Exclusive Interview: Zoe Bell on Oblivion and Raze
When we were pitched an interview with Zoe Bell for Oblivion, it made us more excited to see Oblivion. She plays one of the secret survivors Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) encounters on the surface of a post-apocalyptic earth, along with Morgan Freeman. Now if you’re disappointed that she doesn’t get to speak in Oblivion, we have some good news for you: Zoe Bell also has a movie premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, and in this one she speaks, fights and produces. Raze premieres April 21 in the fest and Bell hopes to sell it for distribution there, and we got to speak with her by phone the week of her two premieres.
INTERVIEW: Read CraveOnline's discussion with Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski
REVIEW: Check out William Bibbiani's review of Oblivion
SECOND OPINION: Get another take on the film…read Witney Seibold's Oblivion review
CraveOnline: Did you originally have lines in Oblivion, but said, “No, it’s more badass if I just stand silently?”
Zoe Bell: [Laughs] I opted out of dialogue. No, there was going to be, and then there wasn’t going to be, and there was. I think what ended up happening is the storyline that was me and Sykes ended up not being in the film as much as it was going to be. It’s disappointing, but still.
Was New Zealand still around after the invasion?
I’m going to say yes.
Would we have heard your real voice, so we assume all the survivors from all parts of the world came together?
That’s the assumption. That, or I was thinking an American accent.
How did the action and stunt work of Oblivion compare to all the other stuff you’ve done?
I was doing stunts as well on the movie, so I did a bunch of stuff, but as far as my character was concerned, I’ve definitely done much more challenging stuff. The one action sequence I did involved Tom Cruise so that definitely sets it apart.
Was that the big fight?
Yeah, it was when everything was exploding and one of the drones are trying to kill me, and Tom Cruise saves my life.
You don’t usually work in films with this much special effects, do you?
I haven’t really, no. There’s a lot of special effects in this movie. What was interesting about it when we were shooting though is as much detail and effort went into the special effects was equaled by the amount of attention to detail that went into the building of the set. So I was working on a practical set most of the time that I was working and they were phenomenal, so it didn’t feel to me like I was working with a lot of green screen, until I watched the movie and I was blown away.
Was a lot of it enhanced after the fact, so that it was surprising when you saw the movie?
Yeah, definitely. Things like the New York Library didn’t need much enhancing. A lot of the explosions were all practical and the whole set was practical, but when we were out in the big mine where they’ve just [been] mining a bunch of stuff, it was expansive and massive, but they added I don’t know how many stories and the sky. All that other stuff was added to it and it was amazing to see that that’s where I had been standing, and didn’t know it.
Since it is a big Hollywood movie and big special effects movie, was there a lot more waiting around on the set of Oblivion than other movies you’ve done?
No, not really. There’s a lot more waiting around with movies than there is with TV in general but because we did have so much practical stuff to work with, there wasn’t a huge amount of waiting around. Except for when we had massive setups, when seven different people were exploding at the same time. That sort of thing just takes time, but it was a pretty efficient set actually, due in large part probably to Tom. He’s a hard working, efficient man.
How long were you on the film?
God, I’m terrible with time. The thing is I was bouncing between that movie and Django and in production for Raze so there was about a three month period where I don’t recall where I was exactly, but I think I was probably on that movie for a month or so. Maybe a bit longer. I was in for three or four weeks and then I was off for a week and then I came back to do more.
On Django you were in the movie, but did you do some stunts for it as well?
No, I just played a bit little role. There’s no one else for me to double really, because I’m white and a girl. So I was sh*t out of luck on that one.
For things like Oblivion do you do double duty as an actor and stunt performer?
Not so much anymore, but when an opportunity comes along to work with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman and my friend Rob Alonzo who was coordinating it, and Joe Kosinski, it’s sort of a no brainer really. Usually, if my role is bigger I won’t just because it takes away from the time and attention I need to put towards my character, but this one I basically was a stuntwoman for the first little period of time, and then my character came into the movie so then I was just Kara. I sort of switched from one duty to the next.
So tell us about Raze.
Raze, I’m so excited. We premiere this Sunday so Raze is a different genre movie. It’s about 50 women that are kidnapped and held captive and forced to fight to the death. They all have a loved one that’s being held ransom so if we don’t fight, our loved one dies. If we lose, our loved one dies, so basically literally forced to fight to the death. It stars Rachel Nichols. Obviously I’m in it. We’ve got Tracie Thoms, we’ve got Sherilyn Fenn, we’ve got Doug Jones, just a really solid, awesome cast. It’s my first time producing. The fights are badass, the performances are badass and I just can’t wait to see it on the big screen with an audience.
I had a moment the other day when I was telling my friend, you know when you stub your toe and it really hurts, until you slam your finger in the car door and then you forget about how sore your big toe is. I had that moment with Raze where I was like, “Oh my God, I’m going to be on the big screen, I’m carrying this movie and everyone’s going to be watching it.” Then I suddenly realized I’d also produced it so then the big toe was being an actor and the car door slamming on my finger [was] being a producer. It’s a big deal. I’ve got money in it. I’ve got blood, literally, blood, sweat and tears. A year and a half of my time and my energy and it’s all about to go up on screen and be open to judgment, to the public. It’s kind of terrifying but exhilarating at the same time.
Is that the next step for you, producing as well?
