Zoe Bell has been a part of the television and film industry for a long time. Starting out as a stuntwoman on Xena: Warrior Princesswhen she was just 17, Bell has gone onto work on such iconic projects as Kill Bill, Lost, Alias, Deathproof, and The Hateful Eightas both an actress and stuntwoman. She is even featured in a 2004 documentary, Double Dare, about life as a Hollywood stuntwoman.
More recently, Bell has made the transition into leading lady. Currently, she’s starring in Caminoin which she plays a war photojournalist who must fight for her life in the Columbian jungle after witnessing an act of atrocity against a young boy. Bell calls on her considerable skills as both a stuntwoman and an actress in the film. We had a chance to chat with her about the transition into leading lady, women in action film, and her thoughts on the upcoming Xenareboot.
Den of Geek: It was really refreshing to see a character that, 9 times out of 10, would have played by a man, but instead is a woman. Can you talk about what made you want to play this role and be a part of this project?
Zoe Bell: Yeah, the role was actually originally written as a man. When they were conceptualizing it, Avery was a guy … Then, Josh [C. Waller, the director] was like, ‘What if this was a woman?’ And Dan [Noah, the writer] was like, ‘What if it was Zoe?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah,’ and they rang me up, and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ Everyone should ask those questions, every time they have a male lead movie.
Yeah, especially for action films, it feels like there are fewer opportunities for women to take these roles.
Yeah, it seems that way. I mean it feels like it might be starting to shift a little bit. I never should say that because I think I said that once before and that turned out to not be the case, but what drew me to [Camino] was actually the character. She just struck me as an interesting, intelligent, challenging character. The context of someone who had been running away from themselves who was clearly a capable and clever women, but wasn’t a born superhero, you know what I mean? Her job is normally to be a fly-on-the-wall, to capture the action, not to be involved in it
… When we were telling this story, the thought of being this woman, I was instantly in. I asked very few questions. And it helped that I’ve known Dan a long time. I’ve worked with Josh before. [On Raze.] So, I knew I was in a safe place there. It spoke to me, and I got images in my head of loads of different movies of female photojournalists that I’d loved in the past. And then I got Gorillas in the Mistand Sigourney Weaver in my head, and I was like, ‘Yeah, man.’
Avery is hardly ever without her camera in the film. Did you spend any time learning about photography — and in particular war photography — for the role?
Yeah, I studied photography a little bit a long time ago, back when manual cameras were actually manual cameras and regular film, so that helped. I also had our amazing photographer Zoriah [Miller]. The still photos that open the film, dramatic black-and-white photos, they were all his, and he is a wartime photographer. And he is incredible. He is an amazing man. And so he was on set with us for a while and was definitely my go-to consultant. For the first couple of weeks leading into it, I had one of the cameras and we played around with, once you got comfortable with a camera, how you would deal with the strap.
For example, for me as a stuntgirl, I spent so much time in a harness, it didn’t even occur to me when to loosen it or tighten it or how to loosen it or tighten it. I just did it, like I was breathing. And so, you watch him and the way he will stand when he’s holding the camera, where he puts his weight, the way he’ll stop when he’s actually lining something up, the fact that he doesn’t close his off-camera eye when he’s taking the photo, the way he’ll hold the lens — you know, all of those sorts of things.
… And then I watched a lot of YouTube clips and any films I could find that had specificially female photographers, I was looking at. Because we are a different creature, and we move around different things differently.
I read that the filming of Camino had to be split into two separate shoots to accommodate your role in Hateful Eight. Was it difficult to get back into character after leaving to do another project?
You know, it was a little bit. You know probably because I’ve been doing this for a while now, I have the hang of some things, but I had never done that before. So, it was an experience of dealing with immersing myself into one character and then removing myself completely and putting her away. It seemed like, I was so similar to her, I would just … walk back onto that movie and Avery would just be present. And she wasn’t. She was not … So, I had to rely on some tools that, fortunately, I have learned over the years of doing acting classes, working with incredible professionals. Because, yeah, I had put her away and asking her to come back was something I had underestimated the preparation that I should have done for that. I got there eventually, obviously.
The jungle setting for the film is all-encompassing. I’m sure you’ve gotten this question a lot, but was the shoot itself very difficult given that you were literally filming in a jungle?
