Over the weekend, millions of theaters worldwide housed teenagers, children, and adults alike twitching with excitement over the newest installment of their favorite sci-fi franchise, Star Trek Beyond. Fans of the popular Star Trek films and television series, also known as “Trekkies”, donned their best U.S.S. Enterprise uniforms and practiced their Vulcan salutes as they took their seats to watch Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, and Zachary Quinto once again bring their beloved characters to life. While many fans pride themselves on knowing the ins and outs of the films, many may have missed one face who helped create some of the most action-packed scenes in this film, and many others.
Jason Bell is an actor and stunt performer who has film credits including X-Men: Apocalypse, War for the Planet of the Apes, and yes, Star Trek Beyond. We talked to the Victoria, Canada-born actor about his time creating the film, working with director Justin Lin, and his choice of allegiance between Star Trek and Star Wars.
The Justin Lin-directed blockbuster is the follow-up film to 2013’s release of Star Trek Into Darkness. Fans have been waiting quite some time for the latest installment, but they’re not the only ones. Bell has been waiting on the call for this action-packed film for quite some time.
“I feel blessed to be part of such a massive franchise. My time on Star Trek Beyond was surreal. Being on the set of the Starship Enterprise is a big kids dream. At least for me!” He admits.
Bell served as a stunt performer for the movie, and it’s not the first time. He’s worked as a stunt actor for many science fiction and fantasy films and television shows, including ABC’s Once Upon A Time, The CW’s The Flash and Arrow, and the upcoming Power Rangers feature film.
“Working on a feature film is typically much different than working on TV,” the actor says. “In feature film, to complete one big stunt, sometimes you are given up to a week to rehearse. With TV stunts, you could have a huge fight scene, with multiple moving parts, many actors and stunt players and you’re maybe given one day to prepare. Feature film scenes also take longer to shoot. One scene in Star Trek Beyond that had tons of dialogue took about eight days to shoot.”
Bell’s stunt work will be seen aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in J.J. Abrams’ latest Star Trek film (which grossed $59.6 million in its opening weekend). And just because his resume is filled with stunt work, don’t be surprised when he delivers a few lines on-screen.
“Having an acting background in stunts is a huge advantage. Sometimes you play ‘Henchmen #1’ and you want to make the character believable even if you don’t have lines. With stunt/actor roles, you are brought in because the production knows you can do the stunt but they also know you can throw out dialogue.”
For this, and most other sci-fi action films, fans look forward to the fight scenes. They want to watch the action unfold as the hero walks away a victor. With such high stakes for scenes like these, preparation is key. Bell let us in on the process of crafting such scenes for both the small and silver screens. According to him, it’s no small feat.
“Stunt coordinators always read the script beforehand to forecast what kind of stunts will be happening, what specific stunt performers will be used, and how many will be needed,” he states. “There can be as little as one stunt guy in a scene taking a really easy hit, [and] up to 50 in a massive riot scene. Feature film has the budget and time to nail down huge stunts, and in TV world, there is less time to pull off the ‘improbable.’ But TV stunt coordinators pull off miracles and make the stunts look like feature film stunts. It’s quite amazing what you can do with experienced coordinators and a solid stunt team.”
Working hard seems to come naturally for Bell, who has been working on major films and television since 2010. Thankfully, it’s a job made better when you work with wonderful people. Bell had the opportunity to work closely with director Justin Lin (who has worked on several Fast & Furious films, and is set to direct the upcoming Space Jam 2), as well as actor Chris Pine, who plays the fun-loving and heroic Captain James T. Kirk in the franchise. Bell says working with each of them was inspiring in their own ways.
“Here you have this young director who has been at the helm of intense action films including the Fast & Furious franchise, and you put him behind the wheel of Star Trek, and he becomes at home,” Bell says of the Lin. “When you have a set full of very well-rounded professional actors, you tend to let them take control of their characters more. Justin was happy allowing the actors to be natural and say or do what they think their character would in certain situations. Witnessing his work along with the actors became the best acting class I’d ever been to. I only wish I could have taken notes!”
As for Pine? “Working with Chris was awesome. He had such a great sense of humor on set,” he says of the actor.“We were shooting around 16 hour days and he was still joking until the last shot. But when it was time for him to get into character, ‘boom’ there goes Chris, and it’s time to say hello to Captain Kirk. The whole cast was amazing, easy to work with and professional. I was sad to say goodbye on my last set day.”
