INSIDE THE HEAD OF ZOE BELL
ZoŽ Bell, stuntwoman
ZoŽ is an up-and-coming stuntwoman going through all the trials and tribulations of being a female in a good ol' boy-dominated field. I was delighted when she decided to share information with us about her personal and professional life, as well as her work in the documentary Double Dare.
Double Dare shows what it's like to be a stuntwoman, finding work, being accepted, trying to avoid injury while trying to live a productive life. I will tell you before this interview begins that ZoŽ is very hip and fun to speak with. How many of us would love to be in her shoes? Every child dreams of becoming a superhero, something ZoŽ accomplishes daily at work. Taking the fall to make others look good is certainly a noble undertaking. Now allow me to introduce to you this daring young woman.
ZoŽ Bell at a Xena Convention demostrating weapon use
What was your first job and was there any hesitation on your part about getting into stunt work?
Background action on a television pilot called Amazon High. And no, no hesitation.
What's the most dangerous stunt you've ever done?
The most dangerous stunt, hmmmm, I guess, just recently I fell off a building. It sounds so clichť, stunt people jumping off buildings but it was the first time I had done anything like it in my career. It was a descender rig so I was in a harness and dropped at speed to mimic free fall. Twenty-six stories, around 200 feet. It's a long way down. I also somersaulted twice on the way down. The fact that I was flipping and the height is what makes it dangerous, but the safety procedures for something like this is massive. If some horrendous, freak mechanical failure had occurred that high up, chances are it wouldn't have ended well, but the chances of that happening less than being hit by a car crossing the street.
What is your personal fitness routine/level?
Well at the moment its pretty good actually, the routine and the level. Generally, I am not as dedicated to working out as maybe I should be. But when I have something to train towards, for example a movie, I am so much more motivated. Working out just to stay fit only keeps me interested so long, I need to be learning, perfecting. At the moment I have started dance classes for the first time and I love it. Hip-hop, I felt totally coordinated the first couple of times and often still do, but man I dig it. I am running, swimming (which apparently you shouldn't do with bleach blonde hair. It's still green three washes later, thank God for wigs!), did a bit of yoga, have started getting back into gymnastics and rehearsing for Catwoman. I really love being fit and strong again. Hopefully I will keep on it this time!
Do you find it's hard for women in the world of the 'stuntman'?
This is a hard one. There is no doubt that the world of stunts was in the past a predominantly male one. And yes I am aware of this from time to time and from time to time it bothers me. There are those that are just rude and uneducated. But there are times that I have to check my new age, women's rights crap and realize that some of these men are simply from a different time, a different way and actually mean well. Chivalry and sexism are two different things and if you are too defensive they are easily confused. Woman are different to men, there's no question. I just expect the respect I deserve as a good, hard working stuntwoman, not a stunt man. I'm a not man.
What makes you stay in stunt work, the excitement and thrill?
The ups far out weigh the downs for me. I like the people, I like the performance, and I like the challenge, the free food, and the excitement. I enjoy my body and its abilities. The pain, the sitting around, the long hours and politics I could do with out, but as I say, for me, the good stuff beats the bad stuff for the most part.
Do you ever feel fear? Or the day you do, it's time to hang it up?
Of course I feel fear. I think its more a matter of when you no longer feel fear it's time to hang it up. Feeling fear is a good sign that your survival instincts are intact. You need to appreciate the dangers to stay safe. Though for the most part performance anxiety plays a bigger role, the fear of not getting it right.
Did you ever do something then sit there afterwards wondering why you didn't just become an actor.
Yep, on those days where you are eating s*** all day and then the actress walks in and gets to do all the looking cool and tough bits! Not seriously though. Not yet.
What's the strangest thing you've ever had to do?
I can't think of any thing really weird. I have been pregnant twice (not for real!) looking coordinated and bad a**** is much harder with a big pillow strapped to your gut. I have had to pretend to be making out with one of the stunt boys in NZ as the room caved in once. Chewing gum, that's the answer.
What is your favorite lighting?
I don't think I have ever been asked that before, to be honest I have never really thought about it. I guess I am meant to say soft flattering light but in our line of work, any light is good light, being able to see is kind of a must!
What is the last joke you were told that made you laugh?
Man, I am crap at remembering jokes. Someone suggested I stop eating bread, cheese and booze. I thought that was pretty funny!
What is your favorite meal to prepare for someone else?
Hmm, another hard one. I have just discovered I make a mean chicken soup and I am dying to make it for Nick (boyfriend). It's always a good test to see if it tastes good to others!
What would you like people to know about you?
