Lucy Lawless and Zoe Bell on set of Sony/Crackle’s Angel of Death (Photos by Brady Brim-DeForest)
It’s a beautifully smoggy day in the city as we make our way downtown to a tired corner of Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood. We pull up to Linda Vista Hospital a rundown 20’s era building that even in its heyday more resembled a mental institution than any sort of medical facility. We’re told they used the building to shoot Outbreak, End of Days and Pearl Harbor amongst dozens of other productions since its doors closed back in 1990. Rumors of the building being haunted add a chill to the backdrop as we head in to the bustling set of Sony/Crackle’s newest action web series Angel of Death.
Zoe Bell and Lucy Lawless are on set together, but despite having a rather large role in the series, this is the only day Lawless will be shooting. The 50-member crew, a luxury for most web series, are moving briskly – you could almost call them relaxed. About fifteen or so huddle around the twin monitors set up just outside of one of the hospital suites that has been converted into Lawless’ character Vera’s apartment. They eye every detail — with concentration common to a TV or film production with a respectable budget. In fact most of the crew consider this just like any other film gig. A film gig with an ambitious 25-day schedule, of course, but essentially the same logistics.
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Bell plays Eve, a “remorseless assassin” working for a shadowy crime family who finds herself haunted by her former victims after traumatic head injury. As part of an exorcism of these demons, she turns her deadly skills on her former clients who ordered the hits in the first place. When we arrive on set, Eve is bleeding, roughed up from some recent revenge fight. The cameras roll in her neighbor Vera’s apartment as she cares to the wounded Eve laying limply on the worn russet couch.
In fact, this is the first time Bell and her fellow New Zealand native Lawless have shared the screen — at the same time that is — despite an 11-year history going back to Bell’s days as Lawless’s stunt double on Xena: Warrior Princess. Bell was just eighteen when she started her stunt work, which would eventually lead to her plush assignment as Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and later as a stuntwoman-actress in Tarantino’s half of the Grindhouse double feature, Death Proof.
From Stunts to Center Screen
With Angel of Death, Zoe Bell is making her transition from stuntwoman to full-fledged badass female action star. Between scenes, we get a few minutes to chat with Bell, still sporting makeup wounds on her face and wrists. “Eve is guiltless, heartless — emotionally sterile before she suffers the trauma that changes her,” Bell tells us. “She has to learn to co-exist with emotion” she adds, letting on that she has worked her character backstory well beyond what writer Ed Brubaker had written out.
Bell is taking her new found acting role seriously — prep work for the series included not only the several weeks of fight rehearsals with her stunt coordinator, but also acting and dialogue coaching with Chad McCord. When asked about the transition from stunt work to acting, she concedes, “it’s actually fairly natural, almost comforting since my past work has been so physical.” Physical work is of course Bell’s wheelhouse and her dual-threat skills will be used to the fullest. “Oh yeah, there will be heaps of stunts,” she assures us, “and loads of asses will be whooped.” Eve’s tools of choice? “Mostly hand combat, but also some guns, tasers and even a baton.”
What’s it like working with her longtime friend and former doppelganger Lucy Lawless? “She’s just so easy to be around,” she gloats. “She has been way more influential in my career than I think she even knows.”
We have to ask, does she watch any web series regularly? As might be expected of the busy crossover star, she hasn’t had much time to catch up on the latest shows, but she certainly is excited by the medium no less. “Web series still feel very uncharted,” she points out, “and they allow a lot of freedoms and opportunities for talented people that otherwise might not have made it to production.”
Shortly afterward, we run into Jake Abel (Go Figure, The Lonely Bones) who plays the blade-wielding “cutter” Cameron Downs. He’s not shooting this day but is here to work out movements with the old-school barber prop razor blades.
Paul Etheredge is quarterbacking from the director’s chair, although we never caught him sitting, as he beams with a refreshingly contagious energy that keeps him on his feet throughout the shoot. At one point during a scene he lets out a bemused yelp from the monitors outside the room so loud that he covers his mouth as if knowing he may have just muffed the shot. He’s having fun. And through him so is the crew. There are no divas on this set, no badges of excess like massage trailers or fawning assistants.
This isn’t his first time helming a web series, having recently shot another Crackle project, Buried Alive. The jump between film and web series is apparently an easy one – next up for Etheredge, he heads to London to direct Clive Barker‘s next genre film I Am Not Myself.
Sony hopes to get the series up on Crackle in early 2009. Since its announcement earlier this summer, the Ed Brubaker-written series has been getting talked up as one of Crackle’s most ambitious and potentially groundbreaking ventures. Unlike the green-screen heavy web series Gemini Division from NBC, Angel of Death will be bringing real stunts and combat to action-starved online viewers. Why not? Having one of the best in the business with Bell means you can actually shoot the fall from a three story window that Brubaker intended when he wrote it in.