Zoe Bell goes from stuntwoman to lead actor in the action film "Raze." Credit: Getty Images
Zoe Bell started her stunt career when she was only 14, for the New Zealand soap “Shortland Street.” From there it was a long stint as Lucy Lawless’ double on “Xena: Warrior Princess.” Upon emigrating to America, she was profiled in the 2004 documentary “Double Dare,” which ended with her getting the job as Uma Thurman’s double on “Kill Bill.” Director Quentin Tarantino liked her so much he asked her to play “herself” in “Death Proof,” which climaxes with her holding onto the roof of a speeding motorcar. Since, Bell has kept one foot in the stunt world, the other as an actor, popping up in “Whip It,” “Oblivion” and the new “Raze,” which she co-produced and stars in, playing a woman kidnapped into an underground all-girl fighter circuit.
You’ve said you no longer consider yourself a stuntwoman who does acting but an actor who does stunts. Is this true?
It is true. It’s true because I’ve made it so. [Laughs] It was a conscious decision on my behalf. Being a stuntwoman is very comfortable for me. I’m accustomed to that, I know where I stand. I know what my shortcomings are. Acting makes me nervous, so for me, committing to being an actor was required. Otherwise I’d fall back on the stunt thing.
Were you nervous the first time you acted?
Had you ever wanted to act before?
No, I’d never spoken about it out loud or had any intentions of pursing it as a career. I used to act in school. I just loved what I was doing as a stuntgirl, but it never occurred to me there was something other than that. But I had watched the actors I was doubling and thought it’d be cool to do that part as well — to do the whole character.
Did it require much convincing for Quentin Tarantino to get you to do “Death Proof?”
No, he didn’t need to. If Quentin Tarantino says, “Do you want to be in my movie?” you say, “Yes.” But I was definitely hesitant based on the fact that I was freaked out. “What, do you mean there’s dialogue?” I don’t want to be the person who screws up a Tarantino movie. He took me out to have beers and explained the chase sequence to me, and I was like, “Um, I’m in.”
How did he get you to relax?
Quentin had intentionally surrounded me with people he believed would be beneficial to me. He thought our energies would work together. He knew we’d get along like a house on fire. And it was my first acting job ever, so I had nothing to compare it to. I didn’t know what it was meant to feel like! Quentin told me not to do acting classes beforehand. He said, “I know what I want from you and I know you have it, and I don’t you to train yourself out of it.” I was like, “I don’t even know what that means, but I’m going to hand it over to you.” I did a lot of preparation. I knew every line of dialogue in that movie: I knew the whole first half, I knew everyone’s dialogue, I knew Stuntman Mike’s dialogue, I knew the lot. There was a shot where we did 12 pages in one shot. I was like, “Is that good?” Rosario [Dawson] looked at me and said, “It’s a good thing you’re cute.” The truth is if I hadn’t know how big a deal that was it would have been far more nerve-wracking and terrifying for me. Ignorance was definitely bliss.
Have you done acting classes since?
Oh sh—, yes. I’ve done lots of classes. Whatever comes naturally to some people might not for me. You need the tools to access certain emotions, and I didn’t have any of that. I was a stuntgirl. You never saw me vulnerable. You never saw me cry. You never see me in pain, in anger. I never lost my temper. You never saw me feminine or sexual. As an actor it’s the opposite. Even if your character isn’t vulnerable, you have to be. Classes for me were practice for how to open up and be comfortable expressing parts of myself to people who aren’t my mom and dad.
Sabrina, your character in “Raze,” is quite different from “Zoe Bell” in “Death Proof.” She’s very serious and intense and is arguably in even more danger.
Sabrina’s an intense person. My life resembles her’s not at all. The life I created for Sabrina is nothing like mine. I did a lot of preparation for this movie. I think the biggest killer for most people in general in acting, or at least for me in acting, is doubt whilst in the performance. It’s the killer of all things natural and brilliant.
What about the fighting? How was that different from past jobs?
[Director] Josh [C. Waller]’s main point was wanting to get the emotional truth from the performances. These women don’t want to be doing it. That was really important for us. The truth of it is most women don’t like fighting by nature. To get a woman to do that, you either have to threaten their child or their brother or parent or their loved one. These fights were the most emotional fights I’ve ever participated in. Watching the Rosario and Tracie [Thoms, another “Death Proof” costar] fight is like watching two of my great friends fight. It was really exhausting. We were all shattered, emotionally and physically, after it. I was like, “Alright, next I’m doing a romantic comedy.” [Laughs]
Do you want to do those kinds of films? Could you imagine doing a film where you’re not beating someone up?
Yeah, totally. I’d love to. I’m really into the idea of comedy at the moment. I would do action comedy, no problem. The more I act the more interested I am in the different facets of it. I’m more interested in drama because I now know more. I understand a little bit more and I understand I have more to learn.
How close do you tend to get with the actresses you’re doubling?
It depends. Something like “The Proposal” [ed. where she doubled for Sandra Bullock], I wasn’t on it for that long because there’s not a lot of action in it. We didn’t’ do a lot of stuff together. She was lovely, but we didn’t exchange numbers or anything. We’re not friends. But working on something like “Kill Bill” or “Xena,” especially if we’re doing fights together, because we’re switching in and out, you get pretty close.