The intense action-horror film Raze tells a story set in a modern day coliseum of sorts, where 50 women are condemned to kill each other, in order to protect their own loved ones. When Jamie (Rachel Nichols) wakes up after being abducted and finds herself in a concrete bunker, she realizes that she must fight fellow abductee Sabrina (Zoe Bell), in a bare-knuckle brawl to the death.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, stuntwoman turned actress Zoe Bell talked about what made her want to get involved with this project, how much things evolved from the original concept, what it’s been like to make the transition from stuntwoman to actress, learning to express emotions on camera, juggling acting and producing, how people mistakenly think that she’s super aggressive and always wanting to fight, in real life, and how she feels about the ultimate outcome for her character. She also talked about how much she’d love to get involved with one of the all-female action movies that’s being talked about (although she hasn’t actually been contacted directly yet), why she thinks it’s taking so long to get one of those films made, and how she’d love to do comedy. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ZOE BELL: A couple of things interested me. The people involved interested me. I loved the energy that Josh [Waller], Kenny [Gage] and Andy [Pagana] had. You know, when you walk into a room and someone just has an energy that you want to be a part of? That was definitely part of it. I also enjoyed the fact that they were all quite excited about the female fighting being important and wanting to do it right. That was very refreshing to me. And then, they threw into the mix that they might want to have me come on as a producer, and that was chocolate icing on a chocolate cake, for me.
Because you signed up at the concept, how close is the final version of the film to what you thought it might be? Did things evolve quite a bit, or is it pretty similar to your original discussions about it?
BELL: It’s interesting. I don’t have children, but when I meet my friends’ kids at six months old, and then I don’t see them again for another six months, the changes are drastic. But if you’ve seen them every day, the changes are less shocking. I was present for all of those evolutionary steps, so it’s not like it took me by surprise that it ended up being the movie it did. And originally, the concept was based on a short that finished at the end of that first fight. So, I didn’t really have any concept of what happened after that, except for my own imagination. We built it together. Once the train started rolling, we were all up in it, collaborating. I hate the word organic because I feel like it’s totally misused and abused, but it’s appropriate for this process, for sure.
You’ve made this transition from being the stuntwoman who’s supposed to blend in with the actor, to being the lead actor of a film. What’s that transition been like, doing dialogue and expressing emotion on camera?
BELL: It’s certainly been challenging. There is an art to acting, and there are techniques that are acquired. You can be as emotional as you’d like, as a person, but figuring out ways that you can bring specific emotions at specific times and have them be true, and relating to someone as someone that they’re not, is a lot. I’ve always appreciated great acting performances, but I’ve even learned to appreciate not so great ones ‘cause it’s hard. But the most challenging this, for me, outside of learning new skill sets, was psychologically making the transition. It’s not that it was difficult as much as it really required me to put some conscious time into it.
As a stunt girl, I perform and I’m in front of the camera, and there are some really obvious similarities, but the role that I play on the set is the jock. I’m the athlete. You don’t see me cry. You don’t see me being vulnerable. You don’t see my feminine side. You don’t see me lose my temper. My role on set was to be even-keeled and indestructible. To be an actor, you have to be available and accessible, even though my instinct was to make those parts unavailable. In my head, I was like, “But, what if that makes me weak?” It was interesting. I didn’t occur to me that I would come across that.
People ask me about the similarities and differences, and that’s really hard for me to answer. There are fundamental similarities, and there are some things that being a stuntwoman for so many years taught me, that made the transition so much easier. I’m completely at ease on a set. I’m pretty comfortable most places, but hitting the mark and knowing set etiquette and understanding cameras and lenses are second nature. It’s a language I’ve spoken for years. Thank god, otherwise the transition to acting would have been that much scarier. But at the same time, as a stunt girl, I play one role on set, and as an actor, I play a very different piece of the puzzle.
How challenging was it to juggle being actress and producer?
BELL: I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the way I tackle work, in general. Whatever my job description consists of, becomes my job. There were definitely times when the four of us sat down and went, “Okay, Zoe is going to have to hand over the producing hat a little bit, and Josh is going to have to hand it over a little bit,” because we had to concentrate. But the two feed into each other a bit. My discovery of Sabrina fit into my collaboratively being involved with the shooting of the movie. Sabrina is the main character of the film, and the story is her story. The way I would interact with other actresses, or with Josh, in terms of directing and where scene were going, the two didn’t feel that separate. They are very separate, but maybe if I wasn’t a producer on it, my ability to collaborate and offer up as much as I did of Sabrina may have been different. It was a super collaborative experience between all of us. I think being a producer really helped my confidence and capability of slipping fully into Sabrina and owning her. I was appreciative of it, in this case.
