Jessica Bell: Actress, Stuntwoman

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I would like to welcome Jessica Bell to the BTS Entertainment Corner. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her in person on the set of The Blood Thins and seeing her in action. Here’s a little more about her before our interview.

Jessica Bell was born in Rochester, New York. She enjoyed participating in the Theater and Performing Arts program in high school productions. After taking several acting classes and doing background work, Jessica began accepting lead and supporting roles in feature films such as Apocalypse Island, Wolf House, Crossing Thresholds, and Lighthouse Unmanned. Jessica is now based in Tennessee and most recently you can see her work on network television shows such as Fatal Attraction, Snapped: Notorious, ATL Homicide, and Murder Calls. Always wanting to push herself physically she gained interest in stunt work and began training in martial arts, fight choreography, fire arms, and archery. Jessica is a black belt in Taekwondo and has officially signed on as part of the Nashville Stunt Team Action Design Syndicate.

1) First off Jessica, I’m interested in your background in sports. Did being an athlete influence or does it continue to influence your acting career? Do these aspects of your life go hand in hand?

I have always been a tomboy, horseback riding and playing sports since I was 5 years old.  I think that carried over greatly in my desire to find strong female roles. I started practicing martial arts as an adult with Master Kim’s Taekwondo Institute in Rochester, N.Y., and it quickly became a way of life. Martial Arts brought me to stunt work as I started my acting career and knowing I wanted to play strong female roles both physically and emotionally.

2) How do you approach stunt work as opposed to acting? What are the similarities?  

With stunt work, safety has to be key as first rule. But a very close second for me is making the stunts or fight choreography as real as possible. I train with the Nashville Stunt Team, Action Design Syndicate as we are all either martial artists, extreme sports or military/fight trained, meaning real hits—full speed motion with quarter speed hits. So in many ways I have to approach stunts differently. But just like in acting, I have to make it as real as possible for me. Full dedication to the scene, great focus and control for stunts.

3) I recently watched Apocalypse Island (now on Amazon) where you did a supporting role and got to watch you do a scene on the set of The Blood Thins where you play the lead role. You are very much the center of The Blood Thins, tell me how you prepare for these roles. Is there a difference between playing a supporting character as opposed to having to shoulder the film yourself?

I can honestly say if I am cast in a small role or lead role the preparation is the same, just in a different volume. It’s 100% true, there are no small roles. Each scene, each line has a purpose to telling the story. I spend a lot of time re-reading the script, finding new ways to interpret and land on my backstory and find that character within myself.

4) I know how acting/entertainment can be a chaotic life sometimes with last minute gigs, very long shoot days, projects running overtime, cancelled work, waiting to get paid, etc. How do you balance this with your family life?

Luckily, I have an amazing support system. My husband and family work together and take over when I’m away. My girls both love dancing, singing, and acting and knowing my kids are proud of what I do makes any time away so much easier and the long waits in between work (and the next paycheck) that much better because I have more time with my family in-between. Because I do acting full time I have the flexibility to be on set last minute and change dates, which makes me more accessible to directors, but I also have a lot of down time. So I never miss a field trip or birthday or milestone. That is the greatest gift ever. I make my own schedule and work hardly seems like work.

5)  I’m looking forward to seeing The Blood Thins and wanted to give Adrian Roman a shout out as he’s a great director to work with. I was able to speak with him after filming was done. How do you approach collaborating with different directors? Are you proactive or do you wait until they offer direction and input?

First, I loved working with Adrian. His passion and creativity was evident from the first time I read the script to accepting and speaking with him about the role of Polly Duggin. I quickly became a fan of his work, vision, and collaboration as an artist.

Every project always starts out a little hesitant as everyone on the team finds their place and flow. I tend to err on the side of making strong choices and waiting for direction. I like to give directors a solid base to start with and even if it is completely in a different direction or tone than they envisioned, I always feel like it can be re-directed easily and find that vision together. I feel it’s my job to come prepared with the scenes and backstory as detailed as possible, it’s their job to direct. I am always extremely flexible and make changes quickly to help their vision come to life.

6) Now that you’ve done TV and film, do you have a preference on which you’d rather work? Does it matter the platform or is it more about the people than the process?

I always enjoy the people and process the most. With film you quickly become a family, locked up together for weeks creating art, sharing stories, and talking film. Then it’s abruptly ripped from you on the day of wrap which is rewarding for what we accomplished but you almost say goodbye, in some cases forever, to great friends you hope to stay in touch with. Film has a lot more room for creativity as we go, flexibility for the director to slightly make changes as the actors, crew, and even location come into play. With TV, I love the fast pace.

Television runs like a machine. Air dates are usually posted before we film so there is little time for changes or flexibility. Sticking to the schedule and sticking precisely to the script is key for talent and crew to power through a tight filming schedule and the editor to have no surprises to whip out the next show. Getting a regular character on a television show is also amazing job security. 🙂

7) Any advice for actors/stunt people, new or not so new?  Warnings?                                                                                                                                                        First thought would be that everyone, regardless of the role or position on crew is extremely important to the team! Treat everyone the same, The Film/Television network is pretty small, you never know who you will work with again or end up hoping to work for.  I know it was hard for me at the beginning of my career to really come to grips with the fact that I will NOT be the right fit for every role. That doesn’t mean you can’t play or act out every role. Sometimes it’s as simple as the writer/director created this character with a person in their head, as many of us do reading a book, and they are looking for a great actor that is also that person they wrote about.

Every No is a step closer to the next YES. You will be turned down, a lot, picked apart for things you couldn’t change if you wanted to. Always audition as if that’s your job, your only job that day, ENJOY IT! The casting directors have heard the same thing hundreds of times that day. Walk in, make a strong choice, be confident, and show them the reason you love this job is because you would be in the scene 100% if you were on set. Then forget about the role, completely, and look for the next audition. Don’t drive yourself nuts because, again, you will not be the right fit for every role. But please don’t let the No’s get to you. Enjoy the audition and if you don’t hear back, you’re another step closer to the role that was written just for you.

Thank you so much for asking me to do this interview. I am very proud of these films and thankful for the colleagues I have had the chance to create with! We only hope that you will enjoy the ride as we share our stories.
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