Toby Dorr: Hello and welcome to Fierce Conversations with Toby, the show where we talk about the hard things. I’m Toby Dorr. We’ll offer listeners a special surprise at the end, so be sure to listen all the way through for the details. In today’s episode, we will embrace the art of portraying stories of strong women.
Toby Dorr: Our guest today is actress Catherine Bell, who most recently played me in a lifetime movie. Catherine was born in London but moved to California with her Iranian mother at the age of two. As a girl, Catherine acted in various TV advertisements. She went to UCLA to study biology and pre-med but she dropped out to become a model in Japan. Catherine starred in Good Witch, Jag, Army Wives, Bruce Almighty, and Lifetime’s Jailbreak Lovers. She is also a co-founder of EVR Beauty. Welcome Catherine. I’m just delighted to have you here today. I know your schedule’s so busy and thanks for taking the time.
Catherine Bell: Absolutely. Such a joy for me to be able to do this and finally chat with you.
Toby Dorr: It’s great to talk in person. I feel like we kind of know each other, but, but we’ve never really spoken in person before, which is just awesome.
Catherine Bell: I know this is great.
Toby Dorr: I like to ask everyone a question that kind of gives us a peek into who you are, and that is what’s your favorite color and what do you think that says about you?
Catherine Bell: My favorite color is purple, and I’m not sure if it started before or after Purple Rain came out, but I was absolutely obsessed with Prince in high school, so definitely a connection there.
Toby Dorr: That’s pretty cool. Purple’s a great color. It’s one of my three favorite colors, so I love that. I read that you’re a firm believer in doing things that scare you. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done, and would you do it again?
Catherine Bell: Oh boy. Ever since I was maybe a teenager, I always knew that doing something that scared me would give me a chance to overcome that fear. You know, if you just never confront it and never do it, you’re gonna always be terrified of the thing. And I started with, you know, riding a motorcycle. My cousin taught me how to ride, and then probably skydiving was one of the scariest, and I’m glad I did it, but I would never do it again because it was really dangerous and I almost died.
Toby Dorr: Really? Wow. Did your chute not open?
Catherine Bell: Basically it opened, but it was so windy that we actually should not have been allowed to go up. And it wasn’t a tandem jump. It was the kind where you, it’s called a static line. You jump out of the plane and the cord pulls the parachute by yourself. And you’re floating down. And it was too windy and just about 50 feet before I landed the chute kind of partly caved in. So landing was pretty hard. I mean, I got bruised and bashed up. I didn’t break anything but tore my jeans and was a bit bloody, and it was intense.
Toby Dorr: I don’t blame you for not wanting to try that again. I don’t think I would either.
Catherine Bell: No, got that outta my system!
Toby Dorr: yeah. Checked it off the list and that’s good enough. You also shared with me that you started working with Criminon on a criminal reform program in your thirties, and you’re now a supervisor there. Can you tell us more about that work?
Catherine Bell: Yes. I’ve been very involved in Criminon. It’s a criminal rehabilitation program and it’s incredible. It basically works off of the premise that man is basically good and despite how they may have strayed, where they may have ended up, they can be rehabilitated. Many of these guys have just never had the right guidance, the right teaching, whether it’s a moral code or realizing that they can help others and be kind to others and treat others how they wanna be treated. And it’s a non-religious moral code and several courses, relationship courses, and ethics and, it’s so rewarding. I supervise under a different name. Of course, they don’t know that it’s me, in their lessons and I grade them, and I send it back. Encourage them and they start to apply different things in prison around them and truly, truly transform. It’s pretty remarkable to see.
Toby Dorr: I think that’s beautiful. You know, I do believe that the majority of people who get out of prison, they don’t wanna go back and they do wanna turn their lives around. But if you don’t have someone to help show you a different way or coach you in a different direction, you know, we all go back to where we came from and sometimes that’s not a good place to be. I think that’s beautiful, and I was so surprised to learn that about you, that you with your busy schedule of being an actress and all of the other things that you do, that you take time to give back to the community, I think that’s just beautiful.
Catherine Bell: Ah, thank you. I feel like I don’t do it enough. I always wanna do more. It’s just weekly. It takes 20 minutes, half an hour, or an hour. I always wanna do more. I feel like what’s the purpose of doing what I do or having a name or having people maybe look up to me for what a show or a character I played and to be able to give back and help?
Toby Dorr: I think that’s beautiful. It makes your life purposeful like you’re making a difference in someone else’s life, which I think is really important.
Catherine Bell: Absolutely. Yeah.
Toby Dorr: So, what’s important to you when considering new roles?
Catherine Bell: Sorry, I just took my puppy to the vet and he’s fluffy, got hair everywhere.
Toby Dorr: I can relate. I have a cat, a long-haired cat who does the same thing to me.
Catherine Bell: You understand?
Toby Dorr: I sure do!
Catherine Bell: So in taking a role I think it’s funny, every time I finish a series or a movie or whatever, especially a series where I’ve been playing a character for so long, I’ve been fortunate enough to have three shows where they ran seven or eight years, all three of them. And after playing a character for that long, I always wanna do something different. Like, what could I do that’s completely different than what I just spent the last eight years doing?
Toby Dorr: That makes sense.
