Jason Bell. Photo by/copyright of Dan Rizzutto.
Jason Bell was not even born when the original Star Trek premiered way back in 1966. However, fifty years, one classic TV series, four spin-offs and 13 feature films later, the talented stuntman/actor made his indelible mark on this successful, long-running franchise when he was cast in the role of Captain James T. Kirk’s right-hand man in the most recent Trek big screen adventure Star Trek Beyond. From aspiring Federation officers to fledgling Vulcans and a host of other alien lifeforms, the competition was fierce to book a role in this movie, and Bell was among those vying for such an opportunity.
“Every stunt performer in town knew Star Trek Beyond was slated to film in Vancouver, so as a self-contracting stunt guy, I sent my headshot and resume in to the production office about a month before shooting began,” recalls Bell. “Four weeks later, I received a call from one of the film’s assistant stunt coordinators to ask if I was available for certain dates, and to tell me I was being considered for the role of Captain Kirk’s [Chris Pine] #1 Security Guard. I was completely floored getting such a call, let alone being considered for such an amazing opportunity. I wasn't sure if it was more of an acting role or a stunt role, but I was beyond thrilled at the chance to get on the production. Ultimately, it ended up being a bit of a stunt type acting role. I went out and played the part as best I could and had a total blast working on it.”
In Star Trek Beyond, the U.S.S. Enterprise and its crew are three years into their original five year mission, when, following a stopover at Starbase Yorktown, the Federation vessel heads out on a rescue mission, only to be ambushed by a horde of attacking alien ships. Forced to abandon ship, the Enterprise crew end up stranded on an unknown planet with little hope of rescue. A number of our heroes are taken prisoner by Krall a.k.a. Captain Balthazar Edison (Idris Elba), the mutated former commander of the U.S.S. Franklin. He has a deep-seeded hatred for the Federation and requires an alien relic called the Abronath (the missing part of a deadly bioweapon) to seek his revenge. Becoming part of such a legendary world was like stepping back in time for Bell.
“I was transformed into a 10-year-old again seeing the classic Star Trek uniforms as well as being immersed in the general atmosphere on the Enterprise bridge and sense of being in that blinking lights, sterile futuristic environment,” he says. “My excitement on the inside was overwhelming, while on the outside I was desperately trying to keep myself collected. My first day on-set was amazing as well as unforgettable, especially seeing the actors for the first time in their iconic roles as Captain Kirk, Commander Spock [Zachery Quinto] etc., and, of course, stepping foot onto the U.S.S. Enterprise. I was also excited to get a full metal phaser gun prop as part of my costume. You can imagine how the inner nerd in me was loving every minute of it.
“I can't say enough how humbling and amazing it was to be part of a huge franchise that has been around for decades. You can only dream about opportunities like this when you first start hustling and climbing that proverbial ladder in the film industry. Everyone on the cast and crew were professional yet incredibly easy to be around. Chris Pine was awesome to work with. He was always super friendly, shook my hand on day one and is a real class act. Working with such a talented cast was the best schooling an aspiring actor can get.
“The biggest challenge for me on Star Trek was the schedule changes. It was a really busy time in Vancouver while we were filming, so most of the productions were using almost every stunt performer. Just after starting Star Trek, I began working on The CW's DC's Legends of Tomorrow as Hawkman’s [Falk Hentschel] stunt double. Feature films are notorious for schedule changes, so when I was faced with that and was already booked on another show, I would have to try to get as much information from coordinators to see if it was feasible to work a double booking in one day or if I could get released to accept the new dates on Star Trek. Either way, these were good problems to have, but stressful nonetheless. I'm very lucky to have been onboard with Star Trek and hope to don the red suit again one day.”
Born in Victoria, Canada, Bell was introduced to athletics by his father, a former professional rugby player, so it is no surprise that the actor played hockey as well as soccer while growing up and also enjoyed rollerblading and mountain biking. While all these activities helped hone his physical prowess, which would one day serve him well in the stunt profession, he had another passion that could have steered him towards a totally different career path.
“I actually didn’t think about film until much later in life,” notes Bell. “As a kid, I was obsessed with helicopters and always wanted to be an Air Force pilot. During college, I studied business and tourism, because I thought I could travel with a job like that and work at hotels around the world. I did end up working at a couple of Fairmont hotels and as an activities director in South Carolina. I loved the jobs I was doing, but lusted for more adventure. I eventually returned to Vancouver and enlisted in the army, which was something my mother was originally weary about and didn’t want me to jump into right after high school. So as a 24-year-old I was in boot camp, living in barracks, surrounded by testosterone-filled rooms and guys polishing their assault rifles. In 2009 I was deployed to Afghanistan for an eight-month tour; it was a long eight months. At times, the deployment was daunting and frightening, but it was also exciting and an adventure I won’t soon forget.
“Upon returning home, I knew I didn’t want to renew my military contract and was looking for my next endeavor. My sister had been working in film for over 18 years, and she pointed me in the direction of the stunt community. Given my background, she thought it would be a good fit. I got back into martial arts, trained at gymnastic gyms with local stunt performers, and networked with the competitive and small stunt community. It’s now 2016 and I haven’t looked back.”
