In Quentin Tarantino’s new western The Hateful Eight, New Zealand stunt woman turned actress Zoe Bell is playing a character called “Six Horse Judy.” It is not an action role as such but is as challenging in its own way as her part in Tarantino’s Death Proof (which required her hanging out of a car driven at breakneck pace) or as a stunt double in Kill Bill.
“She (Six Horse Judy) is actually quite cute, quite sweet, but she drives a six horse coach - a stagecoach with six horses,” Bell explains. “She is tough because that is quite hard.”
Since she started as a stunt woman back home in New Zealand in Xena: Warrior Princess when she was 17 years old, Bell has been pretty much game for anything. Early in her career, she fractured her spine. (She turned up for work a week after the accident but the director sent her home and told her not to come back again until she was properly “mended.”) On Kill Bill, she shattered her wrist. (That kept her out of action for almost a year.) As Sharon Stone’s double on Catwoman, she took fearsome leaps. (“I did a 220ft high fall on a wire where I was being unravelled…it was one of those where if this goes wrong, it could end very poorly.”) When Tarantino told her she needed to learn to drive a stagecoach, she plunged right into it with her usual fearless gumption.
Six Horse Judy doesn’t get to fight. “It’s purely an acting role,” Bell says with just a hint of disappointment. “It’s a smaller role but she is a very fun character.”
At the age of 36, Bell is now more of an actress than a stunt woman. It is a sign of her rising profile that she was invited earlier this month to be part of the jury at the The Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF). That required her to watch over a dozen horror and fantasy films and choose the best. Growing up on Waiheke Island a few miles from Auckland, Bell barely watched a single movie throughout her childhood. “Neverending Story was one movie I did see when I was a kid. On the little island I grew up on, they put up a sheet in the town hall.”
“Gore, like blood and guts and stuff, I am fine. Suspense, I get super sensitive. I can’t handle it,” Bell pretends to shiver although it is a scorchingly hot day. “A huge amount of my becoming educated in the world of film has come from working with Quentin (Tarantino). His movie appreciation is contagious. I didn’t use to love being frightened…but I now love the art of frightening films.”
Bell was a top gymnast as a child. She was also expert at Taekwon-do. She has been a stunt woman. She has tried out acting. She has been a producer on women in prison film Raze (2013), in which she also starred. She was the subject of a documentary, Double Dare (2004), about the world of stuntwomen. Now, she is going to direct. She is writing a ghoulish short movie based on a disturbing dream she had about a blindfolded woman alone in a house.
Yes, Bell suggests, there is still sexism and double standards in Hollywood action circles. “I think the big problem is that we still consider it to be a “female“ action film as opposed to just an action film. If a male action film tanks, it’s just a shit film. It’s not a shit film because a man is the lead. Whereas, if you paint a film as a “female action film” and it doesn’t do well, now it (the failure) is associated with the fact that it has a female in the lead. It takes just one female action film not to do well and everyone say, oh, they’ve become a risk again.”Reuse content