by Liza Roberts
Two years ago, when Raleighite and aspiring actor Ella Jones was 8, she got an email that fulfilled a dream: She’d been cast in a Hollywood movie starring Kate Beckinsale. That movie, The Disappointments Room, a psychological thriller, was filmed in Greensboro and released Sept. 9. In it, Ella plays a ghost. We caught up with Ella, who is now a fifth grader at Root Elementary, to hear all about it.
How and when did you get involved in acting?
When I was 7, I saw the play Mary Poppins with my mom and grandmother and told my mom the next day I wanted to do theater. A good friend recommended we reach out to Terri Dollar with Kids Unlimited (a talent agency). From that point on, KU began submitting me for all kinds of commercial, TV, and film work.
Do you have a local acting teacher or mentor?
The tapers we use to submit my auditions are professional actors, so every time they tape me for a role, it’s kind of like a mini lesson. I work with Estes Tarver and Oliver Riera at Moonlight Stage Company and would consider them my acting coaches.
What did your audition for The Disappointments Room involve?
My family was actually at the beach for a month when the request came through. My mom thought it was a long shot and didn’t really want to drive me all the way back to Raleigh to be taped, so Terri allowed her to tape me from her iPhone. I received a call-back, and they asked me to come to Greensboro to meet with the director, D.J. Caruso. My mom did agree to leave the beach and take me. I wasn’t really nervous because I had been to a couple other callbacks. I was there with three other girls hoping to get the part. I felt really good about it when I left, and told my mom that, but she said what she always says: “Well, if it’s meant to be, it will work out.”
Where and when was it filmed?
The movie was filmed at the Adamsleigh Estate in Greensboro. I began shooting at the beginning of September and finished about mid-October 2014. I went back in May 2015 for a week of re-shoots.
What was it like to be on set?
When I arrived, they gave me a trailer and introduced me to the studio teacher. I spent a lot of time with her because SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) requires kids to do a certain amount of school every day. She was also there for me when I needed something on set and just to monitor how long I worked each day. They keep a record of everything. We ate meals with the cast and crew daily and I became super close with my hair and makeup team. I really miss them!
Was it intimidating to act alongside famous actors like Kate Beckinsale?
No, Kate was so nice and beautiful! She has a daughter, so she understands young girls. We had several scenes together, so we got to laugh and hang out. She was very protective because some of our scenes were scary and she would always make sure I was OK after we cut.
What was the most unexpected part of filming a movie?
Probably all of the waiting around. There is a lot of down time.
The most memorable part?
Filming the German Shepherd scene. My dad in the movie, Judge Blacker, had a dog named Angus. He was huge, scary, and barked very loud. Kate and I had to sit against a wall as the dog barked and charged us and I couldn’t move. The dog trainer was there so we wouldn’t get hurt, but it was super scary!
The most fun?
Aside from filming my scenes, I loved going to craft services to get a treat and hanging out with Duncan Joiner. He played the role of Lucas, Kate’s son in the movie.
What do your friends think about your acting in a movie?
They think it’s really cool! Many of them came to see the film with me on opening night which was special. They asked a lot of questions … especially about my prosthetic and how they got it on and how they made the mold for it. They also wanted to know what Kate was like and the rest of the cast.
What was it like to see your movie on the big screen?
It was awesome! It’s so chopped up when you are filming, so it really is a surprise to see it finished. It was interesting to see what scenes they used and what was cut out. Also, the sound effects made it extra creepy!
What’s next for you in acting?
I’m not sure. I’m submitting a tape this weekend for another role and I have to talk in a British accent! That will be challenging. I submit tapes often, but I’ve learned to do it and then forget about it. You never really hear unless you get a callback. And if that happens, it’s great!
Kelly Jones, Ella’s mom:
What’s it like to see your daughter achieve success at such an early age?
We are proud of Ella and all of her hard work. She is definitely dedicated to what she loves and has a lot of determination, tenacity, and drive. She wants to do so much, and we are happy to help give her the opportunities as long as she puts school first and keeps her grades up.
Is it challenging to manage an acting career while living in Raleigh?
You know, shockingly no. There is so much going on in the Southeast. Everything is virtual now. The submissions, tapings, and even call backs are often done over Skype. You really don’t have to live in N.Y. or LA to pursue acting.
Where do you hope Ella goes from here with her acting?
We would just love to continue to see Ella do what makes her happy. She has big goals! We are here to support her, but want Ella to be the captain of her own ship.