With Pine lightening up the set, it’s no wonder the mood was quickly spread to the rest of the cast and crew. Although, don’t expect to hear any stories of on-set pranks. At least, not from the Star Trek group.
“As far as pranks among the cast, not so much. More joking around and having good laughs. However, we were filming in the same studio as CW’s Arrow, and I’ve worked on Arrow since season one. So, the boys across the way thought it would be funny to steal my motorbike. I parked it in the movie lot, so what could possibly go wrong, right?! Later that day I got an anonymous text message saying ‘You sure your bike is still there?’ Accompanied by the ransom text message was a video of one of the stunt guys rolling my bike away. It was painfully obvious they did it, but they kept hamming it up all day saying it wasn’t them. 15 hours later I had to plead with someone to tell me where my bike was so I could get home,” the former Arm veteran-turned-actor recalls.
All joking aside, Bell has been working hard in the film industry for quite some time. His career could easily be considered a point of aspiration for any stunt performer. His love of film and television was what originally inspired his “trek” to where he is today. And he has another cult classic sci-fi franchise to thank for it.
“I am a massive Star Wars nerd! Growing up, it was my go-to movie every Sunday,” Bell shares.
“I would usually throw on Empire Strikes Back or Return of The Jedi. I was obsessed and wanted to be a Jedi so bad. Back then, I didn’t think too much about film as a career as I always wanted to be a pilot. But the fantasy behind film was always something that stuck with me. I love the fact that in film, you can be someone else for a day at work and have fun doing it. After my military contract ended, I wanted to try my hand in film and thought of no better way than the stunt and acting world. Honestly, it’s great to be Captain Kirk’s right hand man or double a DC comic superhero. It’s probably the coolest and most rewarding paid hobby out there. If I start to look at it as ‘work’ it might change my perspective, and I don’t want that.”
While Bell appreciates the time he spent working on Star Trek, make no mistake: Bell will always cast a vote for Star Wars over Trek.
“I hope I don’t get flack for this, but I’m Star Wars fan above all else!” He admits. “Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the reboot of Star Trek. They have done an amazing job of making it a franchise everyone can enjoy, not just the die-hard fans.”
And his film of choice?
“My favorite, hands down, is Empire Strikes Back. The opening sequence of the film is the best! To this day it’s still one of my top five movies, purely for the story and huge fantasy universe. Plus, the whole epic good versus evil thing. It’s pretty darn awesome!”
But, back to Star Trek. Having a hand in creating one of the biggest blockbuster films this decade will see was a memorable time for Bell. The most memorable part of all? Sporting the uniform, of course!
“Putting that red suit on and having the iconic Star Trek emblem on my chest [was the most memorable part of creating this film]. I was so excited and giddy when I got the call to come in for my fitting. Instead of pulling out Star Trek action figures to play with, you get to be a live-action one. To this day, I feel so blessed I got to be a small part of such a huge franchise. I had a blast on set and hope to dawn the red suit once again.”
Bell career path isn’t one we hear about often. His time in the industry is nothing short of remarkable, and is a career to be rivaled at that. So what could possibly be the most enjoyable part to an industry and a career like his? It’s the continuity in the “new.”
“I enjoy the fact that it’s always a new challenge,” he says. “It’s one of those careers that you have to keep evolving in. I’m in way better shape than I was 10 years ago since my training regime is so varied. I do everything from Taekwondo, boxing, tumbling and even parkour. I even take acting classes here and there to learn something new. It’s a field of work where you never stop and it’s never the same. If you put me back in a daily routine type job, I’d be in serious trouble.”
For any young performers looking to break into the stunt performing business, Bell gave some hefty advice.
“Get out there and starting working on your skill set. Whether it’s scuba, martial arts, boxing or stunt driving. Give it your all. It can be a very tough and sometimes discouraging field to get into and you’ll have days where you want to just walk away (trust me I was there a few times), but I’ll say it again: For the people that persist, they are the ones that will get noticed. Also start to forge relationships with people in the film community. Make essential relationships with the people that will eventually hire you and in some cases hire often. It’s a tough road but if it weren’t, you wouldn’t feel as fortunate to be one of the few that actually make it.”
And to that, we say live long and prosper.
Star Trek Beyond is in theaters everywhere! For more of Jason Bell’s upcoming film and television work, follow his IMDb!