CM: You have been a stunt double in so many films, and you’ve had so many different acting roles in films and TV. You’ve played doctors and roller derby queens and all kinds of people – you’ve really run the gamut – what was it about this film, this story, which motivated you to become one of the producers?
ZB: Well actually it went the other way around. When first Josh called me (Josh C. Waller, Director) and I’ve been friends with Josh for a long time, he had been working with Kenny and Andy on this idea but it was a short film and they were looking at me maybe being the fight choreographer/coordinator. I was trying to get people to see me as an actor more than as a strictly action girl. Which is a hard thing.
CM: I would assume that is quite a hard thing. Is that something which has been on the forefront of your recent endeavors? To shift from behind the camera to in front of the camera?
ZB: Oh absolutely a hard thing. But the film was a short that ended right after the fight between Sabrina and Jamie (Rachel Nichols) and we just decided to fill it out to a feature film the more we discussed it and worked on it.
CM: There is a great scene where you come to terms with being a mother whose child is in danger, and its a scene filled with difficult and painful emotions. Having no children of your own was there a specific person or child who you conjured to make that scene work emotionally?
ZB: It was a combination of finding something that I had felt in my life which was similar, and for me that was my brother, because he’s my younger brother and he is the one thing I will die to protect. I’m sure I’d die to protect my Mum & Dad as well but he was the younger little guy who needed me to look after him for a long time. Not anymore by the way – he’s a fully capable individual and I love him to bits! The other one was my Mum. Before that scene where Sabrina is breaking down a little bit I was singing a song that my mum used to sing to me when I was a kid. Not to conjure up my child love for my mum, but because I was being Sabrina it was more about what Mum must have felt when singing those songs to me.
CM: I think that it’s all too easy to make characters in action/fight films archetypal one dimensional beings, and I feel that the women in the film were really multidimensional. You get the women’s back stories, you wonder what makes them angry or more violent and all the factors which influence their presentation and ability to fight. Was it written that way in the script, or do you think it has more to do with the group of actresses and their performances? The feelings and motivations are really present and come through in each of the women’s characters.
ZB: Oh it makes me happy and proud like a Mum to hear you say these things. It makes me proud of our movie and proud of our cast.
CM: Because honestly the rest of the cast, aside from the initiates, are more like comic book characters – they are one dimensional and it is the women who bring a richness to the film, and that really works.
ZB: I don’t think that any one element is solely responsible for that. I know that it was important to Josh that their emotional journey and their lives be accessible to the audience. One of the challenges that we faced, and it was important to me, is that there are women who like fight movies. Then there are women who hate them or could care less about them, and those are the women I wanted to see if we could give something to relate to in this film. Women who love action will enjoy this movie. Men across the board are probably going to enjoy this movie because its women fighting. A few of the men were probably disappointed that we weren’t in bar and undies I’m sure but I think they can deal with that. But I wanted to see if there are women who are not prone to relating to fights who could relate to what these women were fighting for, why it was that they could do what they were doing and each of the actors found something in their characters that they wanted to show and bring to that. Rebecca [Marshall] who plays Phoebe, said after the shoot, that there were a couple of different days where she went home and cried in the shower. It makes me feel terrible that I put them all thought that but she said it was not what we put her through but that being that evil, as satisfying as it was, was also horribly sad and depressing.
CM: I’m sure that it was all of those feelings, and on some level really satisfying. Her character especially, when you hear her back story, you can summon a bit of sympathy for her. I think that’s key, we just want to be able to access the characters now matter how we may do it.
ZB: It came about as we were talking at one point about how we can make the audience, if Sabrina becomes our lead, but the first time we meet her she’s killing someone and we [the audience] don’t understand why, how do we make her likeable? People need to be able to root for her, and be able to get behind her. And then we applied the same sort of things to all the different characters.
CM: If I may go back for a minute to something you said about reaching the audience of women who could never go see a film like this, I thought that one of the elements of the story which really highlights its intelligence is that it is a metaphor, specifically more-so for women. We have all found ourselves in situations which we feel are beyond our control and we have to “fight” and those may be different situations for every woman. One might be something which addresses a sense of physical safety whereas for another it may be about emotional safety, but that’s a fundamental truth. And I think that the film is a terrific mythical portrayal of that truth.
