She’s a stuntwomen, an actress and now a producer… Is there anything Zoë Bell can’t do?
After learning her considerable skillset on a few smaller jobs in her native New Zealand before doubling for Lucy Lawless on the cult TV show ”Xena: Warrior Princess”, 35-year-old Bell’s life has been a Hollywood dream come true.
After an audition to be the stunt coordinator for Quentin Tarantino’s ”Kill Bill”, she’s now the cult auteur’s go-to stunt girl. In fact he liked her so much he not only had her do the stunts of his next film (”Death Proof”), he gave her a major role.
Hollywood took notice, and before we knew it Bell wasn’t just flipping over, falling off buildings and being kicked in the head, she was acting. The next logical step was to take her expertise and put it into her own project, and she was instrumental in shepherding exploitation-inspired ”Raze” – about female prisoners fighting to the death – to screens. Drew Turney spoke to the all-round talent from Los Angeles and tried to keep up with her infectious, mile-a-minute pace.
How did you get involved in Raze?
I’ve known [director] Josh Waller for years. Originally Raze was a short film that Kenny [Gage, screenwriter] had written a long time ago. Josh said to him ‘we need someone like Zoë Bell on this,’ so he called me and described the premise and I think they originally wanted me to be in it and [stunt] coordinate.
I wasn’t very sure because at the time I didn’t really know which direction I wanted to go in, but I didn’t think coordinating was it. But I thought I should meet with them and I just loved the energy, loved the idea of it, loved the concept.
It’s sort of scary when you have to start accepting that your name means something, especially for female action, and at some point they said ‘we really want you involved because it’s female action and it’d be silly not to have you here. Can we make you a producer?’ I was like; ‘yes, yes, I’m in now!’ I love the collaborative process, I love being part of it from the beginning, giving my opinions and throwing ideas around and making it up and seeing if it sticks.
I did a bunch of work on my character Sabrina as well. In the short she’s only in the last 40 seconds or so, it’s more of a cameo. But she was such a rad character I spent a lot of time figuring out who she was and where she’d come from.
Then while we were shooting the short we were churning out ideas about it maybe being a web series or something even bigger, whether we wanted to use it to get money to make a feature. And it just started bubbling away and we were green enough that we went ‘let’s just give it a go’.
Why wouldn’t you be the stunt coordinator on a film that seems so tailor made for your talents?
We had a stunt coordinator called James Young because we knew once we got into shooting I couldn’t be the one called on to problem-solve, particularly if it’s stunt coordination because that’s so second nature to me. But the concern was that I’d gravitate to coordinating so much that it could very easily pull me out of my real job, which was to be the lead of the movie.
The problem then was going to be getting someone who was really good because I can’t be in a movie that’s got shit fights in it. We needed someone hungry for a feature and willing to work. We found James, he’s super talented and had been choreographing fights and doing stuff on his own for ages but just not quite broken in. He’s now just gone and done Captain America – I don’t think we can exactly take the credit for that but I’m glad he got it.
Even though it’s in the exploitation genre Raze has a quite serious approach and tone. How come?
Kenny’s whole thing was to have a prison fight movie but want the fights to be awesome. He was sick of seeing female action with lame fights. More than everything else, he wanted the fights to be tight.
Josh is more of a drama man, so it wasn’t like he didn’t want the fights to be great too, but he was more about the gravity of the situation these women witness and experience. Josh wanted to make it as different as possible from an exploitation movie. For me, I was aware of wanting the fights to be as uncampy as possible. I wanted to do fights that I’d never done before – and that’s saying a lot because I’ve done a lot of female fights. There’s nothing wrong with campy fun but we were steering clear of it in this one.
Now you’re a producer is there going to be room enough in your life for stunts?
At this point I’ve made it so there’s not much room for stunts. That was a conscious decision and it was necessary to make the transition, otherwise I’d keep holding on to what’s comfortable.
It was a hard decision to make and there are days when I ask myself what the fuck I’m doing, I should just go back to playing what I know and where people respect me for being experienced. I don’t have to prove myself over and over again. But you know what? At the same time maybe when you’re in a world where you don’t have to prove yourself all the time you get spoilt. So now maybe all it means is I have to do good work. You do good work and at some point people can’t keep doubting you.
Do you think producing Raze was good training ground to produce a much bigger film, or are they apples and oranges?
Fundamentally they’re not so dissimilar in terms of knowing the right people and why someone would trust you with that much money. I also imagine a lot of people will think I just got a producer because I was the lead, and it’s a fair assumption. I imagine I might have to cut my teeth on a few more small ones before people take me seriously as a producer on a bigger one, which is fine by me. I love the indie world, it’s so much fun.
You have experience on big films too though, what’s your preference?
I love both and I’ve been fortunate that a lot of the sets I’ve worked on have had a sense of family and camaraderie not matter what the scale or the budget. On lower budget stuff generally people are doing it because they love the work and they want to get places and succeed, so I’m lucky to be somewhere where that’s still present.