Though primarily a stuntwoman for most of her career, Zoë Bell branched out into acting in a number of films and on television, thanks to her ongoing friendship and collaboration with director Quentin Tarantino. Prior to working with Tarantino, Bell performed stunts in her native New Zealand on popular syndicated shows like "Xena: Warrior Princess" (1995-2001) and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" (1995-99). Upon her arrival in Hollywood, however, she faced a steep uphill battle against sexism, which was showcased in Amada Micheli's excellent documentary "Double Dare" (2004). At the time, Bell did stunt work for Tarantino on "Kill Bill Vol. 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill Vol. 2" (2004), which led to an acting part as herself in his "Death Proof" segment of "Grindhouse" (2007). From there, she performed as a stunt double while mixing in occasional roles in films like "Whip It" (2009), "Gamer" (2009) and Tarantino's "Django Unchained" (2012), as well as TV shows like "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06) and "Lost" (ABC, 2004-2010). Never one to shy away from a dangerous stunt or a challenging role, Bell proved herself to be adept both on and off the screen.
Born on Nov. 17, 1978 in Waiheke, New Zealand, Bell was raised in Auckland by her father, Andrew, a doctor, and her mother, Tish, a nurse. As a youth, Bell excelled in gymnastics, working her way up to the level of championship competitor while attending Auckland Girls' Grammar School. When she turned 15, Bell opted to find additional outlets for her athleticism and began studying Taekwondo, while also branching out into scuba diving, dance, and track and field. After attending the secondary school Selwyn College, Bell began her stuntwoman career shortly after her father treated a stuntman for a head injury and came home with his phone number, leading her to land her first stunt job jumping out of a car for the New Zealand soap opera, "Shortland Street" (TVNZ, 1992- ). From there, she did background action work on the pilot for "Amazon High," a proposed late-1990s spin-off of both the syndicated New Zealand-based action series "Xena: Warrior Princess" (1995-2001) and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" (1995-1999). In fact, Bell did stunt work on the latter two series as well, mainly as a stunt double for Lucy Lawless, but moderately fractured her back, leading to her departure from the series.
During her run on "Xena," Bell also worked on an episode of the Sam Raimi series, "Cleopatra 2525" (2000-01), and went on to perform stunts for the American-produced, Auckland-shot movie of the week "X-Team" (ABC, 2003). Having headed to Los Angeles for more opportunities, she faced a strong uphill climb against rampant sexism in Hollywood, a battle that was later told alongside veteran stuntwoman Jeannie Epper's own struggles in Amada Micheli's eye-opening documentary, "Double Dare" (2004). The documentary showed both women as they performed their professional tasks and came to bond personally, and featured interviews with collaborators and Hollywood veterans, including Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino became a big fan of Bell when he hired her to be Uma Thurman's stunt double in the director's two-part martial arts epic, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill Vol. 2" (2004). Bell spent nine months honing her craft in wire- and sword-work, unlearning previous techniques while becoming proficient in the martial art of Wushu. During the filming of the second installment, Bell dislocated her wrist and was forced to take a year off following surgery.
Upon her recovery, Bell moved into the futuristic vampire thriller, "Ultraviolet" (2004), starring Milla Jovovich, and doubling for Sharon Stone in "Catwoman" (2004), starring Halle Berry. Turning to the small screen, she did an episode of "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06) and returned to film for "Penny Dreadful" (2006) and "Poseidon" (2006). With her win for "Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Woman" at the TAURUS World Stunt Awards in 2006, Bell had risen to the very top of her field. Now working steadily, her résumé was expanded at a brisk pace and she served as the stunt coordinator for the crime drama short, "Reflections." Meanwhile, Tarantino was adamant that the two work together again and cast Bell with an acting role - albeit as herself - in his "Death Proof" segment of "Grindhouse" (2007), Tarantino's co-directing collaboration with Robert Rodriguez. Bell played a stuntwoman visiting Hollywood from New Zealand who teams up with three friends (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to turn the tables on a homicidal maniac, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), killing people with his super-charged 1970 Dodge Challenger. Meanwhile, she performed her regular stunt duties for Rodriguez's zombie-horror segment, "Planet Terror."
After having a taste of performing onscreen, Bell naturally wanted more. As she sought out further opportunities to act, she continued performing her death-defying stunt work on a season four episode of "Lost" (ABC, 2004-2010). From there, she performed stunts in "Final Destination" (2009) and reteamed with Tarantino for his Oscar-nominated Nazi-hunter thriller "Inglorious Basterds" (2009). Bell branched out with a leading role as an assassin named Eve, who takes revenge on her former employers on the web series "Angel of Death" (2009). In Drew Barrymore's "Whip It" (2009), she played a member of a roller derby team named Bloody Mary and was a prison inmate named Sandra in the sci-fi action thriller "Gamer" (2009), starring Gerard Butler. Bell next played a mercenary who works with a rogue CIA agent (Gary Daniels) targeting an undercover agent (Wesley Snipes) in the poorly received actioner "Game of Death" (2010). Following an episode of "Gossip Girl" (The CW, 2007-2012), she joined the cast of Tarantino's neo-spaghetti Western, "Django Unchained" (2012), starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz.
By Ben Lauter