Ell Balinska doesn’t care much for method acting. When you play a character who spends the entirety of a movie running from a deranged killer who can smell your blood, that seems like a pretty healthy attitude. The 26-year-old Brit, whose mother is the former top model and Food Network host Lorraine Pascale, knows a thing or two about protecting yourself in the midst of a grueling career. Though she is covered in blood in almost every scene of chilling new movie “Run Sweetheart Run,” she learned very quickly not to take work home with her.
“It’s an artist’s temptation to want to suffer and really feel the character. There’s a tricky balance there if you do that because while these themes are very real, the story is not,” the “Charlie’s Angels” star said during a recent interview. “For two weeks after I finished shooting, I found myself having nightmares and waking up in sweats. Because for the amount of time I shot the movie, my body was in a state of fight or flight. I wasn’t used to spending hours a day hyperventilating on set. You’d think with the word ‘run’ being in the title twice, I would’ve expected that. But that definitely came as a shock to my body.”
Directed by Shana Feste from a script by Feste, Keith Josef Adkins, and Kellee Terrell, “Run Sweetheart Run” takes the idea of a nightmare first date to feminist horror extremes. Balinska plays Cherie, an ambitious young go-getter sent on a nighttime meeting with a high-profile client, Ethan (“Game of Thrones” star Dane Pilou Asbæk).
Charmed by the unexpectedly handsome dinner companion, she agrees to go home with him after initial hesitation. As the camera lingers on the front door of his mansion, keeping the audience at bay, Cherie soon bursts out of the house screaming and crying and covered in blood. The rest of the film is a high-octane race for survival, as Cherie finds herself the unwitting prey in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. Though she had to be in a perpetual state of anxiety while shooting, Balinska was delighted to learn that it’s “all smoke and mirrors.”
Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
“Being on set, it’s just hilarious. The juxtaposition between the light mood and how positive and lovely everyone is on set. And the second the cameras roll, suddenly it’s a really intense, aggressive thing, which I always thought was really funny,” she said. “But personally, it’s not like I’m playing a character skipping down the street after their day at work. Carrying the emotions of the character throughout the filming process is a heavy requirement and definitely one that I now have perspective and experience on how to handle.”
While Cherie is the blushing flower who must learn to defend herself, Ethan is a ferocious predator with otherworldly strength and hunting instincts. Physically, he can turn on a dime from smooth talker to barking tyrant, and he exhibits canine qualities like a superhuman sense of smell. Balinska describes Asbæk as “courteous and considerate and funny,” but his wildly unhinged performance certainly kept her on her toes.
“He possesses the superpower of spontaneity,” she said. “There was obviously a general outline of how we were doing the scene, but in terms of moment by moment what was going on, I think he was definitely green-lit to really go for it on the scare factor, to be honest. So there were moments where, especially in the jail cell scene, I did not know what was coming take by take. What you see is a genuine reaction from both my character and myself.”
Though it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, “Run Sweetheart Run” is only being released now, just in time for Halloween. In that time, Balinska doubled down on horror when she took on a leading role in Netflix’s “Resident Evil” series, which premiered this summer and was canceled after just one season.
“I used to watch horror when I was sick in bed, because when you’re feeling really unwell — it’s weird, but I want to watch other people who are probably going through stuff worse than me,” she said. “My mom will tell the story about how one day she’d come into my room, and I was just happily eating cereal watching ‘Saw.’ …I’ve definitely had an eye for horror movies, and then being in one was definitely an experience too.”
With the horror boom in full swing, Balinska has chosen a winning genre. Not only as an actress but as a fan as well.
“I love a good slow burn,” she said of her favorite horror movies. “I love ‘The Shining.’ I just watched ‘1922.’ I love a lot of the modern horror that’s coming out right now, such as ‘His House,’ which was a really interesting film. I will be forever spooked by ‘Paranormal Activity.’ There’s something about it being in your house, I don’t know. And also, I loved ‘The Conjuring.’ I hated ‘The Conjuring,’ but I loved ‘The Conjuring.’”
“Run Sweetheart Run” debuts on Prime Video on October 28.