What do you see yourself doing in 15 years?
I have trouble fore seeing the rest of this year. 15 years, really I couldn't tell you. But I want a house in NZ, soon.
You've just been rescued after being stranded for a year on an island. What is the first dessert you eat?
Home made rice pudding with no raisins or nuts just rice, milk, sugar, butter and nutmeg; a big mixing bowl of it.
Would you ever consider participating in a reality TV show? If so, which one?
I have, hypothetically speaking, just because as I am sure many do, I think I could make it through without being a d***, but the reality is its not true. So no.
What do you like to read?
What do you mean? Stunt people cant read.
What made you do Double Dare? What where you hoping it shows?
I don't know what made me do Double Dare, yes I do. 1) Amanda, she is amazing. 2) The thought of having some kind of record to show either my kids or Jakes (brother) - did you hear that Jake? I am waiting! I really didn't have any moral reasons or purpose for doing Double Dare. I'm telling you, I am not much of a forward thinker.
What advice would you give up and coming daring women who want to break into your field?
Know what you are worth, and keep knowing.
Who are you eager to work for? And why?
I would love to work with and for Quentin [Tarentino] again. Why? Cause I really dig him and love working with him.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think you would have to ask my Mum. I don't recall ever thinking about it. It wasn't until a couple of months before I became a stuntwoman that I wanted to be one. The future has always felt sort of unfathomable to me, still does.
How do you perform a perfect stunt without hurting yourself?
Well its not always possible but one of the skills a stunt person should have is the ability to sell an impact like it hurts when it doesn't; a punch to the face that doesn't connect, a kick to the gut that isn't very hard, hitting the ground. It's something you learn as you go. Every situation and stunt is different; you have to be flexible - physically and mentally!
Describe a hiding place you had as a kid.
I used to climb up on Gran's water tank on Waiheke (island I grew up on as a small child). I didn't hide up there; I just loved being up high and alone. Gran didn't like anything about it! It must have been 15 ft high and I guess I was 5 or 6. I don't actually remember how I got up there.
What is the worst job in the world?
For me it would have to be organizing things for a living. But any job you hate and feel stuck in has to be amongst the worst.
What would you wish for if you could have one wish granted, but only with the understanding that whatever you wished for, it would also be awarded to your worst enemy?
Wow, so now we get deep! OK, my worst enemy, I gotta try think of one first, could I cheat and assume that I am my own worst enemy? That would make it much easier. No, OK, s***, um, to always be able to appreciate the beauty in life. Deep enough?
Describe your favorite style of clothing.
Comfortable. There are a bunch of styles that I think are cool, but somehow not me. I am not very extreme in that area. I am kinda nondescript. I don't like the idea of being boxed or stereotyped. Silly really, people are gonna box you no matter what you wear.
What one gift would you like for yourself?
Man, these questions stump me. I would love to have someone fly all my friends and family to an island somewhere for a whole 2 weeks, all expenses paid. Eat what you want, drink what you want, hang out on the beach, dance and just catch up. I really miss those not around me.
Do you ever talk out loud to yourself? What do you talk about?
Yep, I give myself the big chats when I am down, I chatter about anything that is exciting me at the time and I also do interviews with Oprah and the like. Sad but true, in all different accents too.
How do you handle stress?
I don't really have a method that works, I have a journal that I write s*** in sometimes. I talk to Nick, or my friends or family. It's not always that easy of course. My biggest problem is that I am embarrassed to be emotional so talking to people isn't always the easiest solution. Minor stress like on set politics and the sort, I tackle with laughter. I get silly or I get tense and if I can help it I would much rather be silly.
If the color blue were a flavor what would it be?
Ocean flavor, air flavor, clean untouched flavor.
What did you not want to inherit from your parents, genetically or otherwise?
Nose bleeds from my Dad - which I did inherit and then grew out of. And I guess growing up I didn't want to inherit my Mums neurosis, but I realize now I am lucky to be anything like my Mum.
Are you superstitious?
What job have you left undone the longest?
God, where do I start? Accepting LA as my home.
How high is the sky?
Depends if you need oxygen or not. I don't see where it ends.
What are you working on now?
I am in Vancouver, BC filming Catwoman, doubling Sharon Stone. Hally Berry is Catwoman. Sharon is sort of the archrival. I get to be the bad guy for the first time. I get to die. Actually I think I died twice on Xena!!
What was Quentin Tarantino like?
Brilliant. Human as we all are, flawed, as we all are, enthusiastic, talented and cool. I really dig Quentin. He is so passionate and it's infectious like yawns. He made me laugh daily, what more can you ask for. I would work with Q again in a heartbeat.
