Pages Navigation Menu

"No matter where you go, there you are."

Advert

“No women were harmed in the making of this movie” Zoë Bell talks Raze, stunts and Tarantino with Live for Films

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

zoe-bellZoë Bell is probably the most well known living stunt person. Starting in TV, doubling for Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess, her career was boosted when she began her long and fruitful work with Quentin Tarantino.

After doubling for Uma Thuman‘s Bride in Kill Bill Part’s 1 and 2, the pair then went on work together on Death Proof, Inglourious Basterdsand Django Unchained. Tarantino put her in front of the camera in Death Proof which resulted in not only an unforgettable high-speed car stunt but in Bell being bitten by the acting bug.

She has appeared in Whip It!, Oblivion and Gamer, and now takes the lead in an all-female action movie that she has also produced: Raze. Bell stars as Sabrina, a kick boxer who awakes in an underground prison where she must fight and kill the other inmates to stand any chance of escape. Raze also stars Rachel NicholsDoug Jones (Hellboy 2) and Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) as the crazed tournament runners, as well as a brief cameo from Rosario Dawson (Sin City and Death Proof).

You can read my review of Raze here.

It’s a brutal film that gives Zoë Bell the perfect opportunity to stretch and show off her knuckles as well as her ever-increasing acting muscles, and I was very lucky to get to speak to her about… pretty much everything actually.

 

Hiya Zoë! I’m Alan from Live for Films.

Hel-looooooo

 

How are you doing today?

I’m doing good, thank you. How are you doing?

 

Well, it’s Friday night AND it’s pay day – so pretttty good!

There are worse things in life, eh? It could be Monday! Instead, you’re getting paid, and you have the whole weekend ahead of you!

 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m sort of in the developmental stages of a TV show that I’m working on. I’m developing it with a friend of mine…

 

Can you tell me about it at all?

Errr… Not… as of yet. I’m sorry! It’s just that it’s a little bit too early.

 

That’s cool. Are you not doing Expendabelles stuff at the moment?

No, no. There’s been nothing confirmed. I would love to be in that world though. I would love to do it.

 

It’s a cool idea, and a great title, but I don’t see why we can’t just have women in the “regular” Expendables…

Yeah! I wonder if it’s sort of… I think they should just put more women in all the movies!

Raze

Raze

Exactly! That brings me quite nicely to Raze. Is it true that part of the reason you got involved with it and ended up producing, was because you wanted to put a full-on all-female action movie out there?

Oh definitely, definitely. It’s less that it came about because I had that idea and this was a good film for it, and more that this film came about and I was excited by it enough that I wanted to be a part of it. And then of course the director made decisions in terms of the fights and the tone of the film and… But it was definitely… we were all on board to make a… I loathe to use such extreme terms as “groundbreaking”, but we really wanted to break new ground in the action genre and have it be all about women fighting.

 

That’s awesome. And tell me about your co-stars. Didn’t you make some kind of deal with them to help teach them how to fight?

Ha-haa! It was never a “deal” that was struck… it certainly wasn’t a bargaining, (laughs), it was more that the women that we had come on board are brilliantly talented and very experienced actors in their own right, and a lot of them have not done action films before because, y’know, there’s not that many roles out there that require it, or give them the opportunity.

One of the reasons we were able to get such a great lot of actors at all was because they were so excited at being given the opportunity to play roles like this. That inspired them to be incredibly dedicated so… all of these women put in, on their own time and on their own dime, hours of training weeks before: fitness wise, getting in shape wise, choreography wise.

I think what it was was a bit of role reversal. With action stuff, that is very much my comfort zone – I’m very relaxed and experienced in that area. So I was there in support of those guys in that world, and they… as far as the acting side of it, I relied heavily on them. That’s what I was doing for the weeks leading up to it, my acting preparation. Not that I ever just dial stunt work in, but it’s a lot easier for me to… access years and years of experience.

 

Who was the most naturally adept out of all of them? Who became the best fighter?

Ooh, that’s a hard one… I mean… Tracie (Tracie Thoms – “Kim” in Death Proof) has done a lot of boxing stuff before, and we knew that, so we kind of tailored the character to that experience.

I must say though, Rebecca (Rebecca Marhall – Saw 3D and Repo!) was sort of the most… surprised… when it came to action, as she didn’t have as much experience. But she picked it up very quickly and was incredibly coordinated… was great at picking up stunts and… all of the girls were great at channelling their characters through the way that they fight. That’s the most important thing to me – when you have an actor that’s comfortable enough to be their character in the fight scenes. Then you’ve got something powerful to work with.

