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Ella Purnell Dishes On Arcane, Hailee Steinfeld, And Army Of The Dead - Exclusive Interview

"League of Legends" fans have been waiting with bated breath for Netflix's adaptation of the popular video game, and now, the first three episodes of "Arcane" are finally here. Leading the cast for the animated series is Hailee Steinfeld (Vi) and Ella Purnell (Jinx). The two actresses voice two sisters who end up feuding as Jinx heads down a path of unhinged darkness.


However, Purnell is no stranger to Netflix content, having played Kate Ward alongside Dave Bautista in Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead." She's also slated to reprise the role in a voice acting capacity in the upcoming spinoff, "Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas." Purnell's film roles don't stop with Netflix, though. She played Dolce in "Kick-Ass 2," Young Maleficent in "Maleficent," and Emma in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children." Additionally, Purnell is slated to play Gwyn in "Star Trek: Prodigy" and has an upcoming role in "Yellowjackets."

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Ella Purnell dished on her villainous inspirations for Jinx, her character's severe trauma, and how the pandemic prevented her from working closely with her on-screen sister Hailee Steinfeld. She even revealed what it was like working with Zack Snyder and Dave Bautista in "Army of the Dead." 


A solo performance

If you had a chance to work directly with Hailee Steinfeld, what was that experience like?

I never did. We actually met at an event when we were like 11 or 12, like very young. I wonder if she would even remember me. I don't think so. It was a long time ago, but, no, we never worked in the booth together because, you know, we were both always just like traveling and working. And then yeah. And then COVID happened. So then we still weren't in the booth, and so I would, sometimes I would hear if she'd recorded her lines ahead of me, I would hear how she did it. But most of the time, no, I was just like cold reading against the director.


Did you ever get on a phone call with her to discuss the characters at all?

Nope. We just went right in there.

That's the story of the pandemic.

I know. Yep.

Taking Extra to 150

You play a grown up, slightly chaotic version of Vi's sister. What was it about this role that stood out to you, and what has been the most entertaining part about letting loose with this character?

Yeah, so Jinx is a very sort of well-known and well-loved character from "League of Legends," and there's like a certain amount of pressure coming in and being a part of a project that people already know and have their own ideas of how it should be portrayed. 


I think for me, this was my first ever voiceover job. So I didn't really know what I was doing. And initially, I came in playing her quite like straight and naturalistic and normal, and they spoke to me about it, and we collaborated. And they showed me some videos and pictures of who she was and explained the world of "League of Legends" further, and the vision for "Arcane." And then basically told me to go in at 150, and I was like, "You guys sure? Because my 150 is like your 250."

They were like, "Do it." Did it, had so much fun, would just like find all these different, fun ways of, I don't know ... because, she can't just be crazy and evil, you know? That's not enough to sustain a show. And also, it's not realistic. Nobody's born like that, you know? Well, maybe some people are, but...


Yeah, for me, it was about like, yeah, play her crazy. But also add those little extra quirks that make a person who they are. Right. She's creative. She's a scientist. She loves color. She loves having fun. She doesn't just blow people up. She does it in style. She does it jinx style. She makes a whole song and dance about it. It's like a theatrical production. 

There [are] all these different things that go into it. And that's her childish, playful side coming out. As well as just the deeply deep packed trauma that she comes from, from having been through some s*** — some stuff that no child should ever have to go through. And that's what I [hope] will be the context that the audience needs to understand why she is the way she is.

Pop culture's leading badass ladies

Did you draw any inspiration from other like badass female anti-heroes, like Harley Quinn or Bellatrix Lestrange?

Yes, actually. I've always been a huge fan of Helena Bonham Carter, and I've always very keenly observed these hugely talented and very brave and ferocious character actresses. And it's always been something that I've wanted to do my whole life. Harley Quinn was definitely a great jumping-off point for that. Especially being pretty much the most famous female, violent villain. Because there [are] female villains who are very seductive, or rich, or cunning. And I think what Harley Quinn has that I love is this just raw chaos. 


It's just like, she doesn't care. Nobody gets in her way. Right. It's this like chaotic, violent anarchy energy. And we see that a lot with men, and we don't see that often with of women. So knowing that that was the energy I was going for, she was obviously a great jumping-off point. And I didn't really think about Bellatrix Lestrange, but yeah, she, Helena Bonham Carter, has always been a huge influence for me. So maybe there [were] little vibes of that too. Subconscious.

