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Stuntwomen don't cry

Zoe Bell, death-defying stand-in for the stars, takes a scary leap

March 02, 2009|Greg Braxton

As a stuntwoman, Zoe Bell knows about being photographed from awkward or distant angles that obscure her face. But with the Crackle.com online series "Angel of Death," she had to get used to her close-up.

Playing Eve, the ruthless assassin at the center of the series, required the New Zealand native to display both action and acting chops -- and at times, she found it easier to brawl than bawl.

"I had to get over that fear of showing emotion," said Bell. "Doing the butt-kicking stuff was no problem. But crying? That's scary!"

The 30-year-old Bell, who has doubled for Lucy Lawless ("Xena: Warrior Princess"), Uma Thurman ("Kill Bill: Vol. 1" and "Kill Bill: Vol. 2") and Sharon Stone ("Catwoman"), is the star of "Angel of Death," launching today on the Crackle video network, which is backed by Sony Pictures Entertainment. With "Angel of Death," Bell joins a small club of actresses who are credible in action roles. Though others like Thurman, Jennifer Garner, Michelle Yeoh and Milla Jovovich have all played action heroines, none of them performed all of her own stunts. But in "Angel of Death," Bell does everything herself.

"It's a little bit daunting," she said, chomping down on French fries at a Hollywood diner. "I'm not used to carrying all the weight. I was very comfortable being where I was in the industry. As far as acting, I really had no clue."

But thanks to Quentin Tarantino, she felt ready to take the plunge. The writer-director cast her in "Death Proof," his half of "Grindhouse." In the film, Bell plays "Zoe Bell," a fun-loving stuntwoman terrorized by a psychotic stuntman (Kurt Russell).

In much of "Death Proof," Bell displays a natural charm and ease, bantering and teasing her costars, including Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. But it's her harrowing stunt work that received the most attention. At one point, Bell is spread-eagle on the hood of a speeding car and barely hangs on.

But "Angel of Death" demanded far more range.

"Eve is not me by any means," she said. "But I really owed it to everyone and the crew to take it seriously. I did a lot of work on the part in my trailer -- I had never had a trailer before!"

For scenes where she had to be more emotional, Bell said, she would think about ex-boyfriends or sad times with family: "Once I figured out how to make that work, and I got past my fear, then everything seemed to click."

Members of the creative team behind "Angel of Death" said they had been a little concerned about choosing an inexperienced actress as their lead.

"I certainly expected challenges," said Paul Etheredge, who directed the project. "But I was so surprised and pleased by her. She had mapped her character out, had written a back story, everything. I was stunned that she thought it out so completely."

Added executive producer Ed Brubaker, who developed "Angel of Death": "Everybody might have been a little nervous in the beginning, but now the risk is whether we will be able to afford her next time. She is that good."

Bell is back to doing stunts -- this time in Tarantino's upcoming "Inglorious Basterds." But she clearly has caught the acting bug: She will appear as a roller-derby player in this summer's "Whip It," starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore, and she has several other films in the works.

"I don't want to be put in any box," she said. "I want to do everything."

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greg.braxton@latimes.com

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