Zoë Bell is no stranger to getting dirty. The stuntwoman for Quentin Tarantino-turned-actor is more than willing to get some dirt under her fingernails—literally and figuratively. Her latest film “Raze,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, is a harrowing story about women who are abducted by a secret elitist society and forced to fight to the death in order to save their loved ones, who are being held for ransom. If the film’s concept doesn’t do it first, the sounds of breaking faces alone are enough to make your stomach turn. Bell plays the ass-kicking lead, Sabrina, and she delivers as much in the physical department as she does in her performance.
Playing the emotionally taxing role of Sabrina was difficult in itself, but Bell was also shooting “Django Unchained” and “Oblivion” at the same time, and the native New Zealander also took on the role of “Raze” producer. Sounds like a walk in the park, right?
“The balance was a balance that she actually maintained with a supreme amount of grace,” says “Raze” director and friend of Bell, Josh Wallace, about her roles as producer and lead actor. “That’s one of the things that I was most blown away by from Zoë—she’s pretty good at multi-tasking. She’d finish a scene and finish kicking the crap out of someone, then she’d come up to me and be like, ‘OK, I noticed there was something here in this scene,’ and I was like, how the hell did you notice that when you were in the middle of the scene?!”
Bell chats with us about working with such a heavy script, coming into her own as an actor, and producing for the first time.
Take what you need.
As a stuntwoman, Bell was never one to be waited on; she always had everything she required right in front of her, but playing both the producer and lead actor for a story about fighting women to the death required a little more preparation—whether it was taking a few minutes to get back into character, or taking the liberty of cracking a joke to lighten the mood if needed, she learned it was all essential to bring her best work to the table.
“Having the role of producer kind of demanded a certain element of me stepping up, and once I stepped up to that responsibility it gave me, Zoë, permission to do what I needed to do to find Sabrina,” she says. “I didn’t feel apologetic, which I think has been one of my crosses to bear...The producer role allowed me to take what I needed from the situation.”
Thoroughly build your character.
Sabrina is what Bell calls a super “hefty” character to play. Without giving too much away about the film, she’s a tough woman with a hard past, thrust into an harder situation. In order to prepare for the challenge of the role, Bell spent months developing Sabrina’s backstory. She put her in fictitious situations and figured out how Sabrina would respond in order to prepare herself.
“Giving her a history somehow makes me capable of executing presently,” Bell says. “[I was] just being Sabrina a lot—being Sabrina and then going back to being me, so that the transition wasn’t so jarring when it came to being on set, it was just required.”
The backstory Bell created for Sabrina is also part of the reason the film was expanded from a short to a feature film, proving that sometimes when you delve into a character fully, it yields more material than you could've imagined.
Know when to leave yourself behind and trust your craft.
Bell was so intertwined with her character, that she differentiates who she’s talking about—Sabrina or herself—when discussing the film. But there were times on set when she realized she needed to really separate the two women for the camera.
Bell had been moving between three different sets while filming “Raze,” and could feel herself wearing down, and Sabrina getting hard to find.
“There’s one scene where Sabrina is meant to pass out from exhaustion—which you think would be easy because I was exhausted, but I was so exhausted, I just couldn’t quite act as Sabrina. I was just being tired Zoë,” she says. “I know I sound like a multi-personality person right now, but that, to me, was one of those moments where I was like, ‘Aha, this is where people require acting tools.’”
Trust who you want to be and the rest will follow.
Bell doesn’t sweat it when people see her as a daredevil stuntwoman before a “real” actor. “Really what it took for me was for my perception of myself to shift. When I started to trust myself to be an actor, and to be considered that way and consider myself, that is when people started to see me in that way because that was the truth then, as opposed to me being a stunt girl going, ‘Please see me as an actor, please see me as an actor!’ when I didn’t see myself that way.”