It's easy to be in awe of Zoë Bell. As a stunt double for such iconic screen heroines as Xena: Warrior Princess and The Bride of Kill Bill, she basically defines badass. But Bell broke new ground when a fateful meeting with Quentin Tarantino--caught on tape in the documentary Double Dare--led this stunt performer out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Playing a version of herself in in Tarantino's Grindhouse contribution, Death Proof, she's won untold fans and become a feminist icon. But for Bell, none of this was planned. She has no intentional political agenda in her work, explaining, "I’ve never felt the need to get on a soapbox about it.…Treat me with the respect that I’ve earned, regardless of boobs or not."
Following memorable appearances in films like the roller derby sport movie Whip It! and the Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle Oblivion, Bell is now fronting Raze, a horror-thriller she also produced. Directed by Josh C. Waller, this women-in-prison movie boldly aims to subvert the exploitative genre by redefining its requisite girl-on-girl violence and refusing to titillate audiences with barely dressed powerless heroines. Bell stars as Sabrina, a former soldier who must fight in kill-or-be-killed battles not only to preserve her life, but also to save that of the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago.
While her character in Raze is often scowling and stern, Bell herself was wonderfully bubbly and warm when we met for an interview in New York earlier this week. She spoke openly not only about why this movie mattered to her, but also about how she hopes the movie's no holds barred fight scenes will urge audiences and moviemakers to reconsider how action movies treat the sexes differently.
By your count, what is the allure of the women-in-prison genre?
Zoë Bell: Well, it’s interesting, because I think they appeal to people for different reasons, and our movie is sort of a weird take on the women-in-prison movies, so it’s sort of--I feel like the things that are kind of alluring about women-in-prison genre is sort of the things that are slightly removed from Raze. So, it’s sort of a weird, I hope we don’t disappoint women-in-prison genre fans.
To assure people, there’s a lot of violence. You deliver hard core on that.
Oh yeah. No shortage on violence.
I think what you’re talking about is that there’s a lack of sexualization of the characters.
There’s almost zero sexualization of the characters and we try to remove anything that could be construed as hammy. I don’t know what a better American version of the word is, like hammy in New Zealand means sort of, does it mean the same thing? Sort of slap-sticky?
Campy, yeah. Our intention was to remove, for no reason other than it was sort of an experiment. What would happen if we did a women-in-prison movie, but they have clothes on. There was no shower scene and these women were fighting for something real and they were hating fighting. What would happen if we did that, you know? What happens is a movie that’s quite confronting. It’s surprisingly shocking to a lot of viewers, and me too. The first time I watched it as a whole with a theater full of people and the whole score and foley and soundtrack, the credits rolled and I was like, "Wooo."
Yeah, there’s bone-crunching. There’s a lot of bone-crunching.
There definitely is.
Because a good section of the movie is just hand-to-hand combat between women, I feel like there are people who are going to want to apply the word "cat-fight," but what the common concept of a cat-fight doesn’t fit here.
Yeah, well that was sort of what we were experimenting with was a type of female fight that we hadn’t seen and that I hadn’t done. I’ve done lots of different styles of female fights, or fighting in general…I don’t know what my language is allowed to be on this (interview)--but the bitch fight element doesn’t apply. Because we were shooting it and we were choreographing it. And we were having the girls engage in it the way we would if it was a male fighting a male to the death. Which I just think--it’s definitely getting a reaction that would say that that’s rare, that’s not something that’s common, good or bad.
Several of your films have clear feminist themes. Was that something that was important to you in making Raze?
You know, it’s been really interesting, because it’s come up a lot, the concept and the discussion topic of feminism. Which makes complete sense. But the thing that’s been so interesting for me is that I didn’t walk into this with the purpose of making a feministic statement. What I wanted, and actually the other three producers who will all agree, the one thing we never disagreed about was that we wanted it to be true. We don’t want it to be true in the real world. We hope no one anywhere is making women fight to the death.
Authentic, yeah, exactly. So, it was sort of, and I think, in wanting that, the fact that we couldn’t find it anywhere else is sort of a statement about feminism and how real women stand in the world of action as it is. So, I guess just in wanting to make this film, we were making a statement.