To be honest, I quite enjoyed it. First of all, you’re shooting in Hawaii, so when you’re not in the actual jungle, it’s balmy and it’s lovely and, it doesn’t matter what time of night it is, you can have a beer on the deck, you know? It’s hard not to appreciate those moments.
Of course, we didn’t get much time off … Normally, it was like 10 o’clock at night by the time you got home that you were having that beer, but I think particularly that a) I’m in front of the camera and b) my role was kind of meant to be going through it that, any of the challenges that working in the jungle brought up, were the opposite of a hindrance. They were useful to me. I incorporated those into whatever Avery was going through. So, I think that I must speak about working in the jungle slightly more fondly than some of the crew must.
You’ve been on film and TV sets since you were a teenager, working alongside some pretty celebrated actors. Did you learn a lot about acting from watching other actors and directors work, or is acting something you’ve had to study since making the decision to become an actress?
I think both. I think the more I studied and the more experienced I became, the more I recognized the load of stuff I had to pull on from having witnessed brilliant people doing their work. Because I wasn’t raised with the intention of being an actor, I wasn’t constantly watching with the intention with building my own arsenal. I would just watch because I was fascinated, you know?
It wasn’t until I got confident that I want to be good at this and I think I could be, that I actually watched actors. There are times that I’m drawing on what I’ve seen someone else do without realizing that’s what I’m doing. It’s sort of that learning from osmosis, until I started taking lessons, and then I started having even just the terminology and the vocabulary of an actor — you know, when people started talking about their intentions and what their motivation is, and I was like, ‘Ah, that’s what they were talking about all those years ago.’ It’s definitely a combination of both and I think, for me, classes in particular have been and remain important.
… I think I’m one of those actors who has come around the backside of something, you know? I came in the backdoor without even realizing that that’s what I was doing. I’m on the stage, but I didn’t necessarily… I’ve earned my right to be there. I’ve learned to not feel like a fool — well, I’ve been told I shouldn’t, which is almost the same thing. But now that I’m learning techniques so that, when Zoe’s emotionally not open, I can still find what I need to find to respect the character enough to be honest about it.
You got your start in TV, but have done a lot of film work since. In terms of both acting and stuntwork, do you have a preference between TV and film?
No, I love them both for their own… they are both very different, their own forms. I love them both. Work wise, as a stunt woman, I enjoy telly — or TV — because — and, as an actor — I kind of enjoy the urgency of it. I enjoy the problem-solving that’s happening. Right now, we don’t have time to rehearse for hours. And, if something goes wrong, we don’t have time to shoot something else for four days until we sort it out. So, I kind of enjoy the urgency of that.
Having said that, what I love about film, is having the time to dive into something, and to really try to perfect something. To really get deep into it — whether that be character stuff or whether that be a fight sequence or whether that be an amazing, big gag that, if you can wait a few extra days, that means we can add another car or five more explosions. So, I really appreciate both.
One of the things I really like about TV is the family, the maintaining of the family camaraderie. Film has it, too, especially when you’re on location. It’s like summer camp. You’ll get really close, really fast. But, then you’ll have to say goodbye. And, sometimes, you’ll see them again. You’ll be on the next movie with them, like four years down the track, and that has its own loveliness to it.
But I quite like the family-ness of a really caring TV thing. And maybe that’s just nostalgic because I was 17 when I started on Xena, so it did feel like family to me for those three years. And, also, on television, there comes a point when knowing when you’ve got holidays and knowing that you’ll still have a job after that and having some form of routine is actually quite refreshing.
Speaking of television, there is a Xena reboot in the works. How do you feel about the fact that Xena will be back in some form? It must be strange to think about. Do you have any interest in participating as either a stuntwoman or actress?
Again, nostalgically, I love the idea of revisiting that. It would depend on who was involved, obviously, and where they wanted to go with it. It’s a really interesting idea and it’s an interesting world and I feel like it would be a kind of a really nice full circle to be playing a good, juicy role on the TV show Xena.That just seems like it would tie that bow up quite nicely.
Having said that, it would depend on who was doing it and what they were going to do with it. She’s pretty iconic, so I feel like you’re either doing something like Xenaand you make it your own and you make it awesome, or you stick to Xena,otherwise, why remake it? I don’t knw. I’d have to see what the product would be. You’ve got some pretty avid fans to deal with if you don’t do it right, that’s for sure.
Camino is out in theaters this weekend, and will be available on VOD starting March 8th.