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The Way’s Eli Jane opens up on life experiences, the importance of mental health

"Everything in life is there for a purpose, we just have to see it and move on, and hopefully grow to the next version."

For Eli Jane, the lead role of “Killshot” Jane Arcs in the movie The Way was an affirmation of the positive direction in her life that she worked hard to rebuild.

Crossfire Vault – Director Dastan Khalili takes the long way home on his search for “The Way”

Coming from a modelling and stuntwoman background, landing the role did not come quickly or easily to Jane, to be sure. It took some good old-fashioned auditioning and patience to convince director Dastan Khalili.

“We (Eli and Kelcey Watson) had three, or four auditions even,” Jane confirmed to MMA Crossfire on the phone from her home in Los Angeles.  “It was over a large span of time. I got tattoos, I put them on my face. I tried to really help them see that I could be this girl and met them in person. That was the audition process.”

In fact, it took six months of auditions across the country for Khalili to find Jane and Watson for the film. “The person had to be fierce, had to be gentle, because the characters go through a huge journeys,” Khalili explained to The Crossfire in a November 2021 conversation. “The concept of the film is based on the Yin Yang symbol and both characters are going through the light and dark transformation until they become whole. So I needed the performances to be dialled in, but also capable of so many things. I found these two after searching a long time.”

“Killshot” Jane Arcs was a MMA fighter who got caught up with the wrong crowd and pays for it. A character many people could probably relate to. For Jane, it was a personal challenge as well.

“I would say that (Killshot Jane) was not only a parallel my life, it was also coming from modelling background where, ‘Oh you can’t act. You’re too pretty,” Jane explained. “Or I’ve gotten this before: You can’t do that stunt. You’re too pretty. You couldn’t have been homeless. The funny thing about beauty is that first of all, it’s within the beholder. You can be beautiful and be so ugly.

“It was kind of an opportunity to play this rough-and-tough character and it was like, ‘I can do this. I can do this acting thing,’ Jane added. “But yes, I did have the life experience. Everyone has life experiences and I felt really drawn to the character for that reason as well.”

“For the two months, It was also the Qigong show. We had rehearsals, we had Qigong, and we had boxing for three months. We could meet with Master (Joe) and then we would go home and do Qigong everyday. Because I really needed to understand Qigong. You don’t learn it overnight for sure. So Dastan would call or send me a text to remind me to do Qigong. I like think I did the work, I hope I did the work. I’m sure there’s always room for improvement,” Jane laughed.

The Way

So, what did Jane learn the most about Qigong?

“There is an ebb and flow with it,” Jane said. “There is a higher purpose behind it. A ying and a yang, and then there’s a balance.”

Jane is also a practitioner of yoga and boxing. Asked to compare Qigong to Tai Chi and Yoga, Jane pointed to its ability to preparation for combat.

“Huge difference. I think (compared) with Tai Chi, I think it’s more of … it preps you for fighting. Yoga is much more Zen … They’re both great exercises that’s for sure, but I feel one is more is in a community. But I guess you can do it for self too, so maybe that’s not all the way true. I think that’s the main difference, I feel like. Maybe that’s because I was training for a fight scene. But I did feel it was preparation for any sort of athlete that was a fighter.”

In addition to the training, it helped that Jane was a MMA fan and an athlete with a gymnastics background. That’s something Georges St-Pierre would have definitely appreciated.

“I was kind of a MMA fan,” Jane confirmed. “My son, he loves to watch fighting. And I had just done Fighting with my Family with Dwayne Johnson, The Rock. So I did know a bit about it. I do enjoy watching it. I’m not a huge fan, but I love sports. I’m a huge sports fan so I just believe strongly in being physically fit and I appreciate athletes who can entertain with their bodies.

The Way was filmed during COVID from September to October of 2020, primarily at the Detention Center in Lancaster California. Because of COVID protocols, and the small cast and crew, there was some pressure on the team to make sure the production did not fall behind schedule.

