Ellen Hollman says she began beating up boys on the playground as a child and never stopped. The stunning blonde, who starred as Saxa in two seasons of the Starz hit show Spartacus, proudly stated to MMAmania.com that she will "never get cast as the girl next door."
"If I keep my mouth shut and I just blankly stare I'm sure people can buy it for a second, but it's just too much tenacity that comes through I suppose," she said.
In her latest role, Hollman, 31, stars as Valina, in Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power. Released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment earlier this year, the movie is littered with MMA stars past and present and also a former WWE Divas champion.
"We had some MMA legends in the film, including: Royce Gracie, Antonio Silva, Roy 'Big Country' Nelson, and Don 'The Dragon' Wilson," she said. "My personal favorite -- and I'm a little biased -- is Eve Torres, the former WWE champion. We have an incredible fight. It is one of the best female fights ever. I can actually make that bold statement."
The Detroit, Michigan native has never shied away from action or putting her body at risk for the adulation of film and TV viewers. She doesn't possess a traditional martial arts background, but she does train with Toby Tigerheart in Los Angeles at True Warrior Fitness, which is known as a mixed martial arts (MMA) gym.
"It's not like I spent years doing Aikido or Karate," said Hollman. "My dad is a brown belt. I've always just picked up things very quickly and I don't have that fear part in my brain. I don't have the fear factor in my brain so if someone shows me a flying armbar I don't think, 'oh my God, I can totally hurt myself or smash myself.' I think 'holy shit this is rad, I can't wait to try it.' It's that ballsiness and I work hard as well."
Having the background in action from Spartacus, and filming sequences wielding reverse-double daggers -- which were her weapon of choice -- she took a peek at the fight scene and pleaded with the studio that she did not need a stunt double and they should "utilize" her for the fights in the movie.
Torres, who introduced her to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is now a good friend, shared the same sentiments and joined her in convincing the studio they had the skills and talent to do the fight scene sans doubles.
"To prove it to the studio because they were initially only going to give us a half a day and the doubles two days, we pitched and put together a whole video of the three-minute fight, which as you know in MMA, three minutes is a lifetime," said Hollman. "It's an absolute lifetime. Intense three-minute rounds with reverse power bombs and flying armbars."
After seeing their video, the powers that be agreed. Hollman and Torres worked on the choreography for a few hours on a Sunday -- which was their only day off during the six-day weeks of shooting on location in Romania -- before shooting it the very next day.
"There was no doubles for the fight. It was all us," Hollman said. "They had them there as back up, but we did the fights much better than the doubles, to be honest with you. Eve came so prepared, so ready and I was blown away by her performance, as well. And it is a lot of trust.
"You have to trust the other person. If they are not carrying the weight, literally, especially when you are five and half feet in the air you can land on your neck and you can seriously hurt yourself. Eve was there for me 100 percent and I train Jiu-Jitsu with her now at the Gracie Academy."
Holman gave a little insight on her "newfound love."
"It's a mental chess game just as much as it is physical," she said. "My sensei, Ryron Gracie, is just such an incredible teacher. He's patient. He's kind. They always say 'keep it light. Keep it fun.' Because some people, if you tense up and you take it too seriously, that's where the injuries can start. Don't be afraid to tap out if you feel the armbar cranking. You can't have an ego in it."
Her bravery was already innate, while her confidence grew leaps and bounds from her experience on the set of Spartacus, which she described as 16-hour days where "your alarm would go off at three in the morning and you would just say ‘what sort of chaos am I going to be involved with today.' Hollman was brought on as the first-ever female gladiator of the show and she said from day one there were no questions from the producers, they fully believed her as a warrior.
"A lot of times with the battle scenes it wasn't if you are going to get hurt, it was when are you going to get hurt and just not to be afraid," Hollman recalled. "If you take a look at the other fighters, I guess an average person would've been intimidated, but I looked at it as an exciting opportunity. I was thrilled to just get dirty and to learn what I had to be to be just as believable as the men."
In her role as Saxa, Hollman shared the screen with the charismatic Dustin Claire, who played Gannicus, one of the baddest gladiators on the show, and her love interest. And as Valina in Scorpion King 4, she worked alongside Victor Webster, who plays the leading man, Mathayus.
"The amazing similarity between Dustin Claire and Victor Webster is I swear they are both the class clowns and they are not worried about sharing the spotlight," she said. "They are so radiant themselves that they are not worried about someone absorbing their light, which is extremely rare for a gorgeous, talented, athletic, male actor to share his ego on screen and they both did that and they are still friends till this day."
Hollman says she has "fully embraced" her career as an actress and is proud that she can play empowering roles like Saxa and Valina. In addition to her acting chops and desire to risk life and limb for the sake of a killer fight sequence, Hollman has a degree in business and marketing and also minored in German.
She wanted to lend a hand to those in need, and started an organization called Visual Impact Now, a clinic that provides visual needs and eye glasses to the L.A. youth. The first fundraising event held for the clinic was hosted by Zoe Saldana, January Jones, and Chris Pine, among others. It caught a ton of attention and has since become very successful.
"It's helped thousands of kids," said Hollman, her smile easily recognized by her tone of voice. "I can light the match but it's up to everyone else to keep the fire going."
The successful actress has experienced the highs of TV and movies. And although she is out in L.A., she remains grounded in her roots, saying she will always have a "loyalty" to where she came from, which is responsible for who she is and the character she has.
"The people there are great," she says, reflecting on "The Motor City."
"The good ol' Midwest sense of humor, just a down to earthiness, which I feel has enabled me to survive in this industry for 12 years and still have my feet on the ground and not have my head up my ass.