Zöe Bell—Angel of Death, Lost—2/28/09

/content/interviews/272/2.jpgZöe Bell garnered widespread attention (opposite the legendary Jeannie Epper) as one of the stars of Double Dare, a documentary about stuntwomen. The documentary captured Bell's notoriety among Xena: Warrior Princess fans (Bell's first big stunt-doubling gig was for Lucy Lawless) and her successul audition to double for Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films. Since then, Bell has scored several high-profile acting jobs amid her stunt work: in Tarantino's Death Proof (Grindhouse), on the hit TV series Lost, and now in the highly enjoyable online series Angel of Death at Crackle.com. (After completing its online run, Angel of Death will have a second life as a DVD feature with added footage.) I spoke to Bell at San Francisco's Moscone Center during WonderCon 2009.

Groucho: First of all, how did you prepare to be the Angel of Death in this show? (Laughs.)

Zöe Bell: (Laughs. In a sultry voice:) I was born the Angel of Death, honey.

G: Did you do your own stunt choreography, or how did that go?

ZB: Preparation-wise, I went to acting coaching with a guy called Chad McCord for like every day for three weeks, or every other day. And I also did a lot of research on the internet about—y’know, ‘cause I was trying to figure out what her journey is, and I’ve never been an assassin with no emotions. I don’t know what that’s like. So then I don’t know what it’s like to then feel emotions. I was trying to relate it to things that I had had an experience of—maybe even not through myself but through friends of mine or whatever—so maybe it’s like: the alcoholic becoming sober. Because basically what she went through is technically horrific, but when she gets emotions and she gets conscious, technically she’s “coming right.” But in the process of coming right, she has to deal with all the fucked-up shit she’s done in the past that previously she got to just ignore, but now she’s faced with it. And I think that happens with a lot of sobering alcoholic people: it’s one thing to suddenly just give up alcohol; it’s another thing to suddenly be sober and realize all the horrible things you’ve done to the people. And to yourself, yeah?

G: And also that self-doubt of “Do I really need to change my ways?”

ZB: Yeah!

G: Maybe I really want to go back to that.

ZB: Yeah, yeah! ’Cause it’s safe and I know it. And so all of that. And then there was the people that have had actual head traumas. And I researched a bunch of that stuff. So I was pulling stuff from all over the place. And then eventually it just came down to breaking the script into pieces and having an idea of what kind of personality she is. And then making sense of the dialogue. For this piece of dialogue to make sense, that means that she must feel this way about that, so it must be—y’know? It’s fascinating. I really enjoyed that wild process. I didn’t think I would dig it so much, but I wrote a whole history for her.

G: You have the heart of an actress! This is where they go.

ZB: I know, apparently. I would have never thought I’d hear myself talking like this. I really enjoyed it.

G: So obviously you have to do all this work before you show up because on a production like this, the budget is tight, and there’s no time to waste.

ZB: “Tight”’s a euphemistic word.

G: (Laughs.) I was trying to come up with the right term…How does that impact the action choreography, ’cause usually that’s time-consuming.

ZB: Very, very.

G: And what did you contribute?

/content/interviews/272/3.jpgZB: Well we had our fight guy, Ron Yuan, and he had a whole team of people. And basically when you’re on a budget like that, you want to keep the action as realistic and as based on personal steam as possible. So you don’t want to have to be doing too many big wire rigs…you don’t want to be doing some of the things that require a big reset. You don’t have the time or the money. But Ron did a really amazing job; he pulled a lot of favors from a lot of really talented guys that make good money doing what they do, and came in for Ron. And a few of them came in on my behalf. But they choreographed that stuff three, four weeks before. We were working on it off the clock ages. And so they would then bring me in, and I would do the choreography, blah blah. They basically choreographed it, and then I came in and then we would tailor it to me…So I didn’t choreograph it. I would never say I choreographed it; it was all Ron and his boys. And they did an incredible job. Having said that, being a stuntwoman, and Ron knowing me as a stuntwoman, he was open to being like “Well, what do you think? What do you reckon? Is that feeling okay?” And I’d be like “I don’t like it. It doesn’t work for me. Not that what you’re doing isn’t correct. It doesn’t work for me: I’m built different; I’ve got boobs.” You know what I mean? “My weight’s distributed differently. How ‘bout we do this instead of?” So he was very open to that. And it was very exciting. Me and the stunt team all knew how hard it is to stick to schedule when shooting action, specifically martial-arts-type action. And, you know, we just made it really clear at the beginning—I mean, I remember saying to Paul, “Paul, this stuff takes a long time.” And he knew it. The advantage was the lead is stunt savvy, so that saved us sometimes. And we got to use a bunch of really talented stunt guys who were also actors, for thug roles or this or that. So we saved a lot of time on that, but I’m happy to say we didn’t have to sacrifice too much.