“Even just being on set, I’m a solutions person,” Jane said. “I really enjoy that job. Even if you don’t give it to me, I’ll try to go there a lot of the time. It gives me great pleasure to get a solution and try to help solve problems. We were a small crew, so I wasn’t about to be the bad apple. I was trying to be the strong apple, trying to get this done. And make sure everyone got along and things got finished. That COVID wasn’t going to stop us. We had some time restraints. I have been an assistant producer before. I hope I bring that to every set. Just get the job done and not cry about it. Dastan might have also seen that during shooting.”

Notable in The Way is the all-female stunt-coordinator team that handled all of the stunts and action choreography in the film. Khalili explained to The Crossfire that he hired Amy Sturdivant as the co-ordinator, and mapped out the framework and choreography with her.

The Way
Most of The The Way’s all-female stunt and fight choreography team during rehearsal. Left to right: Amber Gaston, Eli Jane, 
 Janell Haney, Amy Sturdivant, Cina McKenna, and Joan Wong.

Amy’s team included stunt doubles Cina McKenna (White Lotus Kung Fu) and Janell Haney (MMA), which helped the actors learn the choreography. The rest of the stunt-ordination team included:

  • Actor Amber Gaston (Muay Thai)
  • Irish boxing coach Kerrie Christie (Eli Jane’s boxing coach)
  • Actor Joan Wong (Wong Jackman’s niece and Wushu practitioner)
  • Actor Eli Jane (Lead actor and stuntwoman)

“We trained every week,” Jane said. Dastan was like, ‘You can take some boxing classes online.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t think that’s  going to work. I want to train with a female boxer. I want to watch her mannerisms.’ He thought about it and came back with a great female boxer (Kerrie Christie). And we obviously needed female stunt doubles. He hired a woman (Amy Sturdivant) for the stunt co-ordinator and that was amazing. I’m a big advocate for helping women in the industry. The numbers aren’t there as of yet.

“Anytime I have a chance to help another woman out, I for sure try to. Especially being a male director, Dastan could have done this all as a male film. I’m just so proud and grateful that he did have this female character. I often wonder if the fact that he has a daughter helped inspire him to write this.”

“The female stunt team was amazing. Coming from a stunt background, I actually didn’t know any of these gals. We did two full days of fight training and choreography with them. The fight scene was one of my favourites because coming from a gymnastics background it almost reminded me of gymnastics. It was like a ballet, like dance it was so amazing.”

One of the important scenes in the film is Jane’s relationship with Master Xin, played by Joan Wong. In real life, Wong is Wong Jack Man’s niece and is well versed in the Chinese martial art of Wushu.

“It was great working with Joan,” Jane said thoughtfully. “Coming from a stunt background to then being the lead character and having a stunt double (Laughs). My stunt double in that scene was Joan when she does like a forward flip on the concrete or somersault. There was a huge crane shot on that. Working with her and knowing her history was such an honour.”

Th

The Way leans heavily on the performances of the lead actors Jane and Kelcey Watson as their characters go through significant changes in the film. Jane channelled some of her life experiences into the role to give the character the authenticity it needed for the film.

What were those life experiences? We need to take a deep dive and go back. Way back.

“I would say around fifteen, I started modelling,” Jane explained. “I think I was 16, when I did the Oprah (Winfrey) show, and I think at around 18 is when I had the drug addiction. My world went downhill quick. I ended up getting pregnant at 18 and then I got sober. And then I ended up going back out again so there’s all these ins and outs of being sober and not being sober. At that time when I was 21, I went into drinking. I had lost custody of my son at that point. I was an assistant producer at 20 and of course when I started doing that, I lost that job for a major motion picture. I had quite a high of highs going from modelling and working as an assistant producer at 20, an amazing job, to have it all crumble down.

