As fans we all love to see the epic bloody fights and kills on the big screen, but none of that would be possible if not for the men and women of the stunt world. While most of them sadly remain as faceless warriors behind the scenes, every so often one springs out from the shadows and unleashes their fury like on they can. While she has been leaving her mark on the industry for some time, veteran stunt woman Zoe Bell dazzled audiences in front of the camera riding on the hood of a speeding car in ‘Death Proof’ and has been tearing up the screen ever since. Now she is stepping into a blood soaked arena in combat with other women in her latest film ‘Raze’ and I had the chance to sit down and speak with her about this film and her dangerous career.
Bobby: How did you get started in the martial arts?
Zoe: First I discovered gymnastics. I loved watching people flip at school and wanted to have a go, but then I got too old and too tall at about 15 or 16 and then it just seemed like a really obvious transition for me in my youth. I knew about martial arts then but didn’t have any experience and didn’t know much about it but I knew I wanted to use my legs to throw around to kick so I did a lot of research and looked into a bunch of different ones. I looked into Tae Kwon Do, some forms of Kung Fu and Aikido. The first school I walked into was a Tae Kwon Do school and I am a bit impulsive, so when I saw people kicking stuff and breaking boards I wanted to do that. I literally joined up right then and there at that school and it was like a 45 minute drive from my house and there were ones closer, but that was the first one I had gone too. Because of going to this school I met these two guys who were both stunt men and I was like “What? You get paid to do what?” Maybe if I had gone to a different school I would have ended up an accountant or something.
Bobby: Obviously you had your martial arts and gymnastic training, but how did you then transition into the stunt world?
Zoe: I was 17, I wasn’t really thinking of it as a career path. It was something I wanted to do, but the transition wasn’t so much up to me. There was a work load and so many people wanting that work that had experience and had been doing it longer. It felt like an eternity before it took off, but was probably only like 6 months or something and I would just work a day here and there and just hope that the phone would ring. I didn’t double anyone for a long time and then the woman who had been doubling Lucy Lawless on Xena decided that she wanted to move on so they were screwed. They needed someone that had the ability to fight and fit the look and I just happen to be that combination. They called and asked how I would feel about doing that and of course I was over the moon. I think when I found out I was at a wrap party and had been drinking and in my life had never experienced free alcohol so was excited about that, but then they told they wanted me to come on board as Xena’s stunt double and I don’t think I have ever sobered up as quickly as that ever.
Bobby: Now you have transitioned yourself into the acting as well and became somewhat of the female Jackie Chan.
Zoe: (laughs) I love that, I will take it.
Bobby: It seemed that the acting side of it became more prominent with your work with Tarantino, was that where this part of your career kicked off or were you already looking into that before?
Zoe: It was all Quentin. He is solely responsible for the beginning of this trip. I think I considered it just like anyone likes to be the center of attention at some point and time, but I had never considered it for an actual career. I loved doing drama in high school and my mom bought me an acting class because she thought it might be good for my stunt work, but it was really when Quentin showed up on my door step with a script with pages of dialogue with my name on it.
Bobby: How did you get involved with your latest film, Raze?
Zoe: Josh Waller who is the director and producer of the film is a friend of mine that I have known for years. They were talking about this project and if it should be a short film or webisodes or a feature film and at one point Josh brought my name up and they got excited. So they brought me in and I got excited and then they asked me to come on as a producer and I was sold because I knew I would get to have some collaborative input and claim it as my own a bit. It’s less scary that way than putting your name on something that you just don’t have any control over and you’re not always sure of the reputations of the people you are involved with.
Bobby: At this level in your career because you have made a name for yourself in the stunt world, do you get to have more input now in relation to the stunts and fighting?
