Interviews - Ellis Wells

Ellis Wells
Role: Lucilius

Firstly, hello Ellis.  Thank-you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to yourself today; it's not weird at all.  The first question is simple: what is the best Shakespeare performance you've seen?

Sir Mark Rylance as Olivia in "Twelfth Night."  100%  It was HILARIOUS!  He floated.  FLOATED! in that dress.  On blades?  Or a skateboard?  I have no idea how he did it, but it was genius.  The little nuggets he added; his ridiculous haughty pauses, the 'non-verbal' cries he made to express moments.  And there's this one bit he was trying to seduce Sebastian and kept trying to flick off his slipper like a lady, so Sebastian would have to retrieve it like a gallant knight, but it was all done with so, SO LITTLE grace... I laughed harder at his performance in Shakespeare than any other.  That said: special shout out to Roger Allam as Falstaff in "Henry IV" at the Globe.  He was perfection, the "older man's Hamlet" (as they say) and with a look, a simple look at the audience he made us smile.  I don't think I'll ever see a better Falstaff; he won the Olivier for a reason.

I feel... a little odd asking this (even if it's simple arithmetic, it still seems d*ckish): You're one of the most prolific cast members in terms of experience in Shakespeare; of the roles you've done which one would have like to do again?

The answer is simple: Puck.  I Hated my Puck. And this is d*ckish point number two: yes, I was nominated for a Midwestern university theatre award for it, because everyone else loved my Puck, but I didn't.  I had wanted to be Puck so bad, he was always my favourite in every "A Midsummer Night's Dream" I saw.  I remember this gorgeous production back in 2002 (I think it was by Propeller Theatre, but I could be wrong).  It was an all male cast, in the round, and Puck had bleach blonde hair and wore a pink tutu (because he was an 'extra special' kind of fairy). He was sexy and funny and playful and... my naive, inexperienced self tried to make my Puck that joyous, cheeky imp I remembered so fondly.  And that's, ultimately, not me.  I actually... ha, actually I only THIS YEAR worked out that was why I didn't like it.  It wasn't my Puck, it was an imitation of all the Pucks I've seen, rather than my true take on Puck.  If I played Puck again... he'd be a dark, nasty, Cruel d*ck. He'd be mean and Evil and I'd love it!  “That” is my true Puck.  That's where I went wrong.  So let that be a lesson to you kids out there: always be true to you when performing.

Did you have any experience with "Timon of Athens" before this project?

I did, actually.  I saw a production of it by the National starring Simon Russell Beale (in the title role).  He was wonderful, of course; and the scenes between him and Apemantus were excellent. They took on a tenderness in the second half, Apemantus was still 'poking the bear' BUT he had a great amount of pity for Timon; their relationship stuck with me very clearly.  The show itself... well... the production had modernised it, I remember the 'false friends' (as we call them) were clearly based on Thatcher, Cameron (and I assume Major?), I remember a Really Bad line delivery by one of the messengers (beyond wooden); but mostly I left feeling the second half (minus the gorgeous scenes between Timon and Apemantus) fell flat.  The story felt, odd. I didn't buy finding the gold, it was too convenient, too "deus ex machina" (while ironically not actually solving anything). So I was thrilled to learn that our production is focusing on how Timon's plight effects the city, and ignoring Shakespeare's strange 'magic pot of gold' plotting.

The role of ritual is key in this film, how do you feel your character is part of/or away from such ceremonies?

My character has a very interesting relationship with ritual.  As a servant his role in ritual is mostly supporting the 'actual' ritual the nobles are participating in (and for Lucilius, most that means pouring more wine, frequently and with aplomb).  At the start of the film he's learning these important rituals from Flavius, in theory one day he will 'become' head servant to a noble house, and need to know how to support these rituals, making sure everything is ready when needed, every servant is in the right place, etc.  And Lucilius sees the rituals for what they are, or at-least what he THINKS they are and he admires Timon for always being in control of them, for 'playing the game' perfectly.  But, as the film progresses he watches ritual crush Timon. And everything he thought he knew... starts to crumble.  Despite not being "part" of ritual, the consequences of ritual very much destroys him. Or does it? Ohhhhhh...

One key pillar of "Timon of Athens" is the political world.  Can you compare your character to a modern day politician?

Well I'm a servant. A doomed servant, even; so I think I would compare my role to that of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Theresa's May's two campaign advisors who had to 'fall on their swords' (so to speak) after the last General Election. They were loyal, and believed in their boss, but couldn't save her from herself. Doomed servants to their (ultimately doomed) master. Apt.

Have you worked with CGI before?

You know, I have.  It's a great story.  As I child I didn't want to be an actor, I wanted to be a wizard.  Very much so; and as I grew up and (sadly) learnt there's no such thing as magic, I decided the only way I can be a wizard is to act as one on film. So that was my life goal, and last year I got to do just that.  I played Fable (the wizard from the video game series of the same name), for an on-line web-series.  I got to throw fire balls, take down a troop of soldiers with lighting, cast aside the main villain with a hurricane and use super speed. It-Was-AWESOME! And I was brilliant in it.  Oscar, Oscar, Oscar.  HA!

Have you ever filmed abroad before?

Again, not to brag... but I have.  I filmed several short films and a web-series when I lived in New York.  Actually thinking about it, and linking to the last question, the web-series was a "Blake 7"/sci-fi inspired mystery, and had CGI as well (though I never got to fire a laser gun in it -- and therefore "work" with CGI -- merely be near those who were). The Machiavellian I played needed no gun, mwwwhahaha! Most recently I was filming a short in Saint-Tropez, France.  It was very cool because it was done on actual film film, old school film.  You heard the 'tck-er tck-er tck-er' of the camera during rolling, and we had to rehearse the scenes before hand, rather than just 'go for a take' (actual film is EXPENSIVE). So we did very few takes, because the number of reels we had was limited.

How has the process been for you, thus far?

It's horrible, just horrible; everyone's horrible! No, it's been wonderful.  I have quite a... unique experience, because I'm doing these interviews and the blog, I have been "involved" in the process a lot more than the rest of the cast (by and large), and I've had the chance to connect with the rest of the cast and crew too. Even simple things like working on their bios, writing their interviews (stalking their acting pages for inspiration for the interview questions); I feel I've got to know them, all of them, quite intimately. And I'm very lucky to have had that opportunity, because they're lovely.  Except Sarah.  Ugh, she's awful.

What do you expect from a Director?  

A good working relationship is vital between any actor and their director, because that's when the magic happens.  Dame Judi Dench's Lady Macbeth was voted the second best Shakespeare performance of the 20th Century by a poll of all RSC actors, but Absolutely the fact it was Trevor Nunn directing was part of that.  It wasn't all her own work, magnificent though she was, it was their symbiotic relationship together that bred that genius. And so it should be with all acting/directing collaborations.  In my mind, in an ideal scenario: it's my job to come to rehearsal overflowing with ideas, and giving everything I have worked on for the character... and then the director (ideally) will not 'change' what I brought, but elevate the ideas (sift out the ones that don't work) but overall go with what I created initially.  In theory if you're cast, you're cast for a reason, and they want you to bring that special sparkle they saw in the audition.  But you are just one person, a director who goes with what you created, is a second mind, a better mind, another perspective to say "what about adding [BLANK] to compliment what you're already doing, to really go with the idea".  I can only take my role so far, it's a director's greatness than pushes it into a new realm, that's even better than anything I could create alone.

Lastly, what will happen to your character AFTER?  Do you feel there is hope for your character by the end of the film?

When it comes to Lucilius... spoilers, sweetie.  ;)