Glass Interviews Zoe Bell, Star of The Hateful Eight
Diving into the stunt-double scene during her tender teenage years, wildly funny and down-to-earth, Zoe Bell has developed from stunt-woman into a multi-talented actress and budding producer, while harbouring dreams to one day also direct.
New Zealand-born Bell’s natural flair and infatuation for performing has started to shape a promising acting career, landing exciting roles in cult-classic and world famous films including Death Proof and Raze. Starting out as the stunt-double for Uma Thurman in the extremely successful Kill Bill movies, director Quentin Tarantino is now one of the 37-year-old Bell’s closest confidantes and colleagues, with their latest collaboration The Hateful Eightpremiering worldwide this January.
With multiple simultaneous producing and acting projects on the move, Zoe Bell is quickly becoming a household name in the film industry, and most definitely one to watch. Glass catches up with Bell to find out a little bit more about the gifted star, her transition from stunt-woman to actress and producer, and the ambitious drive that pushes her to perform.
From a young age you were into very active sports including gymnastics and Tae Kwon-do. How did you first get into doing stunts?
Zoe Bell: When I was a gymnast, a guy by the name of Peter Bell was training with my gym coach and me for a year or so. He said he was a stunt-man but, to be honest, I was 16 and I just didn’t believe him [laughs].
With gymnastics, I started doing martial arts, and through that I met people that were, in fact, stunt-guys, and it really wasn’t until then that I even recognised that there was such a thing as a career in stunt-work. When I recognised that that was in fact a possibility, it sort of became my waking, my sleeping, and every-sort was occupied by it.
I think I’m possibly designed to do exactly that, and then it kind of started popping up in a couple of different places, but I was so all about it that it started to present itself in lots of different areas of my life. My best friend is a stunt-man, another guy, who is now one of my oldest friends, came into my dad’s surgery one day, [he] was working at an emergency clinic, with a concussion from doing stunts, and my dad came home with his phone number, and so it just sort of propped up in enough places where I just found myself talking about it incessantly.
I think it may have something to do with why my dad finally came home with a phone number and was like, “you need to just call this person and tell them that you were put on this earth to be a stunt-person”, and that was sort of the beginning of it all.
I did a New Zealand soap, and then I jumped out of a moving vehicle on a mini series, and my first real gig was being a stunt-double on Xena: Warrior Princess for the last three seasons, and that was definitely my first real indication of stunts, working on Xena for three whole seasons.
You started out doing smaller films and TV stunt-work, and it seems Kill Bill was one of your first big breaks in the film industry, how did that role come about?
ZB: At the time, I was working in New Zealand on Xena, and at some point the production company that was doing Xena, who had also done Hercules and a bunch of other TV shows. They sort of shut up shop, and that just happened to coincide with The Lord of the Rings – the first installment of the film wrapping up. So New Zealand suddenly had five or six fully functioning crews – all working to the same amount of people, with very little work to go around.
After about a year of that, I decided to go and explore Canada and see what my options were there. I then came through California, because there was a documentary called Double Dare, based on two subjects – myself, and another woman called Jeannie Epper, one of the original Wonder Woman stunt-doubles back in the day. So I stopped through California to hang out with the director and meet Jeannie.
While I was in California, the Kill Bill auditions came up, and I guess they were struggling to find tall, white girls that could fight because. I think Charlie’s Angels and a couple of other female-heavy action films were already in production, so most of the go-to stunt-women that this industry would normally use were unavailable, which worked to my advantage [laughs].
I randomly ended up at this audition, and, really, it never occurred to me that I would get the role. I was just excited to be able to go home and tell people that I had auditioned for a Tarantino movie. I had no idea I would even meet him. If you watch Double Dare, we’ve got the day Quentin and I meet on film. It tugs at my heart strings every time. Three days later, I found out that I had the job, and I was in fact not in Canada, I was now going to go to China to be the bride. I was pretty excited about that – it was life changing.
What is it like working with such a cult classic director like Tarantino, and what is your relationship like now?
ZB: It’s amazing working with him. I mean it’s multi-faceted. First of all, he’s amazing to work with because of his passion and his energy; it’s incomparable. It’s impossible not to catch it. He has a contagious love for film-making. Secondly, which comes hand in hand with it, and I don’t know if you can separate the two, he’s a master of his art. And he has a genius mind. Even if he was miserable the whole time and you didn’t like him, working with him would be incredibly beneficial.
Fortunately he loves what he does and I love being around him, so it’s just sort of win-win all round, really. I’ve worked on every one of his films since the Kill Bill movies in some capacity or another and, I hope to continue to do so!
Quentin’s career has sort of been the backbone of my career since being in LA. It’s amazing how it’s worked out that way, I’m a really lucky girl. And I work really hard to make it so that he can keep hiring me (laughs). I work hard so that I can earn the work that he sends my way.
This current moment is such an exciting time for you! Your latest movie in which you have an acting role, The Hateful Eight is out now. How are you feeling about this latest venture?
ZB: Amazing. I love the movie, I love the cast, of course I love the crew. So many of them are like family to me now. This movie is so exciting. It’s such a ride – it’s such a joy. I kind of feel like you’re in the presence of this movie, the cast is just ridiculous. To have my name on the same call-sheet as this group of people is an honour. Really, it’s kind of pinch-yourself stuff.
I must say my role as Six Horse Judy is quite contrary to what people would normally assume is my wheelhouse. I think having been a stunt-woman for so long, people kind of expect sort of bad-ass stuff, and ass-kicking, sort of roles for me, which I will happily dive into. They are definitely what I am comfortable with. But this role, it feels like her sole purpose in this movie is to be a ray of light.
