“What would happen if all the doors were suddenly shut, and we were locked in?” actor Jay Ellis asked. “Are we going to work together, or are we going to fight the whole time?”
He had to explore those very questions while working on his latest film “Escape Room,” which follows six strangers who are invited to compete in a series of immersive escape rooms. The friendly competition, however, soon becomes vicious when the players realize the games contain deadly traps.
“I thought about the dynamics of all the characters, and watching six different people work together to save their lives was really interesting to me,” Ellis said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God! This is so crazy.’”
The flick is out Jan. 4, but the 37-year-old, known for his roles on the TV shows “The Game” and “Insecure,” sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ahead of its release to chat about it. He discussed making the thriller in Cape Town, South Africa, playing escape room games in real life and preparing for his upcoming project “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Talk about your character, Jason. What are his motives in the film?
This is a dude who will not lose. At all costs, he is going to survive. He has become an adrenaline junkie and a thrill seeker, because of what has happened in his past, which is revealed in the film. Putting a guy like that into this dynamic brings out all those qualities so much more. Unfortunately, it’s probably to his detriment and to the group’s detriment.
How did you bond with the other actors on set?
We were six actors going to make a film in Cape Town, South Africa, and we were solving our own puzzle. It was great bonding time for all of us, because we got to hang out a lot. We went whale watching, we played Dungeons and Dragons, we went to farmers markets together and we got to hike mountains. It was a lot of fun.
You’ve survived a few escape rooms in real life. Describe those experiences.
I’ve done a few with friends. When you do them, you definitely see everyone’s truest self for good and for bad. You start to see who panics, who gets nervous, who gets angry, who’s not helping and who’s doing all of the work. I don’t know if I really noticed it until after doing the movie.
I’m the person who thinks everything is a clue. I’m always thinking, “That’s a clue! Does that clue tie with the clue before the clue? If it doesn’t tie with the clue before the clue, it’s not a clue.” For every clue I point out, 1 out of 15 is actually a clue.
You booked “Top Gun” earlier this year (2018). What were your first thoughts when you found out you got the job?
The casting director, Denise Chamian, has been a big advocate of mine for years. She brought me in and said, “I love you for this. I think this is yours.” I went in with the director, we recorded the audition and he gave me a couple of notes. Two days later, my agent sent me a text that read, “Tom (Cruise) has to watch your tape.” I replied, “Wait, what? Tom who?” The fact that the legend and movie star Tom Cruise was going to watch my audition tape was enough of a win for me. Now to actually be brought into the “Top Gun” family is amazing.
There was a bit of trickery in season three of “Insecure.” How will season four surprise fans?
I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think it will surprise people in a different way. I think it’s going to be something you’re not going to see coming. Our writers are brilliant, creative souls. Each of them goes off to live their lives, and they come back and inform the stories and characters. They haven’t started writing yet, but they’ll be in the lab cooking soon.
Name your biggest accomplishment to date.
I don’t know. I’ll have to think on that. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet. There have been plenty of accomplishment for sure, and I’m grateful for every single one of them. I’m happy when I achieve all of my goals, but I’m always looking for the next thing. I’m a busy body, so I haven’t figured that out yet.
Starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller and Jay Ellis. Directed by Adam Robitel.
Rated PG-13 for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language. 1 hour, 40 minutes.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT JAY ELLIS
- He was a military kid, because his dad was in the Air Force. He went to 12 schools in 13 years.
- He played college basketball at Concordia University in Oregon.
- He lived in Los Angeles for about four years before committing to acting seriously. “I wanted to give myself every opportunity to go after my dreams,” he said.
- He never fully told his parents he wanted to act until he landed his breakout role on “The Game.” Soon after, his mom and dad moved to Los Angeles to join him there.
- He loves photography. He created a second Instagram page, theworldaroundje, specifically for his snapshots, which he often captures during his trips abroad.
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