Zoe: Definitely. It is important to me and it’s my base language, but it’s not like saying I don’t like what you’ve done, but instead saying “That’s cool, what about adding this?” or telling them I am stronger on this leg, let’s do it this way. It’s super collaborative and I love the team involvement and can’t help but have excited opinions about stuff. Most of the guys I have worked with are proud of me saying “Yeah, one of our girls made it!” and I think the other side of it is because I was serious about being a stunt woman for a long time before trying to be an actor as opposed to being a stunt woman trying to be an actor, not that there is anything wrong with that. Because I was serious about it, I put in the hard yards and garnered respect that most qualified stunt guys, fight choreographers and stunt coordinators when they get people with more experience they love a little input because it just enriches the whole process. There are some stunt people that don’t like that and I can read that straight away.
Bobby: It’s one thing when you put two actors together and the stunt coordinator teaches them the moves and then they practice together, but I always thought it is probably a lot different when they take someone like yourself who is experienced in stunts and put them against an actor who is not.
Zoe: I mean that has been my whole life as a stunt girl, I am going over there to fight the main actor a lot of the time. I am actually comfortable with it. My job has always been to not only make my character look like a badass but to also make the actor I am fighting opposite to be the character they need to be too. If they are supposed to look tougher than me, it is my job to make them look as tough as possible, if I am overpowering them; it is my job to make it look like they are fighting back. Of course when you get two actors that are experienced in the stunt side then it is a whole different experience. The efficiency is like an unspoken language of dancers but with impact. (laughs)
Bobby: In this film the fight style is more brutal as opposed to the flashy stylized choreography. How much do you have to change your style for this so that you don’t look as refined and instead look like you are just fighting to stay alive?
Zoe: In my career as a double, a lot of my job is to not just do the fights to make them look coo, but also to appear as the same person as the actor I am playing. Whatever fight style they use I just take that on so that they can cut back and forth between the two. I have never studied Wuhu for real, just in the context of ‘Kill Bill’ so I had to stop fighting like me and fight like a Wuhu person and bring in Uma to that. I am used to switching my styles around, but I realize with ‘Raze’ and the character of Sabrina was the huge amount of acting and if you figure out who she was then the fight style comes from that. Her fighting comes from the life that she has lived, the reason she is there to fight and what she has to fight for. It’s all of those types of things that determine how a person would defend themselves.
Bobby: I loved the movie and without spoiling it, there is a moment there regarding your character that pissed me off, but the ending really made it work because it really showcased hoe dire their situation was.
Zoe: The ending is one of the most controversial things where people either dig for the same reason you are talking about or they hate it and are pissed off. I know the moment you are referring too previously and when I read the script the first time I had the exact same response and was like “Are you f#@king kidding me!” Then I was all angry reading the next few pages and muttering under my breath until I got to the end and thought that is brilliant. They set you up at the beginning to not know and that anything could happen to anyone in this film.
Bobby: That first sequence is a shock, so is that why they went with that actress to set up more of the shocking aspect of what is happening to these women?
Zoe: The irony of it all was that early on we were just going to do a short and was going to end with just that fight so she was in fact the lead of the short and I was playing a cameo role. As it moved on she kind of took on the Drew Barrymore like role from ‘Scream’. We wanted people to feel as comfortable as they could about this situation and then pull it out from underneath them because this is the world these women are living in where at any point in time you or the person you are forming a friendship with are not coming back.
Bobby: Do you have anything else coming up you can tell us about?
Zoe: I have one in post right now called ‘Prison Raid’ and not really sure what is happening with it right now, but it has some cool people in it like Vivica Foxx, but I haven’t seen anything of it yet. I play this team leader of women that are going to fight the bad guy and it’s pretty awesome and a lot of fun.
Bobby: I look forward to seeing it and to see you do your thing is an inspiration to all of us martial artists out there.
Zoe: Ah thank you.
Bobby: It was an honor to get to speak with you and thanks for taking the time to do this.
Zoe: Of course it was my absolute pleasure.
Step into the blood soaked arena and check out Raze available now on DVD.