 

Yeah, I mean… the fight scenes are very brutal and… my favourite fight scenes are like… the lockers fight in Grosse Pointe Blank. Where you have two people fighting, who are clearly highly trained, but they use that knowledge to still fight all out without being so form based that it’s just a ballet.

Yeah!

 

So did anyone ever get hurt? There’s an awful lot of faces being smashed into walls!

“No women were harmed in the making of this movie”.

raze-poster

(Both laugh) Excellent! And what about Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn – it must have been exciting to work with the two of them?

They both got hurt! No, I’m kidding! (both laugh) They were fantastic. Doug Jones I have worked with on a project called Angel of Death. We formed a little platonic love affair through that – he’s the sweetest man on the planet.

Sherilyn was just… her performance was intense and wonderful and I loved that she was… sort of like the woman that was the face of this twisted place, and how intense it was for Sabrina (Zoë’s character) to come face to face with her. Spoiler alert!

 

Talking of spoilers, I don’t want to ruin anything, but the end of Raze was very shocking. Was there ever any resistance to ending the film in that way? It’s very rare now for anything to not be left open for sequels or a franchise.

Yeah. Ummm, there was, there was resistance… I’ll go with: “there was debate and discussion about it”. But since the movie’s come out… we actually had a meeting last night about Raze 2 and 3!

 

How is that going to work?

We were so excited about Raze, even when we still shooting Raze, that we came up with other possibilities, like: way back in Greek times, a tournament twenty years ago, ones in the future. So, y’know, there’s all sorts of options we can play with

 

Going all the way back to the beginning for your career – how did it all start? What made you want to be a stuntwoman?

Well… I guess it all started when I was really young, without even thinking about it. I was doing gymnastics and I was doing martial arts, so I, subconsciously or unwittingly, had been training to be a stuntwoman, but I didn’t really realise that being a stuntwoman was something that people actually did. At one point I discovered that when I met my first stuntman – which was when I started training in martial arts, and a point in time when I discovered that you could get paid to fight and flip! Then I became obsessed and I started to see it everywhere! I saw an interview with a stuntman, I would meet them at the gym, there was a stuntman that trained with my old gym coach…

My dad was a doctor at an emergency clinic and he met a stuntman who came in with a bump on his head. Because I’d been rabbiting on about it, my dad came home with his phone number and that was the beginning of it all really!

It wasn’t that I trained with the intention of becoming a stunt person – it happened the other way round. I used to find myself saying to people: “As long as you find something that you love to do, the chances are that a) you’ll be good at it, and b) then you’re only qualified to do stuff that you love to do.”

 

Have you ever been scared to a particular stunt?

Yeah, of course! I think a stunt person without fear is a danger to his or herself, or the people around them. I feel fear, and I experience fear, like most people, the difference is that I’ve learned managing techniques. (laughs)

 

OK. Coping strategies?

Yeah! And they weren’t sort of consciously developed… but it’s like, anyone with a high-powered job… if I had someone’s life in my hands, I would probably not be able to handle that kind of pressure, but if you put me on the edge of a twenty-two storey building and tell me to get ready to jump – I can handle that kind of pressure!

 

(laughing) I wasn’t sure which way you were going to go with that! Like, if you were going to be all “you’d be mad to not have fear!’, or if you were going to be like (tough voice) “I’m never afraid of anything”.

No! I think fear is, for me, and most people (!), fear is your body explaining to you that there are dangers involved in what’s about to happen, and you have to listen to that fear, so that you take precautions needed to do something as safely as possible.

Like, if I’m about to do it and I feel fear, maybe my body is telling me that I can’t manage. I like to think, if confronted with that, that I would be brave enough to listen to myself, y’know?

With Uma Thurman on the set of Kill Bill

With Uma Thurman on the set of Kill Bill

So what is the toughest one that you’ve ever done?

One of the more extreme ones I’ve ever done would have been on Catwoman. I was twenty-two storeys up and looking down at a very small air bag and a very skinny wire that I was attached to, and just that the magnitude was bigger than anything that I’d ever done before.

Other than that… being hit by a car is a weird one. That’s definitely all about managing fight or flight reflexes!

 

Yeah, no, I can see how that might be a little bit scary!

Yeah, yeah, yeah! Like being hit by a rhinoceros! I can imagine that would be scary! I haven’t done that… yet!

 

Yeah, save that for Raze: Safari. (both laugh) You’re known as “Zoë the Cat” in Death Proof, but you must have had at least the odd nasty tumble – what’s the worst injury you’ve ever sustained?