Turning trauma into power

I love the idea of Jinx reclaiming her childhood trauma by changing her name to something that once caused her pain. How did you differentiate your iteration of the character from Powder, and what are your thoughts on that backstory and sort of making a weakness become a power?


Wow. Love that question. Absolutely love that question. Did not think about the ... yeah. Wait, sorry. I just got like, so in my head about that. I think that ... It's funny. It's funny the stuff that we do to try to make sense of the pain that we have and that we feel. And I think that the tragedy of Jinx is that she is the way that she is because of a certain order of events that were completely avoidable. And it's just bad timing, and it's fate, and it's luck, and it's destiny, and it's all of those things. And she doesn't know that. None of the characters know that. And in Vi and Jinx's relationship, there's a lot of pain of like what could have been in that.

And so I think, by changing her name, she's constantly battling between Powder and Jinx. Right. We actually, when we did the sessions in the script, we had them under different character names, and that would be an indicator to me as to how I would vocalize them because they sound completely different because they're two completely different people from different times. And you'll see, as the season goes on, I mean, there [are] some really heavy emotional moments for Jinx where Powder just, she tries to break out to the surface and Jinx — it is this constant battle between the two, like, which one's going to win. Is she going to do good? Is she going to do bad? Because she has the capacity to be a good person. And that's the tragedy of it is like, you really don't know how it's going to turn out for her. And you still don't.


The man, the myth, the zombie legend

You also worked on the Netflix movie "Army of the Dead" with Zack Snyder. What was it like working with him and Dave Bautista? And how did the two Netflix experiences compare?

Oh yeah. They're both Netflix. Wow — did not put two and two together. That's funny. My brain is not working. It was good. It was a great experience. It was, again, like something [I'd] never done before. The past three or four years for me, I've been actively trying to do new things and try new things and see what I like, and yeah. Being an action film and especially being like a pretty gory horror action film was yeah. 


Something [that] is [a] completely new experience and just being around that many prosthetics and zombies and guns and like all of that stuff is just, it's like a weird little bubble. And then it's done, but Zack's [an] absolute legend. Love him to pieces — would follow him to the end. He's just such a great guy and amazing energy. Yeah.

And what about Dave Bautista?

Dave is great. Yeah. He's such a professional, and he is like astoundingly emotional in his performance. Like his eyes just carry so much emotion. And he's a great team leader, which was perfect for the role, but you know, he really gathered the troops and on days where, it's a big cast, and on days where we were tired, or just energy was down, it was just hot, like a thousand degrees in Albuquerque. Yeah. He would just rally the troops and get us all jazzed. It was great.


A voice acting pattern

This is your first voice acting role. Do you feel more prepared now to take on "Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas?" And what do you think you'll take from this experience and bring to that one?

Well, that one's already done, so I don't know how ... actually, let me think. I don't know how much I can say about that as of right now. But we'll see. Sorry.


I don't actually think I can say. What I can say is that voiceover acting, it's given me a new level of freedom that I've never had before as a screen actor and especially having done this and "Star Trek," which is my other animated show that comes out, tomorrow actually, it's helped me grow as an actor so much. And I probably would not have been able to bring the same energy and experience into "Army of the Dead" had I not done this as well.

Is voice acting something that you're specifically looking forward to now, or did it sort of just happen that your latest projects have been in that area?

I did specifically seek out a voiceover agent, and there was a certain point when I was like, 'I'm bored. What do I want to do next?' And I was like, 'Don't want to be a teacher. I don't want to be a race car driver. Why don't I try voiceover acting?' And found my brilliant, amazing, lovely agent, who I adore.


But now, yeah, I don't ever really like manifest stuff, like actively pursue things. It's more just like when I bring someone onto my team, and I work with someone new, it's like, 'Okay, this is who I am.' And this is what I would like to do next. Like right now, I'm like, okay, I'd like to do comedy and then just keep an eye out. But yeah, it's a collab. Sometimes you just dry out for no reason.

Act 1 of "Arcane" is now available to stream on Netflix, with Act 2 releasing on November 13.