[IMG:L]With 10 film and TV jobs to her credit, it’s not like Zoe Bell hasn’t had her share of screen time, and she’s certainly proven adapt at making audiences believe that she’s someone else. But that’s been as a stunt double, convincingly taking the hits and falls in place of Uma Thurman, Sharon Stone and Lucy Lawless.
But when her Kill Bill director Quentin Tarantino, impressed with the Kiwi stunner’s off-screen charms, decided to cast her in a major role (as a devil-may-care stuntwoman, naturally) in his Death Proof installment of the Grindhouse double feature, Bell found a challenge that shook even her steely nerves.
Fortunately she could rely on a little help from her new friend Tracie Thoms, the Rent actress Tarantino had also drafted into service to play Bell’s stunt-skilled gal pal. And as Bell learned to light up the screen with her own face for a change and Thoms learned to throw a mean roundhouse, the two bonded, as they tell Hollywood.com.
Hollywood.com: Are stunt people really as nuts in their off hours as you are in Death Proof?
Zoe Bell: [Laughs] Well, I don't think I am that nuts. When it comes to the work that I get paid to do, people think I am nuts. It doesn't strike me as nuts. If I thought it was that crazy I probably wouldn't do it. I know a lot of stunt people that are pretty mad off set when they are not being paid. There are a lot of stunt guys, particularly in LA when they live out in the valley and they have huge ranches and all of this space. They will have their own dirt bike track, horses, the whole lot, and its fun because that is actually what they do in their time off and when they get paid.
HW: So when they punch out for the day, they don't say “Let's go do something insane?”
ZB: Well, we don't think it is insane, but I mean a lot of people might be like “That is insane!” But there are a lot of stunt people out there that really are sort of adrenaline junkies a little bit. I don't think I am. I like adrenaline but I am certainly not addicted to it…I am not like “Sweet – let's see what the highest bridge is I can jump off of!” I used to do that before.
HW: Tracie, did you have to train to learn to throw a punch as realistic as Zoe’s?
Tracie Thoms: Yeah, it's just fun. He actually got kind of lucky because Rosario [Dawson] and I both have taken lots of kickboxing and boxing classes. We didn't have to specifically train for it. We kind of already knew how to do it, and Jeff Dashnaw, our stunt coordinator, would be like “Okay, do like this,” and I would be like “Okay, so do you want me to snap my head or not? Do you want me to snap it or just look?” And he would say “Snap it, because the hair looks cool!” In life I probably wouldn't punch somebody like that, all the way around and come back and see how you walk. I would just hit them, even though I have never done that in my life, but he got lucky. We were all sore by the end of the day.
[IMG:R]HW: How was the veteran, Kurt Russell, through all of your scenes?
TT: Brilliant. He is the greatest sport.
ZB: He is brilliant. For me personally I felt like an instant affinity with the guy, which I wasn't expecting. But there is something very “stuntman” about him. He obviously comes from an athletic background, he is obviously a sportsman, and there was something about that I didn't know any of that. I could feel that in him, something I was like I felt like I could just sit and sort of – not really talk but have something going on in common. He is so brilliant in character and he's funny and scary and charming. The big thing for me too was he would sit there and just come up to me and be like “So, this acting thing – What do you think you are going to do with it? How do you feel?” And I was like “F*cking hell, that is Kurt Russell!” He had such a unique take on it and where he thought I should go. Just suggestions and advice and he was so open and genuine about it. He wasn't like “Well, let me tell you about the…” He really gave a sh*t. He really cared and he was just so approachable.
HW: Well, about this acting thing – Can you talk about how this whole thing came about. You worked with Quentin how many times before?
