about my history and my family – I did the DNA test 23andMe. It sounds like nothing, but it’s about knowing who you are. I asked my parents questions, and equally I educated myself on my own half-white privilege and where that starts coming in.”
In a bid to create a tangible, positive change, Balinska established a scholarship at the Guilford School of Acting, where she herself trained, offering to pay the fees for a first-year student from the Global Majority – a term used to describe anyone from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background. “It felt like my way to contribute and a way of helping other people reach the realisation that I had last year,” she says.
Balinska grew up in Battersea, London, and was raised by her mother, Lorraine Pascale, and her father, the Polish aristocrat Kaz Balinski-Jundzill. The couple separated in 2000, but as a family they remain close. She loved sports, and served as an athlete who threw javelin for Team London, before deciding on acting. During her time at drama school, she took part in a stage combat unit and found that her love of acting and sports could work in tandem. “I just fell in love with [stage combat]; something just clicked,” she says. "I became obsessed with it. If you become obsessed by something, you should remember it and take stock, because that’s passion.”
Physically demanding roles have since become her niche, and her combined talents are clear in Charlie’s Angels and her subsequent film, Run Sweetheart Run. “I’ve just been riding the wave of playing very physical characters, not only because I can do it, but also because I connect with them,” she says. “It’s fun to know that you have something that you can do well.”
Her previous movies have also led to lasting friendships with former co-stars Naomi Scott and Kristen Stewart, the latter of which invited her to the premiere of her new film, Spencer. "Sadly, I was out the country, but we’re all still homies," she says. "It’s a special friendship and a good one to have in this crazy industry we’ve all found ourselves in."
For now, she’s busy promoting her new campaign for Cartier – a jewellery brand she’s loved for years. Her parents gave her a Love bangle for her 20th birthday, which she treasures because “it symbolises my little family – two halves, my mum and dad, coming together.” The new advert, which is as joyful as it is star-filled (Monica Bellucci, Lily Collins and Willow Smith also feature) focuses on the message, ‘Love is all’. “It’s a reminder of what truly matters,” says Balinska. “The reason the world goes round is love and the care we have for each other. It’s a celebration of diversity and a reminder that everyone is doing great.”
Next on the agenda is her most physically and mentally gruelling job yet – the lead role in high-concept sci-fi film, The Occupant, an extended version of Hugo Keijzer’s short of the same name. It is also the first time she’ll be working as a producer – and she’s excited about the idea of having more creative input. The project, which is set in icy Russia, requires Balinska to be trained in snow and ice survival. “I’ll need to know how to handle it if I come across melting ice, for example,” she says. “I’ll add Bear Grylls to my CV.”
The last few years might have been full of extreme change for Balinska, but they have also led to self-discovery. “Pre-pandemic I was a little confused as a person. As a young female individual of a mixed background, it’s tricky to know where you fit,” she says. “This past year or so has helped me figure that out.”
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