G: Yeah, well, it plays great

ZB: It’s really doomsday when you have to sacrifice great action ’cause you’re running out of time.

G: I came to know you through Double Dare, like a lot of people.

ZB: Mmm.

G: At this point in your career, when you look back, I’m sure it’s kind of a double-edged sword to have that—at that stage of your career, they followed you around. How do you feel about that now, that film?

/content/interviews/272/7.jpgZB: That film? I love that film. It’s got easier and easier to me to admit that I love it, with age and with distance. Because I think when it first came out—I always loved it—but when it first came out I felt arrogant saying I loved it, ’cause it’s about me—and also obviously about Jeannie. Now it’s like I don’t think it’s arrogant at all; I think it’s wonderful that I get my family captured forever, my family house, my brother, that part of my life. If I ever have kids, I can show them what I did when I was younger. And I just think Amanda did a really wonderful job. And Jeannie's a fascinating character and a wonderful lady. And in hindsight, technically I wouldn't be where I am without it. I probably wouldn't have even gotten Kill Bill. So I don't know—maybe I wouldn't have even stayed being a stuntwoman after Xena: who knows? You know what I mean? And I formed some incredible friendships through it. To be honest, one of the biggest things is the responses I've had from, particularly, women—I mean men as well love that movie—but particularly the women. When I get it from younger women, it's most moving, that that movie has done something to shift the way they look at themselves...the way they approach life as a woman. I never in a million years thought that that would ever—it didn't occur to me that anyone else would see it aside from my folks, you know?

G: And the stunt industry, as well, took more notice of stuntwomen.

ZB: Totally. So yeah, I wouldn't change anything.

G: I should probably ask you about Quentin Tarantino.

ZB: Oh no: fuck that guy—he's boring.

G: You've had a fruitful collaboration with him. Does he treat you right?

ZB: Of course he does. Of course he does. Yeah, being on a Quentin set now for me is pretty much like being at home. The Xena set used to feel the same way. And obviously I've worked for years on the Xena set, but if you compile all the months of movie-making I've done with Quentin, it's not far off. I just know so many of the people, and he's quite loyal. So he's got a core group of people that are obviously circulating around him. He's also a good friend of mine. He's definitely become a good friend of mine. I don't just mean work colleague, but a good friend of mine. And he's treated me pretty good. I'd like to think I've treated him good too, but I don't know if it compares.

G: Can you tease your role in Inglorious Basterds? What do you get to do?

ZB: Oh, I hate to break it to you. I'm not in it; I'm just doubling the other girls. I'm doing stunts. Which is great. I'm totally happy to be there. I would love to have been in this movie, because it's going to be amazing. And he talked about it; it just wasn't feasible in this movie, but I'm sure we'll work together again in the future.

G: You also got to make a brief appearance on the cult hit Lost. What was that experience like?

/content/interviews/272/4.jpgZB: A lot of fun for me. The cast and crew are amazing. I got to work with Jeff Fahey, who I love. And I got to surf, and jump in the Hawaiian ocean. And, you know, work on Lost. It was fantastic. I mean, I would have loved to have had a bigger role, and we were—I was heming and hawing about whether to—'cause they approached me; they didn't want me to audition or anything like that. I was definitely heming and hawing about whether I should hold off for maybe a juicier role or a bigger role. There were a couple of different opinions floating around, from different people. And in the end, I loved working with those guys and really enjoyed being in Hawaii. And it seems to have done good things, except for the fact that people are pissed off that they blinked and missed me. (Laughs.) You never know with that show.

G: That's right! You never, never know, especially with what they're doing now.

ZB: Yeah.

G: You might get another call.

ZB: That'd be good.

G: Thanks so much. It's been great.

ZB: You're very welcome.