'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Actor Zoë Bell on Her Evolution as a Stunt Performer
Zoë Bell, actor and stunt performer on projects including Iron Man 3, Thor: Ragnarok and a number of Quentin Tarantino projects from Kill Bill through The Hateful Eight, is the subject of the latest episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s original digital series Magic Hour, talking about her origins as a stunt performer, her inspirations behind and in front of the camera and the transformation required to go from stunt performer to stunt co-ordinator with Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon aTime in Hollywood.
Bell, who also has a brief acting role in the film, admitted that stunt work wasn’t something she was even aware of earlier in life, even though she’s been looking for something that combined her love of athletics, performing and language.
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“Basically, I’d finished doing gymnastics when I was 15, 16, but I’d stayed training because I’d just sort of loved it, and I’d met a man by the name of Peter Bell — no relation — who it turns out was a stuntman in New Zealand,” she explained. That introduction came via her father, a doctor, who treated (the male) Bell for a minor injury and passed on his information to Zoë.
On her first stunt gig, Bell knew that she’d found her calling. “I met this group of stunt people and it was like, I had found family instantly,” she recalled. “We’re all a variety of different personalities, but whatever that mutual joy or appreciation of the work is, I’d not felt it like that before. It was, ‘Yeah, I’d like to do this forever.’”
One of her earliest jobs was working on Xena: Warrior Princess with Lucy Lawless, who set the bar for Bell in terms of professionalism, she said. “I knew when I watched her, that’s the kind of person I want to be on set. She was the lead, she took her work seriously, but she always set this tone that was light-hearted, she was super accessible. I was really impressed by how she conducted herself.”
Her work on Xena caught the attention of documentary filmmaker Amanda Micheli, who recruited her for the movie Double Dare, about women working in the stunt industry. It was through Micheli and Double Dare that Bell came to the attention of Quentin Tarantino, beginning a partnership that launched with Bell’s work on Kill Bill — a relationship that has impacted Bell on a number of levels.
“Doing Kill Bill, Quentin’s big thing for me was, ‘When you’re in the costume and in front of the camera, you are the part of the Bride. You are the Bride,’” she recalled. “And it was sort of something that I’d always believed but I’d never verbalized, or heard it verbalized. That it’s not Zoë doing this on set. It’s not Zoë getting this attention. It’s I am part of this character. I am a piece of the whole.”
The friendship between the two led to Bell’s starring in Death Proof, Tarantino’s contribution to the 2007 movie Grindhouse, in which she played a stuntwoman called Zoë. “I was so honored on behalf of the stunt community, and on behalf of the behind the scenes,” Bell said. “It was so important to him that the movie wasn’t an exposé of what’s behind the curtains, but a kudos to the hidden heroes. That’s how we felt about it.”
Her latest collaboration with Tarantino sees her shift gears once again. “Being a stunt co-ordinator, it was like a perspective shift,” she admitted. “It was an interesting thing for Quentin and I, too, because our relationship had always been, ‘I want this!’ and I was just, ‘Let’s do it!’ And on this one, I was like, ‘Ooh.’ I couldn’t put someone else into that position until I’d done all the checks, and I had to figure out a way to do that with him. It was like being an adult stunt person. It was eye-opening, in the best possible way.”
Bell also spoke about the influence her parents had on her life, especially her mother, and shared childhood photographs of herself and her family.
“Mum and Dad would both, when I’d come home and tend to be a bit like, ‘I could have done this differently, and I wish I’d done that differently,’ they were both really vocal in [saying that] you’re where you are for a reason,” she said. “That was always Mum’s sort of thing. Not even a matter of having earned it, but just, you’ve made the decisions you have along the way, and you’ve put in the work, you have led yourself here in some way, shape or form.”
To check out the documentary Double Dare, featuring Zoë Bell, head over to Amazon Video.
Directed by Jennifer Laski
Featuring Zoë Bell
Executive producers: Jennifer Laski, Matthew Belloni
Producers: Stephanie Fischette, Victoria McKillop
Director of photography: Erin Hughes
Camera operator: Sara Ingram
Sound mixer: Casey Minatrea
Hair and makeup: Cetine Dale
Editor: Alfred Aquina II
Colorist: Gregory White
Sound editor: Brian Susko
Postproduction manager: Victor Klaus
Researcher: Brian Porreca
Special thanks: Cynthia Balderas
Rights and clearances Manager: Travis Gollaher
Clips and stills courtesy of Andrew Cooper, Getty Images, GoodMovies Entertainment, Greg Riwai, Lantern Entertainment, MGM, Miramax, Photofrest, Runaway Films, Spyglass Entertainment, Visiona Romantica, Inc., Warner Bros
Filmed in Venice, CA
© The Hollywood Reporter, LLC 2019
by Richard Newby
by Trilby Beresford
by Graeme McMillan