I’d like it to be, yes. I hadn’t really considered it until the opportunity came up, and then as I was doing it, I really took to it like a duck to water. Learning the whole other side of the film business, that I’d never been in, which is preproduction, post-production, all the stuff that goes on in the office that I’m usually not very privy to, has been a massive learning experience. And then just being a producer on set, I guess it really makes sense that I’m so at ease on a movie set. I’ve been living it since I was 17 so I just had an understanding of it that I didn’t really realize I had until there was a demand for it. I really love being a part of the creative process. I love having an opinion that gets heard, and then it’s all up for discussion. I love being part of the collaborative process, so I already have ideas for another one that I want to produce towards the end of this year. Yeah, why not? I think I want to produce action movies.
What is your fighting style in Raze?
Sheer desperation. We wanted to sort of steer clear of it being one style of fighting meets another style of fighting and having it be sort of like a fight tournament, because the reality is these women are all fighting because they’re forced to. The society that sort of kidnaps these people, they’re sort of doing it for a spot so it’s a little bit twisted. So they want to choose people that are fight capable, so they’ve studied these people. They’re all athletically capable or have had some kind of training or are strong, but it’s not a matter of Wushu versus Tae Bo. We didn’t want that. It’s all bare fisted. There’s no weaponry.
When you’ve done elaborate choreography like Kill Bill, is it hard to shake that in other fight scenes?
No, I don’t find it hard because I’ve never been so specialized that I’ve been forced into one style. Actually, Kill Bill was the first time I was aware I had to shake the “Xena” style of fighting because that was pretty much all I’d done and I’d done a lot of it for three years. But since then, every actress you double has a slightly different style and I’ve mimicked many a different fight style from Wushu to samurai to Karate. But in this one, my character’s fight style, she’s been trained and she fought in the army and we get the feeling she may or may not have killed before, but it’s more whatever style works. It’s just basically fight to the death. We’re hoping, what we were going for is that you kind of have an experience of what the emotional side of fighting to the death is, as opposed to just being, “You win! Round 2. Ding ding ding.”
But how graphic and violent is Raze?
There are definitely moments. We could have been just graphic all the way through. It’s graphic but I think a lot of it is more emotionally disturbing, but there are some things in there that are pretty gruesome, but we didn’t want to do it so that we’re so gruesome that our audience got desensitized, and also we didn’t want the story to be all about that. There’s a lot of blood though, as you can imagine.
What is the next film you want to produce?
At the moment it’s just called The Bali Movie just because that’s just my working title. It’s very, very early developmental stages at the moment. I’m in the process of just writing the treatment. I haven’t even brought a team on but it’s set in Bali at this stage. It could be anywhere sort of third world, not speaking English. I was liking Bali because it’s close to New Zealand, but as a producer you have to consider other things over that. That’s where it’s brewing for me at the moment.
Have you ever topped the Death Proof stunt?
I guess it depends on what you mean by topped. In terms of moments of being proud, there’s lots of different reasons for a sequence being phenomenal. As far as that whole sequence is concerned, I think it’s my lifelong mission to try and one-up Quentin, which I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that. But you know, I think the opening fight of Raze I’m just super proud of. It obviously required a lot. Well, it did require a lot less because we had such limited resources and limited time, but for what we had I’m so proud of what we got.
15 years is a pretty amazing run. How do you feel about where your career has gone?
Well, I’m actually at a place now where I can sit back and be a bit stoked about it. It’s hard I think for anyone in this business to say that because you never really feel like you’re guaranteed the success that might be coming your way. I’m sure Quentin’s probably quite comfortable in it but pretty much every time you feel like something’s going to happen, something might not happen. Then when you think nothing’s going to happen, it does happen.
I don’t know, just the last couple of years I’ve felt a little bit more control over being able to create work for myself. I guess that comes from switching to movies but also I think I’m starting to come to terms with what my strengths are and be a little bit more comfortable about it. When I sit down and look at the 15 years back to back, or when I have someone telling me about my own history, I definitely get a sense of being presently impressed. But you know, when it’s your own life, it’s never just sequential just like that. There are the moments in between that you weren’t working or there’s a show that you did but you hated doing or the show that you loved doing but didn’t do very well, breaking up with boyfriends or having arguments with your parents. All that normal life stuff happens in between so it doesn’t read like a story to me. It feels like life, you know what I mean?
I do. I’m curious, what do you see as those strengths and weakness you mentioned?
Well, one of my weaknesses that I’m working on and starting to get a handle on is the self-promotional side of things and asking for help from friends of mine that have talents that I might want to draw on. After doing Raze, there was a lot of favors that I didn’t ask because I didn’t feel comfortable and I didn’t want to put people out. A lot of those people have come up to me afterwards, not actually offended, but sad that I didn’t come to them. So that’s a big eye opener for me. Self-presentation, I’m just starting to figure out how important red carpets are for me and to put myself out there. Like, I’m in charge of how people might perceive me, so that’s requiring some sort of conscious effort on my behalf because I tend to be like, “If I want to go to the shop in my pajamas, I will.” Which I can still do, but there are ways of utilizing the craziness that is Hollywood that I’m just starting to get a handle on.
My strengths, I think, are that I deal really well with people. I like people. I’m fascinated by how they work so I’m good at handling situations between departments on set or pre-production or post. I think I have a pretty decent business savvy, when I give myself room to. I think a lot of that come from, like I said, this has been my life since I was 17 so I just have an innate knowledge of this business that I’m really happy I have. And obviously I can kick ass.