“I had to take a good six years out of the industry. I worked as a cashier at a grocery store and then I had my second son. I ended up drinking for a long time. It was socially acceptable but … And again, a lot of this is in and out … nothing abrupt, just marijuana and alcohol. I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in 10 years. Seven and a half years ago is when I when stopped the marijuana. It’s about five years ago I ended up having an eating disorder. So there’s all these things.

For me, I had to go through all of these things and clean my life up, and do all of this work. Spiritually, mentally and therapeutically to really figure out why.

“I wanted do more feature films and I wasn’t getting the work and I couldn’t figure out why. There was a few things at work and one of them was fear. I was afraid to go back to school because I was a bad student. I had learning disabilities and I think that contributed a lot to my using because I just couldn’t understand. So I did the mental work and went back to school during COVID. Acting school. And then I booked this role, but it’s been a long process in trying to figure out what I need to do different. Well, I need to stop doing drugs. I need to get over this eating disorder. I need to have a higher purpose for my life. I need to live for other things, other than myself and my kids. So, I went back to school, got this role, did the work …

“My godfather and my aunt were huge, especially during that time. They’ve been huge pivotal points in my life since I turned 18. I went to go live with my godfather, a writer and guitarist of Iron Butterfly, a band. He’s pivotal. Another one of my mentors, Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman) was really pivotal for me as well. My Aunt, for sure, she supported me and always gave me a place to live if I ever needed it until I still had this eating disorder she picked out. I didn’t even know I had a problem until she had to do something different, she had to let go.

“I would say that the losses were such a pivotal point. When I lost things or people, I realized that I needed to change and because I was never so sheltered, or I was … I was always making my own money. I never got child support for the kids; I was never married but … I was always responsible for myself. Aside from my Aunt and Godfather giving me a roof over my head … I technically was homeless at one point before the film, I had been homeless before in my drug addiction … but my Godfather still gave me a roof over  my head, although though all my stuff was still in my car … I had to learn lessons in life and if I was financially okay, I don’t know if I would have learned those lessons.

“That was my experience. I had to lose. I had to give up custody of my son, which turned out to be a good thing, but it was really difficult. Because I wasn’t making any money. Like, who wants to hire some person with a crazy eating disorder with sh*t coming out of her eyes. I was so obsessed with food. And the camera doesn’t really lie. So, if I’m not doing well … although at one point I did this thing for Nip-tuck because they wanted this drug addict and I was on drugs and I got the role. That was the only time doing drugs ever worked for a role.

But for me, my career seems to be a blessing and a curse. I think it’s a blessing because I love what I do, but at certain times in my life I thought it was a curse because I would run out. I couldn’t take it. You can only take it so much.

“My agent dropped me. I couldn’t even figure out how to submit my … I would go to the library. This was before the film even! Crazy, I think back, going to the library and doing my submissions and having old pictures. There are certain things that you have to do to maintain your career before your agents drop you. And I just wasn’t doing that. I was such a mess. It wasn’t that long ago before the film. Maybe three years or something before I ended up doing this role.

“I had these big ups and downs, like a rollercoaster of life. I hope at 42, I’m much more stable. Hopefully, I have these addictions in my past. I don’t foresee or have a desire to drink or be with the food. I think even having patience is important to make sure that, hey maybe I can help somebody else or say this is where my mindset is.

“It (Life) was a rollercoaster because there were moments that I didn’t (use). There were moments in my life where I wasn’t abusing it. Functional, or binge drinker. An alcoholic is so hard to define because every alcoholic looks so different. Every story is so different. I can call myself an alcoholic and I only drank once a year. But the once a year just wasn’t working for me. That once a year, major things would happen in my life. Everybody’s version is completely different. For me, I realized I just didn’t want it in my life anymore.

“And so for me, I have an allergy, in my opinion, to it. I’m not the same person when I drink it. I’m hung over, literally. One drink and I was hung over the next day. And so I wanted that out of my life and so I tell myself that I’m allergic and sometimes I tell other people that … so that it’s just like … I mean if someone’s allergic to something, you’re not going to give them that (Laughs). No, I’m not an alcoholic, I’m allergic to that.

