‘Is that Zoe Bell?’
Next to Cate Blanchett, a tall blonde woman – in matching attire – practices a series of complex hand motions, prepping a stunt for camera. From a distance – it’s hard to tell exactly who she is… but as she moves into position in front of camera, there’s no doubt about it: It’s definitely Zoe Bell, Quentin Tarantino’s go-to stunt woman and star of Death Proof & Raze. It’s a little surprising and somewhat surreal to see Zoe Bell back as a stunt double (Thor: Ragnarok will be Bell’s first stunts-only performance since 2013).
Bell doubles in Thor: Ragnarok as the villainous Hela (Cate Blanchett), The Goddess of Death who seeks to destroy Asgard after being imprisoned for centuries. Watching Bell perform, it’s striking just how much she nails Blanchett’s movements and mannerisms. It’s one thing to perform a complex series of stunts, but quite another to do these stunts while embodying the performance of one of the greatest actresses of today. Yet if I didn’t know better – I could hardly tell you the difference between the Blanchett take and the Bell stunt-heavy take, a testament to Bell’s talent as both a stuntwoman and an actor.
In the following group on-set interview with Zoe Bell, she discusses her return to stunts, how the job has changed during her time away, and working closely with Cate Blanchett to create Hela. For the full interview, read below.
We were just watching [Cate Blanchett & you] on the monitor… Can you talk about your relationship and how you’re collaborating on [the action]?
ZOE BELL: [Cate’s] been amazing and wants to be collaborative which is always my hope because I feel like that’s when you get the best – when all departments are aiming to make the same movie, the same character… She’s clearly an expert in her field, which has been amazing for my own personal reasons. I’ve just been an absorbing sponge this whole time, but she’s really comfortable with me being considered the ‘expert’. Between the two of us — we’re going to make them baddest Hela there is.
What’s your influence for the movements?
BELL: It’s definitely a combination of things. We start off with Ben Cooke, who is the coordinator, and Jon Valera, our fight choreographer… They’ve choreographed the fights to begin with and I come in and morph it a little bit. Instead of having a five-foot-three, little ninja guy do it, you’ve now got a five-eight woman doing it. Then we start working with Cate and figuring out how she moves and I start figuring out what she’s comfortable with. Then between Cate and myself and the guys, we start shifting things so it fits better with what Cate’s bringing to the character.
Did you have any motion-capture advice for her?
BELL: You know, I haven’t done a whole bunch of motion-capture myself because ironically I stepped away from stunts. This is my coming out of retirement. I stepped away from stunts and into acting right around when stunt people started getting put into motion-capture stuff. My biggest advice to Cate has always been just get as comfortable as possible so that you’re relaxed enough to bring the emotional stuff. You hire Cate for obvious reasons. I want her to feel as comfortable as possible to bring that power and that energy and that ‘Blanchett’ to it.
Are there any scenes that have been particularly challenging?
BELL: Yeah… just because it was early on in the piece and it was one of the bigger fight scenes… I won’t speak too much about it but we hadn’t got [Cate] for very long. She had other prior arrangements so we didn’t have a lot of time with her. There was a minute where she was like, ‘I don’t think I can do all of this.’ So we showed her the bits that we absolutely needed and then the thing is once she felt comfortable, she actually was like, ‘All right, give me a little bit more. Okay, I can probably do that.’ That’s true for most people: once you take away the onslaught feeling, then people realize they’re more capable and she’s far more capable than I think she gives herself credit for.
Hela has a really complex outfit that’s going to be added in with CGI later, especially her headdress… How are you taking that into account when it comes to the stunts and the fights?
BELL: It’s been a bit of a consideration for us in terms of our movements and stuff, but because it’s been so collaborative between the departments, there’s an element of you guys should just do whatever it is you do and it’s my job to work with Cate [and] make Hela look amazing. Whatever I can add, I’ll add and then it’s [the VFX Team’s] job to work with what they have in the physical world and embellish on it. We did start off at times trying to work out fight beats so it didn’t cross over with where the headdress might be, but we don’t know if it moves or not. Because there’s nothing hard and fast about [the headdress], it actually sets up some real freedoms. I can throw suggestions in and it becomes a little bit of a playground for us.
Hela’s the first female Marvel super villain. Did you think about that at all when you were doing the project?
BELL: I loved it. I thought it was awesome and I was stoked to be a part of it. But most of it has been all watching Cate and how she moves and what she does with her nails and her fingers and how she stands and even her personality quirks. If I can incorporate any of that, it’s better for the project.