Who were your role models?
What would you do if you were mayor of your town for a day?
What are your favorite home comforts?
NZ: Mum, Dad and Jake. LA: Nick.
What TV shows/movies influenced you as a child? Do they still influence you today?
I don't feel like I was influenced by TV shows, ignorant of me I know. I mean I don't think there was ever a show that I watched and then somehow implemented in my life. I love MASH and the spontaneity of The Cosby Show. There's a bunch of TV shows that I loved: movies kinda the same. I know I shouldn't be in the film business. The movie I remember most vividly from my little person days is The Never Ending Story. I loved that movie, not quite sure how it has influenced me though.
How do you prepare for each job you do? Do you learn about the person you are going to stunt for or wing it?
I don't research them if that's what you mean, maybe I should, but what am I gonna find out that's useful pre shoot? I definitely watch them when they're working or training. We all have different ideas of how a character should be, but ultimately its up to the person being the face, so yeah I have to combine my character with theirs. But honestly it's not as conscious as that anymore, its kind of just part of the process. It was really hard to begin with on Xena, I mean Xena is a big character and Lucy [Lawless] had her down pat - well she created her, I on the other hand came a couple of years in having never been in front of camera before and stepping into big boots left by Gerry the double before me. It was definitely a conscious effort then. Now though its second nature.
What do opportunity did you miss in your past that you most wish you had not?
Going to my cousin Kadumba's funeral.
What opportunity are you most happy that you seized?
Calling Peter Bell, the stunt coordinator at the time on Xena.
Are stunt people taken for granted at times?
Yep, but who isn't?
What are you tired of being asked?
What the hardest stunt you have ever done? And any 'favorite' questions. I find favorites hard.
What questions should I have asked then answer please?
How much do Amanda and Jeannie rock?
What did I get out of Double Dare?
I got to meet Jeannie and Amanda, two stunning women. I got an amazing time in my life caught on camera. I got Kill Bill. I met Nick on Kill Bill. I got the life I have now.
ZoŽ Bell and Steve McQuillan - Hercules and Xena doubles
Official Double Dare site with all the information at Runaway Films.
Synopsis about Double Dare:
Jeannie Epper and ZoŽ Bell have been set on fire, thrown off buildings, dragged by wild horses and hit by cars. As Hollywood stuntwomen, they are the anonymous, blue-collar heroines of film and television, taking the hits that make actors into stars. They stand in for the rare female action-hero, the typical "damsel in distress," and everything in between.
Double Dare explores the lives of Jeannie and ZoŽ, the stunt doubles for Wonder Woman and Xena: Warrior Princess, as they face the challenges of a dangerous and male-dominated profession. The real women behind these two world-famous icons are at drastically different crossroads in their lives. One, a grandmother, struggles with the aging process and Hollywood's dearth of older female roles; the other, a young woman, is brash and unaware of the feminist history that has paved her way in this notoriously macho field. When Jeannie becomes a mentor for ZoŽ, these two women from opposite sides of the world and opposite ends of their careers find a way to survive in the industry together.
The film follows Jeannie and ZoŽ's daily struggles to stay employed, stay thin and stay sane-- against the backdrops of Xena, Wonder Woman, 6 Feet Under, and Quentin Tarantino's new movie, Kill Bill. It features interviews with Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Lucy Lawless, and Lynda Carter. Double Dare is directed by Amanda Micheli who received an Academy Award, the IDA award and a national POV broadcast for her first film, Just for the Ride.
Catwoman (2004) (filming) (stunt double: Sharon Stone)
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) (post-production) (stunt double: Uma Thurman)
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) (stunt double: Uma Thurman)
Billy Elliot (2000) .... Sandra
Xena: Warrior Princess (1995) TV Series (stunt double: Lucy Lawless)
Thanks to Kamouraskan for the beta.
L. J. Maas and Murphy Wilson [Amy Murphy].One Step Beyond ... Uber, That Is. WHOOSH #49 (October 2000)
The "Inside the Head of..." series in Whoosh various issues
Amy Murphy resides in Indiana, and is an avid reader of Xena: Warrior Princess Fan Fiction. If it exists in the Xenaverse, chances are she has read it! Murphy has also tried her hand at writing fan fiction, turning out two very nice pieces that reside on a couple of web sites throughout the Xenaverse.
Favorite episode: IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124)
Favorite line: "I Have Many Skills" --various episodes
First episode seen: TITANS (07/107)
Least favorite episode: LYRE, LYRE HEARTS ON FIRE (100/510)