The worst injury was on Kill Bill, actually.

 

Was that your back?

No. (mutters) The internet’s brilliant. Monique was the one that injured her back. She fractured her back in a stunt that we did because I… the double kick that I… when The Bride double kicks Elle through the door, that was me doing the double kick. We’d rehearsed a couple of times and put a pad in and I said “I’m actually going to kick you”, and she said “OK”, and I really kicked her and she flew back into a chest of drawers that probably could have had a pad on it, but it didn’t.

The two injuries of mine, that I will always refer to as “injuries” and not just… there’s a difference between feeling pain and actually getting injured. *I* fractured *my* back on Xena when I was 19 – that’s where the stories get mixed up. And then I busted my wrist and that required reconstructive surgery in an accident on Kill Bill.

That one was my most major. That one put me in a bad place and really screwed with my head… that was the bigger deal one. Yeah, on Xena, I was 19 and got better in ten weeks. It still affected me, and I learned a lot of lessons, but the one on Kill Bill really affected me and I had sort of an identity crisis. Like, if I can’t be a stunt person, what am I good for? You know? That kind of thing. (laughs) In hindsight, I was a twenty-three year-old, working abroad, with no family, friends or support network. I didn’t know anybody apart from the cast and crew of Kill Bill. It was a pretty lonely time too – that year was rough.

 

(softly) That’s horrible. Your most famous stunt is the “Ship’s Mast” in Death Proof. Where did the idea for that come from – did you and Quentin dream that up together?

Purely Quentin Tarantino. It was also how he sold being an actor to me. He gave me the script and I saw that there were pages and pages and pages of dialogue which scared the shit out of me! Then he took me out for beers, he said “let me take you out for a beer and describe the action sequence to you, cos I think that then you’ll be on board”. And then he described that action scene to me and that was the “gotcha”. I was like “Alright. You’ve got to teach me how to act, because I’m addicted to this action sequence”.

Death Proof

Death Proof

The two of you have worked together loads now, have you been able to pinpoint what makes him and his films so special?

I don’t know if there’s any pinpointing when it comes to Quentin. I would definitely say that one of the things is the combination of his fanaticism for moviemaking, like he is the fan that he is making the movies for, and his brilliance. The brilliant part about Quentin is his ability to retain, pfft, everything! I don’t know… it doesn’t even make any sense to me where he stores it all, but he’s a fan of movies and he knows EVERYTHING about them. He just has this incredible source to pull from and he loves to do it, so the joy bleeds in.

 

You’ve been a part of some amazing ensembles in films like Whip It!, Oblivion and Django. What actor have you learned the most from?

Hmmm. You know, some of the people I’ve worked with have been phenomenal… Kurt (Russell) has had some pretty cool shit to say. I think that his mentality is quite similar to mine, we’re both coming from a slightly “jock” background. He loves his sport and his cars and has a relatable access point.

Tracie Thoms worked with me a lot on Death Proof. I was just thinking about it the other day… being outside, reading the script for Death Proof with her for the first time and being embarrassed. Just reading it out loud made me embarrassed and made me cringe – but she talked me through a lot of that.

Rosario (Dawson) also was a massive part of that, and Mary-Elizabeth (Winstead) – the four of us spent hours… and it was my first time acting, so those three girls were pivotal. And Quentin obviously

But, to be honest, one of the most important actresses for me, whether I knew it or not at the time, was Lucy (Lawless – Xena). She taught me how to be the person that I wanted to be on set. As an actor, I still look up to her. She’s just so gracious, funny, she takes it seriously when she needs to, she fucks around and will be the joker when she needs to. She’s sort of responsible for the crew feeling good, do you know what I mean? I want to be just like Lucy when I grow up!

Awww. A rumour did the rounds about Quentin making a four hour TV version of Django – would that mean that we get to learn more about your mysterious masked character?

You know, I wish I could tell you “yes” or “no”, actually I wish I could just tell you “yes”! We didn’t shoot much of that, so we would have to shoot more. I knew her whole life story to play that role.

 

Are you allowed to say what your character’s backstory is? I don’t want to get you in trouble, but I’d love to know…

I don’t imagine so… I… I shan’t say anything, just because Quentin’s a fan of secrecy, actually more accurate would be not “secrecy”, but mystery. He likes movie mystery, which I appreciate, and am quite happy to stand behind, so that, if it were to happen, it would still be a surprise to people. And I think people would rather it be a surprise as well.

zoe-bell-django

Django Unchained

How was the recent live read of Hateful Eight you took part in? It sounded like an incredible night.