She’s bouncy. There’s no word that better describes her other than bouncy. I loved that Tarantino trusted me to bring that to a character. She’s not bad-ass at all, and I was honoured for him to write a character like that and trust me to be able to bring that. She was just so fun; it was just so fun being her.
It was so fun being someone that everyone responded so positively to. I’m always in a world where everyone around me is dying, I’m killing them or I’m defending something. It was so nice just to be in charge of making people smile, it felt really good!
Would you say acting has been a natural transition for you?
ZB: I would definitely say it’s a very natural transition. I would like to clarify that that doesn’t mean in any way, shape, or form, easy. I had to work really hard to kind of undo a lot of mindsets – about how I identified as a professional – and also my subconscious, underlying thoughts of what it meant to be an actor. And that took some very conscious re-wiring. It’s also a really hard business, and there are a lot of people who have wanted to do it and who have been working toward doing it for years and it’s competitive.
It’s also strange; you are constantly in a position of being validated by other people, or wanting or needing to be validated by others. You get hired for a job because people say that you would be good for it, but it’s a difficult thing. But it’s also about being so specific to the job. All kinds of other reasons come into it. It’s a really hard career to get into and that kind of subliminal rejection is one that you need to stay true to yourself, otherwise it will slowly destroy you, and break your heart!
Although stunt-work is extremely safe, as the teams must work tirelessly to plan every detail of each stunt, there is always some element of danger. What would you say is so attractive or addictive to you about performing stunts, despite the risks?
ZB: Well, it’s a couple of things, I’m a risk-taker in the sense that even as a kid, I liked being up high. I liked going fast and I’d always be up a tree somewhere. But I was never really inclined to the daredevil life. If I actually think it’s going to break me or kill me, then I’m completely not interested. I mean, I’ve jumped out of planes and bungee-jumped. But with my career, I think it’s almost more about the performance, and the execution of it, the idea of getting it right or making it work and problem-solving. I really enjoy affecting people too I think.
It’s like when you do a good fight, and everyone at the end is like “Holy shit!” To me that’s really satisfying. For example on Death Proof, basically every time Quentin said “Cut”, he or Jeff Dashnaw, the co-ordinator, were like “Don’t you dare do that again!” Because I scared them, so I was like “yes!”
I did a great job, because my job in that role was to terrify people. I really get off on the performance side of it. Even as an actor ,I think there’s a similar high to doing something, and acting is more about feeling connected to the material and being honest, because when you’re honest is usually when you’re affecting people. Affecting people, I can see how that might be called addictive.
You’re also a budding producer. You were one of the producers for Raze and an executive producer in the upcoming film Camino in which you also star as the lead… Is that also something that came about naturally?
ZB: [laughs] That sounds so good! I love the way that sounds when you say that! Yes it was actually, I mean and again, that’s not to say that it happened unconsciously. Raze was originally a short film, and when Josh Waller, the director and one of the other producers, contacted me, one of my negotiating stakes was that I would like to come on as a producer.
I had this idea for a TV show that I wanted to sort of delve into for years, and I’ve worked in this business since I was 17. But somehow I still don’t know how to explain the role of a producer. The way I know how to learn is to just go do it. It started there. So now every time I’ve been in the situation where I’ve had the opportunity to step in as a producer, or selecting the credit of producer, and that’s been available to me, it’s been a conscious endeavour.
Now I’m actually really enjoying the possible freedom it’s giving me in the sense that I like the feeling of not having to wait for someone to call me and validate me. I like the idea of being able to create work, and reach out to people that I know that are awesome – that I would love to work with. It’s terrifying because it’s really difficult, but it’s somehow relieving to think that I might have some control over my career.
Can we expect more from you as a producer in the future?
ZB: Yes, I would like to produce more. I’ve just sort of started admitting to myself that I would quite like to direct, sort of the next step that I’m going to be pursuing and educating myself in. I just feel like with producing, I’ve lived on sets my whole life and I think I speak that language so it comes to me quite naturally.
I like being part of the collaborative team, definitely as a creative producer is where I feel like I excel. Now having worked in the business for as long as I have, I have a wide network of friends and that are also colleagues, that are at my disposal, as I am to them, so it’s an exciting time!
What’s next for you in 2016?
ZB: I have a couple of films coming out. Importantly for me is Camino, I’m the lead as a photojournalist who’s on assignment in the Colombian jungle. My character witnesses something she shouldn’t, and spends most of the movie on the run being chased through the Colombian jungle, which was awesome. It’s a smaller budget but I’m really proud of it. It comes out in early March.
Then there’s another movie called Paradox, which is a sort of sci-fi, time-travelling thriller that comes out in April. In terms of other projects, I’ve got two movies in development at the moment; one that I won’t talk too much about, it’s with some friends of mine, and I’m hoping to be able to take it to New Zealand, which would be amazing.
I would be the lead in that and I would love to take work home. The other one, I’m collaborating with a brilliant man by the name of Dante Harper. He’s just a brilliant screen-writer, and he’s come on board and we’re producing this thing together.
It’s literally based on a life experience of mine, which sort of left me feeling like, “Wow, what if we made this decision in that situation, how different would our life be.” I’m really excited about that one! Hopefully those two projects happen next year, and I’ll be really excited and proud of myself. Yes it’s not a bad way to be at the moment, I’m enjoying it.
We’ll see though, hopefully I crush a bunch of auditions and land a lead on some TV show, and then create my own TV show! [laughs]