ZB: It was definitely for us as well and these were all conversations we had early on. We had a concept before we had a script. It was a matter of what do we want to build into that script, and it was important that we consider; are they all just fighting for their kids? What about all the women out there who have never had kids? And their husband or their partner has been the love of their life for years for 50 years? That might be tough because we’d have bunch of 80 year olds fighting for their life…but even so, this is their life partner and without this person they have nobody else, so do you fight? And what if that person is ill – do you fight for that person? Do you give up? Do they need you? There is a scene in the fight between Cody and Teresa, which gives me goosebumps, where Teresa says ‘So your mother loves you’ and Cody says ‘yes,’ and Teresa then says, ‘…and she needs you‘ and it is Cody fighting not for the life of the mother but for her own life because her mother needs her. It is in those spaces that women find their power. I have so many goosebumps right now!
CM: This is a little bit of a sensitive questions but apropos of that thread do you want to speak to what kinds of situations or what kind of emotional places you find yourself in where you think to yourself, ‘Oh lord I’ve really got to fight through this.’ Where do you summon your strength?
ZB: That’s an interesting one. One of the banes of being in my head is that somewhere in my childhood I decided that I was lucky enough in life, that I was a fortunate enough person, that I didn’t have the right to be scared, unhappy or ungrateful. But the times that I feel that fight is around my Mum, Dad and my brother. There was one time my brother was feeling decidedly lost and I couldn’t do anything to fix it, or to change it. I couldn’t make it better for him and that was incredibly difficult. My Mum was diagnosed a few years ago, and since has come through the other side and is free of breast cancer, but that dropped me to my knees when I heard. The thought wasn’t so much that I would lose her, but about that I could not be with her right then, that I was far away and the time difference was bad and the quickest plane ticket I could get was about three days away. The feeling was that I was just so far away and that was the really hard part.
CM: Two of the things which I really loved in the film which are so smart, are two visual puns. The first is that the initiates are all wearing tops that many Americans call ‘wife beaters,’ and I’m wondering if you actually sat down and said ‘let’s put these b*tches in ‘wife-beaters!’ I can’t imagine it was coincidental but it’s so great…
ZB: Yeah! I know that’s so good! So where I come from we call those ‘singlets’ and we would have to ask the boys but I think the costumes, the outfits or uniforms, were definitely driven by me. I always think that gray sweats are the sexiest thing on a girl. I think comfy sweat gear – if a girl looks hot in that – she looks hot. And also it is not dissimilar to an outfit that you would find on a dude who’s fighting. So then when the guys stated, ‘OK, the girls in gray sweats and wife-beaters,’ I thought, ‘NO SH*T! That’s just brilliant!’
CM: (spoiler alert!) The other thing which I loved was toward the end when you have taken the weapon from the office which I believe is called a ‘flail,’ the stick with the strings and balls on the end, and you finally have Bruce Thomas where you want him and the camera shoots low looking at his face through these dangling balls. It is just brilliant and wraps up all of his misogyny and beats him with balls! There is no humor in the film but THAT is so funny and well placed. People will either get that joke or totally miss it. You must have been cracking up…
ZB: Oh I remember that scene so well. We called that weapon ‘the scourge.’ Yes, Bruce had some fun with that. I was behind the camera, a lot actually, because I really like to be involved in all aspects, and I remember that Josh (Waller – director) said ‘we are going to shoot you [Zoe] from below so you are big and all powerful and then we will scale down to shoot these BALLS…’ We did definitely had some fun times on that set.
CM: I have one final question for you; as you become more of a lead actress and step out from behind the camera and move forward, do you have a dream role? Or a particular genre or capacity that you really want to master?
ZB: Comedy. Straight up. I would love to do a comedy. If they need me to do action in it, definitely. After RAZE, I see that I was always drawn to dramatic, profound and deep stories, but as I said before I didn’t think I was secure enough to be able to say ‘I want to play that role.’ Since RAZE I had the feeling of ‘I want a comedy now – give me a romance comedy right now!’ Since RAZE I am definitely more interested in the emotional journey of the characters but the one thing that is plaguing me at the moment is that I want to do comedy. I was thinking that there are similarities in both action and comedy because they are genres where women are not really accepted straight out of the gate. Women comediennes are so much rarer. How empowering is it to be able to make people laugh? It’s a different kind of empowerment (than action) empowering people is one thing and making people laugh is something different but equally as important.
CM: Well I believe in you Zoe – bring it! I have so enjoyed speaking with you and I want to thank you so much for taking the time today. Congratulations on the DVD release of RAZE and we all look forward to your future endeavors both in front of and behind the camera.
Zoe Bell Interview