It was amazing. The script was incredible, but listening to Quentin read his own work and perform his own words was amazing. Even the two or three days leading up to it, we all sat around a table, in a room and workshopped it. To be workshopping with Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Sam Jackson, Quentin – I was in heaven! (laughs) Absolutely in heaven! And learnt more about myself as an actor in those couple of days than I have the whole time! But Raze was a massive educator for me too.

 

How so?

Raze was… Death Proof was awkward because it was the first time, and with Quentin. Angel of Death was the first time I’ve been the lead. Raze, there was something about the combination of… Josh (the director) asked more of me than I ever thought I was capable of.

He’s known me since I first started acting, when I was totally introverted as an actor. I’m an extroverted person, but I used to find it really scary. So, he was determined to give me something where I could really dig my heels in. That combined with that I was the Producer, opened me up to give myself permission to take that process deathly seriously. I owed it to Josh. I owed it to the cast and crew.

I came out the other end and noticed the shift – I now refer to myself as an actor since then. Before I’d always found it hard to say that out loud, but I’ve got it now. Now, if I see a character that I’m fascinated by, I’m like “I’ve got to play that role!” Rather than “oh my God, I wish I was good enough to want to play that role”.

 

So do you want to just act now, or do you think you could never leave stunt work completely behind, as you love it so much?

I’ve made the decision that I’m going to make a clean break into acting, so that… it happened before Raze, I had to give myself room to identify as an actor. Fortunately, because of the trajectory of my career, ninety percent of the roles I’ve been getting still enable me to do all the cool shit that I love to do anyway!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard to transition. Because, as hard as it’s been for me to take myself seriously, I’ve had to work twice as hard to get other people to see me in that light. Which is another reason I’ve had to say no to stunts – as it’s so easy to fit me into that box as I fit it so well. But now, I’m starting to feel like they’re might be a little bit of momentum building and I think Raze has been really central to that as well.

I would never turn my back on stunts because I love it. I love the culture and I love the people, and I will always consider myself an honorary stunt person, even if no-one else does! (laughs)

 

Who has been your favourite person to stunt double for?

Lucy. Well… listen, I had an absolute blast doubling for Sharon Stone. She’s her own character – she’s a “movie star”! But she was so gracious and amazing with me. I know some people are like “I do my own stunts” and I don’t expect you to acknowledge that I exist, but I don’t want you to say that I don’t exist! Sharon Stone was on Oprah one day, and it was like “blah blah blah my stunt girl Zoë Bell”, and we were like “WHAT?!” That was amazing! That was awesome! And Lucy has always been more than candid about it. I’m just, I’ve been really lucky with the women I’ve doubled. Katherine Heigl I doubled on 27 Dresses – she was a sweetheart, and Sandra Bullock on The Proposal – she was cool as shit. Sometimes I wish I’d had worse experiences, so I had some better stories!

 

Ummm, I’m sure you don’t get asked about this one very often, but do you remember working on a show called Cleopatra 2525? I worked on the DVD of it a long time ago and I loved that show!

(laughs) Well, I was doing that one at the same time as Xena, so I didn’t work on it as much, but I doubled… Gina (Torres – Firefly and Hannibal) once or twice… They had proper, regular doubles, but I doubled Vicky (Victoria Pratt – Xena, Castle) and Gina a couple of different times, which is funny in that they were completely different from me in skin colour and height! But New Zealand was like that – you didn’t have many stunt women to choose from!

I played a character called The Betrayer in one episode, and that was my first and only acting gig until Death Proof. I had two lines and one of them was repeated twice!

 

Do you remember what your line was?

“You will return to the factory!”

(both laughing)

 

Last question. It’s weird but I like to ask everybody I interview… If you could be killed by any movie monster, which one would it be? And what would your last words be?

Holy crap. Ummm… The one that pops in my head first is Jaws, only because it’s the only one that’s ever haunted me, and my last words would be “I fuckin’ knew it”. (laughs)

 

Thank you very, very much for taking the time to talk to me. I’m a massive fan of yours – so this has been an enormous treat for me.

You’re very welcome.

 

Have a lovely weekend, thanks again, bye-bye!

Bye!

 

That was probably my favourite of any interview I’ve done so far. Zoë Bell is not only a legendary stunt woman and fantastic emerging actress, but a complete joy to talk to.

Enormous thanks to not only Zoë, but to Varun at Koch Media for organising it for me.

Raze is released digitally and on DVD on the 16th of June.




Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Amazon Prime Free Trial