You may not be familiar with Zoë Bell by name, but any Tarantino fan—for that matter, anyone who’s seen just about any movie he’s made—knows her work. Zoë kick-started her Hollywood career doing stunts for Uma Thurman in the Kill Bill films after doubling for Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess. And something of a Tarantino favorite, she’s since found a home on his sets with her own written roles, most recently as the endearing Six-Horse Judy in The Hateful Eight (no spoilers here). She’s sharp, immensely talented, and could definitely beat you in an arm wrestling contest—no question. Needless to say, this woman is the walking embodiment of badass.
Shifting from life-threatening feats of human wonder to scripted acting (she’ll still stunt double when a friend phones in a favor), she found her breakout in Raze, a Josh C. Waller-directed horror/action film about abducted women forced to fight each other to ensure the safety of their loved ones in some sick exploitation plot. Since then, she's steadily been climbing the ranks of both lead and supporting roles, appearing in Oblivion, Douglas Brown, and her upcoming Camino to name only a few.
Zoë spoke with us about working with one of the industry’s most prolific directors, her favorite partner-in-crime, and the best way to kill a man.
It’s pretty great you started out in the industry kicking ass for a living. How do you even get into that?
I was always a rambunctious child. I always liked being up high, I liked going fast, I was always climbing trees and walking on walls—all of which I still enjoy now. I took up gymnastics, and when I got too old and too tall for that I took up martial arts. Through both of those things I met people and started weaving all of these things together and realizing that these guys were actually getting paid to fight, flip, be up high, and go fast. It wasn’t even that I was determined, I just had to do this. I’ve never felt so specifically designed for something.
As a stunt woman doing some insane shit, were you or are you afraid of anything?
In our line of work it’s not about whether you get scared or not. It’s about how you manage the fear. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to. Anyone who’s sane, who is potentially risking their life, should have fear that they need to manage. If they don’t have fear, that’s when things are the most dangerous. If you’re not aware of the possible outcomes, you’re more likely to fuck it up. Fear is nature’s way of keeping us safe.
So tell me about your character in The Hateful Eight. Do you identify with her at all?
The challenge for me was that I definitely identify with her. When he’s writing for someone [Tarantino] often writes with them in mind, and he’s a great read of people and performers. I already felt safe in the fact that this was a glove that was made to fit me. The interesting challenge for me was normally on set I’ll be a goofball and all that stuff, but when the cameras are rolling I’m sort of tough, or I’m badass, or I’m stern. For me it was lifting the lid off [my personality], and having that be forefront.
Knowing him as well as I do, I can sort of hear his voice in it. This girl is very sweet and full of life and bubbly, but she drives this six-horse coach and lives a hard life. My makeup consisted of shit to make me look worse. Like, dirt for my teeth, dirt for my skin, a concealer to darken under my eyes—there was nothing “pretty” about it. Her shine has to come from somewhere deep.
Quentin seems so detail oriented. What's the process of working with him like?
Quentin’s got this way of working where he’s very specific. He kind of wants to shoot until he’s got what he wants, but having said that if he gets exactly what he wants on the second take, he’s happy to move on. He’s not going to just keep going because he can. He’s like, got it! And he knows when he’s got what he needs.
Also we were shooting on 70mm film, so it was expensive and it’s not in production anymore. That’s a commodity, so it’s not like shooting on digital where you can shoot a bunch and patch it together or hope you hit the right spot. There’s definitely a precision required to a lot of this stuff. He does a lot of rehearsals and he knows what he wants. It makes things much cleaner—except for the blood, obviously.
How was working opposite Channing Tatum? What’s he like?
It sounds like such a predictable answer but I’m so happy to say it. Channing is open and accessible, funny, easy to be around, and super appreciative. I think there’s an element where you walk onto a set with Quentin, especially at this point where he’s keeps upping his game, everyone knows we’re all as honored to be there as the next person. There’s no room for bullshit, and Channing fit right into that. He’s a gorgeous man inside and out, which is always such a relief.
What’s been your favorite Tarantino project to work on?
The standouts for me have been Kill Bill. It was such an epic movie to be a stunt woman on and it was my big big budget feature—so many firsts. He keeps exposing me to big firsts, which I think is all part of his experiment. And then Death Proof was my first ever real acting role, and I was unaware of the fact that that’s how that was going to go down, so I was script-in-hand. And that was just an amazing experience, not to mention that chase scene being one of my proudest action moments.
And then to be honest Hateful Eight. The cast was so amazing—the scope and scale of it were so beautiful. And he cast me as a role where her sole purpose is to be excitable and kind of adorable, which is not how...people in my personal life probably see that side of me, but a lot of people would probably feel uncomfortable considering me in that role. I guess he just knows me well enough.
You’ve no doubt worked a number of incredible actors. Who’s been your favorite to be on set with?
I always reference Lucy [Lawless] because she was my first experience with a leading lady, but not just leading lady—she was the lead of the show [Xena: Warrior Princess]. But because I was doubling her, she was such a brilliant reference. She was so fun and approachable. When you needed a minute, she’d take a minute. She was so not a high maintenance painful professional to work with that I think I naturally gravitated toward her like, ‘I want to be like that when I grow up.’
Kurt Russell is one of my favorite humans in general.
Yeah, we just crack each other up. There’s nothing pretentious about the man, which I find really refreshing. And he’s such a talent, so those two things together are refreshing.
He strikes me as someone who would be a good partner-in-crime.
Literally, if I was going to commit a crime I would want Kurt Russell at my side.
I think we’d probably rob banks quite well together.
With all your training, what’s the best way to kill a man?
Personally, as much as I seem to be a badass, if I had to kill a man I’d want it to be as clean and quick as possible. I’m not a fan of suffering, so I might go with a shot to the heart.