Having the stunt background that you have, do you have to be extra cautious doing fight sequences like this with other actresses who don’t come from that background?
BELL: Yes. Having been a stunt girl for so long, a big part of my job, when being a stunt double, was to not just make the other person look as cool as they could, but also to act as a support. My job was to make them as safe as they could be, so that they could be as explosive and as emotionally engaged as they could be, without having to be concerned about their safety as much, or getting the moves right. What really sells a fight, and any kind of action, is the performance of it. If someone is uncomfortable or uncertain about doing action because they’re too concerned about their safety or about being right, it pulls them out of being that character, in that situation. My job has always a supportive role, which is interesting, really. Part of what I really like about it is making a situation where people can just come out of their shell and be super bad-ass. That’s exciting!
BELL: Yeah, there’s a little bit of that. But, the thing that I come across more is that people think that I might actually be that way, in real life, and that I’m the super aggressive, want-to-fight type. The irony is that that’s just not true, at all. I like the debate, but I don’t really like the fight. I don’t like being in the ring. I’m not competitive. The thing that I really enjoyed about this movie was that so many of the cast had maybe done action stuff before, but were strictly acting in their career. Walking into the fight stuff, they talked about how comfortable they were to have me there. We were all women, too, and I make action relatable for other women. The irony was that I was going, “Well, just for the record, I’m relying heavily on you guys, in the acting department.” It was a double support system. I made the action stuff accessible, so that they could perform. And they made the performance stuff accessible enough for me that I could combine the two, as best as I could. It was really lovely.
How did you feel about the ultimate outcome for your character? Did you personally wish she’d just gotten across that bridge?
BELL: Oh, god, yeah! And as a producer, we went back and forth. It comes up in conversation with a lot of people who have seen the film. I would love it if [the outcome had been different] because I just feel like Sabrina battled so hard that she was deserving of it. The reality is that, if this society has been around for that long, maybe once every hundred years, there’s someone as deserving as Sabrina.
You’ve been talked about in connection with one of these all-female action movies. What do you think it will take to finally get one of these films, finally off the ground? And if they do eventually get one going, is that something you’d like to get involved with?
BELL: Any of those kind of movies, I would love to get involved with. I just read an article, slightly out of context, that implied that I was signed on. I haven’t been contacted directly, just to clarify, about being in the female Expendables. Maybe that was me saying, “Let’s make it happen!” But, those are the kind of movies I would love to see happen. Whether I’m involved or not, I would love to see them done well enough that they allow for more to happen. I think with the people that are involved so far, it looks really good. I’m excited for the existence of those movies.
BELL: There’s a perceived risk with it. If you get enough of the old school, male action stars together, it’s a no-brainer. And god bless it, I love those movies. There’s something perceived to be a little bit riskier about it being a cast of women. All that means is that you rise to the challenge and make some bad-ass female action, so that people perceive it to be less risky.
Are you looking to do more acting roles now, and are you also looking to do more projects as a producer? Would you like to do acting roles that aren’t as physical, or do you prefer when they have a physical element to them?
BELL: Both. The physical element is something I’m super familiar with, and I love it. I’ve definitely made the transition into acting over doubling, just because I needed to make it clear to myself, so that I fully committed. Being a stunt girl is very much my comfort zone, so I had to remove the comfort zone to step fully into the slightly scarier zone. Also, just being perceived as an actor by the outside world, rather than as the stunt girl who does dialogue, has been a part of the challenge in front of me. But, I love the idea of doing comedy, whether it’s action comedy or just straight comedy. It’s such a big, new world for me that I’m starting to realize that any character that I relate to, in any way, shape or form, or that I have any appreciation for, given enough preparation, I can find that person. And playing someone else is just exciting. I’m certainly not on a mission to be taken seriously as a dramatic actress, any more than I am just to be able to get roles that are exciting and satisfying to me. If that means action, then that means action. I love doing it. And if there’s a niche that needs filling, I’m happy to get in there and try to fill it.
Raze opens in theaters on January 10th.