Stargate Atlantis, Citizen, Almost Human, The Killing and unREAL are among Bell’s acting credits. On the big screen, he has performed stunts on such films as Man of Steel, Godzilla, Tomorrowland, Vendetta and Deadpool, while his copious amounts of TV stunt work includes appearances on Continuum, Motive, Fear the Walking Dead, Dark Matter, Killjoys, Van Helsing, The Man in the High Castle, The 100, Timeless, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Prison Break: The Sequel. What is Bell’s thought process for preparing and performing stunts?
“Usually I have an idea of what kind of work I have ahead of me. If it’s a show run on a feature or a fulltime doubling gig, I definitely want to keep my fitness level up, because fitness dictates how long and hard I can go on those long strenuous days. So keeping a healthy diet and getting my sleep is a must,” he explains.
“I also like to think about how each character I’m stunting or doubling for would move and look. For example, I knew Hawkman from Arrow had an old school metal mace he fought with, so I’d be in my house and twirling around my kali stick as if it were a mace, trying to give it some flare while keeping the movements functional and making sure they would make sense during fight scenes.
“This job is one of the best and coolest jobs I could ask for, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. I always keep in mind that there’s someone else out there who is training a bit harder and might be a bit better at something. This keeps me focused and on track with my training so I don’t get too complacent when work is busy.”
The stuntman/actor continues to enjoy a CW Network triple play, if you will, with his work on the aforementioned Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow along with The Flash. “As a stunt performer you’re expected to have some acting ability,” says Bell. “You may think you’re a small part of a production, but you’ve been hired for your ability to essentially ‘perform.’ Some stunt performers have formal acting training, while others learn on the job. I was lucky to have taken some acing classes in the past, during which I got a small taste of what I could expect in the business. Some stunt coordinators recognize those abilities, and when a production is looking to save money, instead of hiring an actor as well as a stunt double, they’ll combine both and audition stunt performers who can act and throw out a line. I’ve been fortunate enough to have booked acting roles on Arrow and The Flash. I played a cop on a couple of Flash episodes, and the personal bodyguard of Gholem Qadir [Lee Majdoub] on Arrow. It’s always fun having dialogue, and even if it’s only a line or two I get totally into character.
“The most memorable stunt I performed was while I doubled for Robbie Amell’s Firestorm during season one of The Flash. The scene called for Firestorm to pull a lever that exploded and sent him flying back about 15 feet into a wall. We rehearsed this stunt for about eight hours the prior day, dialing in the wire work and getting to a place where we were happy with my trajectory and landing. When we shot the actual stunt, I can say that it went off perfectly. I padded up accordingly and didn’t even suffer a bruise. It was definitely one of the coolest gigs I’ve done to date.
“With Legends of Tomorrow I was initially brought in for what you’d call a ‘go see,’ to see how I was on a fly rig,” continues the stuntman/actor. “I knew it was for doubling a new character in season one. The audition went great and I was confident even with The Flash and Arrow stunt teams watching. When I found out later that I got the job, I was thrilled at the opportunity. That was in July. Come August, I knew we were going to start rehearsing three weeks before production began. My character was a winged demi-god who took flight with large angelic wings. The rehearsals consisted of working every day for up to 12 hours on wires, practicing different aerial combat maneuvers as well as various landings and takeoffs. I’d done wire work before, but not to this extent. It was an amazing and exhausting experience, and that was just the rehearsals,” jokes Bell.
“When you have such a talented and brotherhood-like stunt team to work with, it makes the job easier and the days go by faster. You want to push yourself to remind them why they hired you in the first place. The whole experience on Legends of Tomorrow – which I still currently work on – is awesome. It’s a show with so many characters and moving parts, that everyone has to be on their ‘A’ game and contribute where they can.”
As far as Bell’s movie work, there are two franchises he has been a part of and that are especially memorable to him. “One film series that’s close to my heart is The X-Men,” he enthuses. “I had the opportunity to work on X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse. As a kid, I glued myself to the TV screen every Saturday morning to watch The X-Men, and I own hundreds of X-Men comics, so when I got the chance to work on these films, especially in Montreal where I have family, I was ecstatic. Working closely with Jennifer Lawrence [Raven/Mystique] on X-Men: Days of Future Past was beyond cool. She’s such an easy-going person and it was a pleasure to work with her. On X-Men: Apocalypse, I worked with Michael Fassbender [Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto] who is a class act himself. He’s such a nice guy and an amazing actor.
“In [the upcoming] War for the Planet of the Apes, I had the chance to play a soldier, watch explosions go off, dodge imaginary chopper fires, shoot prop guns, and, of course, meet and work with the great Andy Serkis, who is probably the softest spoken gentleman I’ve ever met. It was a blast.
“A small percentage of people call this their fulltime endeavor, and I am fortunate to be among those. I’m rewarded with the fact that I don’t work nine to five. I have time to see my daughter grow up and can spend time with my wife, too. I can’t imagine sitting behind a desk while my daughter is doing new things. This job can be stressful, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
As noted above, photo by and courtesy/copyright of Dan Rizzutto, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!