Jazzy Ellis Talks About Living the Stuntwoman Life.

Ellis has appeared in over 40 films and TV shows, but you just might not have recognized her in action.

While driving to New Orleans for a radio interview and to visit a few productions, I got the chance to talk to stuntwoman, Jazzy Ellis. Stuntwoman barely scratches the surface for Ellis. Let’s add dancer, actor, artist, storyteller, and filmmaker to the list as well. Standing at just 5’7 and weighing 128 pounds, Ellis’ resume may surpass her stature already. Appearing in over 40 films and TV shows, Jazzy made her debut in the acting world as young Gladys in the HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Ellis has also made waves in the industry while performing stunts in Selma, Ride Along 2, Terminator: Genisys, The Walking Dead, and The Vampire Diaries to name a few.

Growing up in New Jersey, Jazzy recalls spending a lot of time outside playing games like manhunt with her brothers. Those times as well as her many years of dancing fed into her adventurous and performance side. Starting at three years old, Ellis began dancing, specifically ballet at the New Jersey Ballet Company. Attending Princeton University, Ellis majored in Religion while minoring in Spanish all while being pre-med! How do you go from Princeton to the set of NCIS: New Orleans? It doesn’t seem so farfetched if your thesis leads you to the Amazon. No, I don’t mean Amazon the company, I mean the actual Amazon! Studying under various shamans, Ellis’ adventurous side was fed, and there was no going back.

Instead of going to medical school, Ellis decided to become a math and special education high school teacher in New Orleans. “At the time, stunts were much safer” Ellis claimed. Thinking the opposite, I wondered how stunts could be safer than teaching. On the last day of her teaching career, Ellis admitted that students were threatening to kill her due to poor grades. Although her time teaching came to an end, that didn’t stop her from keeping in touch with old students and their success.

One Chapter Closes, Another Opens

“At one point, you could find a stunt performer anywhere in New Orleans; at the grocery store, out walking, in the middle of the street.” Ellis reflects on New Orlean’s entertainment industry. “New Orleans was what Atlanta is now, as far as filming for TV shows.” And that is where she studied under 2-3 stunt performers for just three months before working full time. As college graduates are often told, “it’s not what you know but who you know” the same goes for the stunt industry. “Because these are life and death situations, it’s all about building relationships and knowing a person before you hire them.” Known for her honesty and work ethic within the industry, Ellis’ first major project was NCIS: New Orleans, doubling for C.C.H. Pounder.

With an affinity for wire work and military grade guns, Ellis’ favorite project thus far is set to release next year, Godzilla: King of Monsters. Always admiring an actor’s work compared to who they are, Ellis doesn’t have a list of actor’s she’s aspiring to work alongside. But she didn’t hesitate to admit that she was excited to work with Oprah Winfrey; I mean it is OPRAH! “She walked up to me first and knew who I was,” says Ellis about her OMG moment.

15 Going On 30

When your acting age is between 15 and 35, a dedicated routine must be close behind. “Every day is different. In the morning I write out my goals, meditate, do my breathing exercises, yoga and continue with my day. At night I do my routine in reverse.” Living a holistic lifestyle, the 30-year-old wonder woman is constantly on the go; dedicating as much time as needed to not only her physical but mental and emotional health as well. No stranger to adversity, she is a survivor of sexual assault and abuse. The strength she has built up over the years through her experiences causes her to never shy’s away from ‘hot button’ issues.

Just two years ago, Ellis found herself at the Georgia State Capitol discussing better representation for locals and people of color, as well as underserved genders. “The need and struggle to have equal opportunities in film and be represented by ourselves continues today.” Much like blackface, admitted Ellis.

“Yes in 2018, we still have blackface, hiring white performers for roles designated for black actors. It’s been an uphill battle to stop this.  I spoke at the Georgia State Capitol about it, and I’ve proposed a SAG-AFTRA contract amendment to fine productions and coordinators who take part in this discriminatory hiring practice.  In my six years in the industry, nothing has changed.  There’s been well over ten instances that I know of personally that involve blackface or wigdowns (when a male stunt performer doubles a woman by putting on a wig).  I have participated in 2 documentaries that highlight my efforts against this discrimination.”

Much like those who speak in the face of adversity, Ellis is no stranger to backlash for talking to representatives and the media about issues within the entertainment industry.

Woman of Many Talents

Jazzy Ellis an actor, storyteller, author, dancer, filmmaker, and who knows whats next, is only getting started. In the process of writing a book, Ellis shared a few details. “I am working on a 30-year memoir. 30 life lessons I learned the hard way.” Along with three short films in pre-production, Ellis plans to tell stories in various ways, including on screen. One day hoping to produce and write, Ellis’ resume continues to grow. A member of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., Ellis finds ample time to give back. Whether it is volunteering at a homeless shelter while teaching healthy relationship classes or mentoring local girls, Ellis’ heart is always in the right place.

With more brothers than sisters, Ellis says “My brothers taught me to be as tough as them. I carried that toughness with me into every aspect of life, because of them.” Ellis doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon, as she inspires me during our discussion while on a work-related road trip to New Orleans. 

The next time you are watching your favorite television show or movie, and the lead actress is evolved in an intense fight scene or action-packed moment, just know that you may be watching Jazzy hard at work.

Based here in Atlanta, you can find Jazzy Ellis on all major platforms @JazzyEllis and on your television and silver screens.

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