ZB: Just Kill Bill. I think on Kill Bill he started thinking about it because he was dealing with me as a stuntwoman as he would deal with his actors. Asking me for motivation and intentions which was the first time I had looked at my work that way before in eight years or something. Then Double Dare came out that he ended up loving, done by Amanda Micheli and his words to me are basically that people responded to me in that movie in a way that made him want that character in his next movie. If that makes sense, -- it wasn't a character it was just me, but he wanted that as a character in his movie so he wrote that into the movie. First thing that I heard was me and Monica Staggs, who was Daryl Hannah's stunt double on Kill Bill and who plays Lanna Frank in Death Proof, we were both interviewing to do something. He was like “So I have this idea for a new script. It's about this stuntman called Stuntman Mike.” And we were like [skeptical] “Brilliant.” “He uses a car to kill women.” And he kept explaining it as Quentin does and we were like 'Wow!' and he said he wanted us to be some of the girls. I don't know how she took it, but I thought it was going to be where we would be in the background in the bar while the leads are talking and chatting and getting killed or whatever – we would be in the background drinking beer or something. It wasn't until maybe a month or two before they started shooting Robert [Rodriguez]'s movie when he first finished the script he showed me. That is when I found out that I in fact didn't have a one-liner, I had a 40 pager.
TT: 40 pages.
ZB: 40 pages and I was pretty excited about it. When he started describing the stunt sequence to me is when I was like 'Oh f*ck, you mean it, this is real. This is like a cool movie and you want me to be in it!' but it took me a little while to really wrap my head around it. Not what he was asking, someone was like 'It is so sweet of Quentin to do that.' and I am like “Dude, you make it sound like I had a fucking choice.” It wasn't like “Would you like to be in my movie?” It was like “Here! Remember these lines.” And it's just – “Holy sh*t. Okay.”
HW: Tracie, Zoe’s fearless when it comes to the stunts, but did you see nerves when she was starting to really act.
TT: I saw nerves only before we started. I had been a fan of Zoe's work without knowing Zoe. I love the Kill Bill movies and when I first saw her I said “Was that you running up the banister? That was you! You ran up the banister in the air and sliced the people! Oh Sweet! Was that you?!'” And she said “Yeah, that was me.” And I just “Oh my God!! Ahhh!” I have been a stunt fan for a long time, I always notice stunts in films. Stunt work is not different than physical acting, its just acting without words. Her physicality is so brilliant. When Uma is getting the sh*t kicked out of her in the end and she is tired, she's emotional, and she's still doing her thing. That is you embodying that, so just know that you were always acting. First time I talked to her she was like 'I am a little bit nervous.' And I told her “You got us.” I told her to rely on Rosario because she has been doing movies for 13 years. She started out doing movies and that is her tradition, so we had her as a resource. Then I have been acting since I was 9, gone through every stage of training that there is—if we are having an issue, I know the band aid for that…And once we started thinking about it that way, she was brilliant and took to it like a fish to water.
[IMG:L]HW: Tarantino has always had extremely strong female roles in his films, and these women are no different…but they’re also women, first and foremost.
ZB: I was talking about it with my friend last night and it's not like the male fantasy version of what a strong woman is. He said that and I thought I wish I had said that yesterday. F*ck, that is brilliant. There are no special powers involved there is no she is a shit kicker because this happened and this happened and she is wearing trench coats and all that sort of sh*t. Though I would love to wear a trench coat somewhere, but it's that sense of the women would kick ass. That is why, in particular, obviously we are physically kicking ass so that is a dead give away. But there are a lot of characters in his other movies that are just as strong in the personality that they own it.
TT: He allows them to be full women. A lot of men will write strong women, the words are strong period, and that is the end of the sentence.
ZB: But they don't know – they don't get confused.
TT: They are strong for a reason. Uma in the Kill Bill movies gets the shit kicked out of her, but she is a mom who lost her child. She was afraid, she didn't know if she could do it…So he allows us to be like “Oh we're badass driving this car while this guy is trying to kill us.” But there is a moment where you have to switch it and it's like “I am going to die on the hood of this car.” And we are saying “I don't know how I am going to save you from this car.” So all of a sudden it switched and we are all really emotional trying to drive the car and she is like “I don't want to die.” And I’m crying – and I am like “Is that what you want?” And Quentin said “Yeah, I actually wrote that in my shot list, I just didn't tell you because I knew you would come to it. I didn't want to tell you ahead of time that this is the part where you guys are going to get emotional over this because you think she is dead. I don’t' want you to be thinking about it and worrying about it. I hired people that I knew could do it.” And I am thinking “You cheeky monkey!”
ZB: Cheeky monkey? That is not what you called him.
TT: No, that is not what I called him. But he has all of that in there so the women are strong out of necessity. Not just strong sake for strong sake, just because they think that is cool.