“I will say that it gives me layers and colour. When I was doing the scene with Kelsey in the prison, I was talking to my addiction. You know, for certain times in my life, my addiction was my lover, my best friend, my relationship. It was everything to me. And at certain points in my life, it defined me. And it no longer defines me, it no longer controls me. It’s something that’s completely out of my life and I had to let it go. I did have something to connect that scene thing to. The opposite of fiction is connection.”

Jane’s childhood was one of constant movement. With stints in Michigan, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, San Diego, Florida, and Los Angeles, she was always the new kid. She was also homeschooled and not used to being around other children. “I would just go to gymnastics,” Jane said. “And then when I would move around and I did go back to school, I would hang out with the special education, I would volunteer. That’s where I would go for lunch. Because I was kind of afraid of children and I was always new. It wasn’t until high school that I kind of blossomed and became this jock and everything.”

So what would Jane, 42, say to her 17-year old self?

“It’s complicated because part of me would say go to school and stay out of trouble,” she started. “But I’ve also learned that regret does no one any good.”

“There is the conundrum,” Jane continued. “I wouldn’t have learned everything if I listened to what others had to say. Even as much as people warned me about drinking and using drugs, I had to learn it for myself. Someone said stay away from that guy. I didn’t listen. I don’t have any regrets. I wish I would have that drug or I wish tried to experience it with that guy or gone after that career. Everything I wanted to do, I did and I didn’t listen to anybody. I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere (Laughs).

“From all my years of being an athlete, everything we do has a … I guess that’s what I’d probably tell my younger self. Balance. I’ve spent all this physical time in my body. At 42, I have back issues. I just had back surgery. So there is this hole that my drinking and eating disorders probably contributed to that, being physical my whole life. I think the lesson I learned there is that if I would have had a bit more balance, if I used my mind a little bit more … I’m trying to listen to the universe and that’s what I’m doing. And I think that’s what this role is about. An opportunity to use my words, my voice and use my physicality.

“Because physicality at a certain point for me, becomes second nature.” Jane reasoned. “I’ve learned how to communicate with my body like boxers. That’s how we communicate. The secondary is always the communication, the doing … because I have feelings. I was able to re-enact the feelings in the fight scene. But for so long, if I ever I had feelings, I’m a runner. I run from it. I go and I work it out. I go to the gym moving around, having all these different friends to not having friends, and I would go to the gym and I would just work out to oblivion. So I didn’t really have much feelings or emotions. And I’m finding now that I’m in my body, I have no choice to be in my body it’s just not as … I have arthritis and it’s not the same body that I always had. I’m grieving more. It’s always constant moving and developing and changing.

“This is the repercussion of all of the training that I did,” Jane said matter of factly. “If you would have told me that before, I would have not listened. I would have said f*ck it, it’s going to be worth it. It was worth it, I don’t regret it. I just wonder if I would have a little bit more balance earlier on in life if I still would be in the same situation. And that means balance with drinking, balance with anything. With relationships. With food. With having a little bit more time doing.

“But again, professional boxer doesn’t become a professional boxer by sitting around all day. They do. How badly do we want it. It’s the same with acting. How badly do I want this. How hard am I willing to work? We don’t always think about the repercussions.”

Some of those repercussions can include inviting your family to watch the film.

“My 18-year-old was like, ‘Mom, why didn’t you tell me you were naked in the film?’ That was the response from my father as well at the premiere,” Jane revealed. “His response was, ‘Well, I haven’t seen you naked since you were a baby.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, if that’s what you got out of it, that’s cool.'”

That’s the way it goes sometimes.

The Way, is now available on most digital platforms, including Apple TV, iTunes TV, DVD, cable, and video on demand.

@kenaiandrews

KenaiAndrews
KenaiAndrewshttps://www.mmacrossfire.com
Kenai is a former Postmedia Network online news and sports editor. He is the Editor-in-Chief for MMA Crossfire.

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