She was a daredevil stunt double for superstars like Uma Thurman, Sharon Stone and Lucy Lawless before acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino turned her into a bona fide big-screen Hollywood heroine.
But Kiwi action queen Zoë Bell couldn’t resist returning to her stunt roots when her good friend Taika Waititi, the director of Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, asked her to stunt double for Cate Blanchett in his big-budget blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok.
“There are so many reasons why it was a dream job,” the Waiheke Island-born star, 38, tells Woman’s Day. “Cate plays Hela, the first female villain of the Marvel movies, and watching an actor like that work was a master class.
She’s a professional but also cheeky, witty and so relaxed. It was phenomenal.”
However, little did Zoë realise that the job would lead to an even more exciting gig – following her mates Quentin and Taika into becoming a director herself! While working on Thor on Australia’s Gold Coast, the Death Proof and The Hateful Eight actress met with a producer who asked her to make her first short film.
“I couldn’t say yes fast enough,” recalls Zoë, who lives in Los Angeles with her Californian boyfriend, filmmaker Jacob Horn.
“I love being part of that story-telling process, working out what’s going to make people laugh or cry, and I was actually secretly plotting to go into directing, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tell the world. This gave me the balls to say it aloud. It was like the universe was telling me to just spit it out!”
Zoë’s directorial debut is an upcoming ad campaign and short film called Apocalypse Steve Hansen, for cookie company Arnott’s, which stars the head coach of our award-winning national rugby team, as well as sporting heroes Israel Dagg, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea and Victor Vito, plus Zoë herself.
“We’re living in a world without biscuits, which is a very sad place,” Zoë laughs. “Steve is our hero and I, his trusty sidekick. We are tasked with returning stability to society by locating the last biscuit stash.
“I was a big fan of Steve even before the shoot because he’s a quality Kiwi bloke, but after I did some research – some would call it stalking – I was even more of a fan.
“He’s really a stand-up guy, but he’s got this dry sense of humour – it’s so disarming. He started off quite reserved, but by the end of it, he was really getting into it.
“At one stage he had 10 minutes before he had to be at the airport, but he was determined to get this shot done, jumping straight into a paddling pool without a second to spare to make it work. It was classic Kiwi. If I was to have a son, I’d love him to grow up to be someone like that.”
As for the rugby players? Zoë says, “Our world-class athletes are so humbling and modest. There was no attitude and they all took direction well. Before I transitioned into the thespian world, I was more of an athlete, so I felt like we shared a common language. It was an honour to work with those guys.”
Steve gets Zoë’s award for best actor, while Israel bags the most-improved trophy. The statuesque star explains, “He was playing a caricature of himself, so he felt like a bit of a dick. I had to tell him to pretend he was just cracking a joke to get a laugh from his mates. He ended up nailing it – he had us in stitches.”
After this exciting experience, Zoë hopes that her next directorial project will be a feature film based on a dream she had. It’s top-secret for now, but she reveals, “It’s a female coming-of-age comedy/action story that I may also be acting in. It’s set in Hamilton because that instantly makes me giggle. Let’s see how this Arnott’s campaign goes, but it’s an exciting time to be a woman in this industry – there are a lot of doors opening in Hollywood.”
However, Zoë confesses that life in LA can be frustrating. “On a bad day, I’m like, ‘Nothing’s real. What am I doing with my life?’ I’m a Kiwi success story and I’m meant to be living the dream here in the States, but I love New Zealand and all the people I care about are there.
“Sometimes I think about selling everything up, buying a house in Piha and re-skilling to become a plumber. I’ll have babies and my parents can babysit, and we’ll play volleyball and have barbecues in the summer. That’s the life! But that’s an option that’s always open to me and that gives me the guts to carry on.”
Yet if Zoë’s boyfriend gets his way, that return to Aotearoa may happen sooner rather than later. After spending last Christmas at her parents’ bed and breakfast on the Coromandel, Jacob’s admitted that he misses New Zealand and “can’t wait to go back!” Giving a villainous laugh, Zoë jokes, “My evil plan is working!”