Catherine Bell: That’s how your movie came up. It was about as far from as I could find from the Good Witch!
Toby Dorr: I think so. When you’re playing a character, are you completely into that persona, and Catherine’s just left behind, or do you bring Catherine in as a part of the characters that you play?
Catherine Bell: Good question. I think well, first of all, I’m not a method actor, where you’re in character for the whole duration of the production, I just pop in and out of it. But you do all the work ahead of time. Who is the character? How do they talk? How do they walk, how do they feel about life and things, and what are their morals? What are all those things that you spend time trying to understand who the character is, or at least your version of whether it’s a made-up person or a real person?
Toby Dorr: I never thought about going down as far as how do they walk, but, it makes so much sense because you can’t just be yourself and just say different words. You kind of really gotta have a whole personality to it. That’s pretty neat. I didn’t realize that.
Catherine Bell: It’s true. And you know, there are certain characters that have parts of me, of course, that’s a little bit of me and every character, but some of who I am, it just depends on the character.
Toby Dorr: That’s pretty cool. You know, our paths crossed because you recently played me in a lifetime movie, which was Jailbreak Lovers, and we actually had no contact with each other until after the movie aired. So you had to develop my character by watching interviews and heaven knows there’s a lot of ’em out there. Did you have to fill in many gaps or did you get enough from the interviews to think you had a good feel?
Catherine Bell: You know it’s interesting because I – legally we were not allowed to talk to you guys because we didn’t buy your rights. We sort of just took it, you’re legally allowed to take what’s in the news and use that. And so, the director, my co-star, we were like, oh, you messaged us at one point and we all asked can we talk to her? And the lifetime legal team was saying, no, no, we don’t wanna get in trouble. And that was really hard. But you know there was a lot of interviews, a lot of news back then and more recent and I watched as much as I could. I tried to get a little sense of your accent, but they didn’t want too much of an accent either. So it was kind of like it was based on you, but not exactly. And then I just took what I knew about the story and where you were coming from and how it was written in our script and just kind of, you know, went with that.
Toby Dorr: You know, it is so weird. I can’t even put into words how weird it is to sit and watch your life story, play out on a screen, and you’re really not sure what they’re gonna do next. You know, because I wasn’t involved in it. And so you keep thinking, where are they gonna go with this? And then some of the parts I’d go, how did they know that? I don’t ever remember talking about that particular thing. So, it was just kind of really an interesting rollercoaster ride to watch the movie.
Catherine Bell: I bet that must have been surreal like you said, because you weren’t involved, so you were probably wondering which way it’s gonna go. I hope we did okay by you.
Toby Dorr: Yes, because, you know, a lot of times media didn’t do okay with my story, but, but I think you guys stuck to the story pretty well except for my parents. They were not old people and they kind of were old people in the movie, but you wouldn’t have any way of knowing that because they didn’t really give interviews or anything.
Catherine Bell: That’s a good storyline, you know. I just found it a fascinating and beautiful story. I understood where you were coming from, especially in a position where you felt lost. So many people could relate. You have a marriage that’s falling apart, and you’re stuck. You feel stuck. Really, you and I both know this now, that you should fix that marriage or get yourself away and at least admit you have a problem.
Toby Dorr: That’s right – before you need to have a great escape to do something different.
Catherine Bell: And I love that about you. I love that you do so much motivational speaking now to tell people that they need to make healthy changes.
Toby Dorr: That’s right. Because if you intentionally change, it’s a whole lot safer than feeling forced to change or changing because you’re desperate. So it’s really an important message. Was there anything about me after you’ve gotten to know me since we started talking with each other, was there anything about me that you feel you didn’t know before you portrayed me in the movie that surprised you?
Catherine Bell: I don’t think so because I’ve seen so much of who you are now, and I just found so beautiful the change that you went through and what you learned and that you are helping others. So, no, it’s just a real joy to be able to capture a little piece of you and that story.
Toby Dorr: Well, it was pretty exciting to watch a movie about yourself. I’ll tell you. I am such a, what’s the word – Prude – but of course, you know, there were sex scenes and, and I was watching the movie with my husband and his son, who’s 35 and we’re watching and I was going covering my eyes and my stepson turned around and said, “Toby!” you know, I was like, ah. It was pretty fun to watch.
Catherine Bell: I don’t let my kids watch everything I’ve done. The seven-year-old, not yet.
Toby Dorr: It seems like you have a history of portraying strong women. Can you share with us one character that you would love to play?
Catherine Bell: Ooh, wow. Maybe Cleopatra…
Toby Dorr: Oh, that’d be a good one. That’d be a good one.
Catherine Bell: I have no idea. She was probably much, much younger. But anyway, that’s a nice idea.
Toby Dorr: Oh, you could get away with it. I created a series of workbooks. These are the workbooks. I’ll bring ’em over here that I wrote, you know, to help women in prison rebuild their lives. But in each one of these workbooks, every week I pick a, a woman from history who overcame adversity and went on to change the world. And I have come across some of the most amazing women. Of course, they’re ones we all know about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller. You know, there are so many ones that we know of, but I have found these beautiful hidden gems like Clara Hale, who lived in Harlem, New York, and raised something like a thousand drug-addicted foster babies in her two-room apartment. And Virginia Hall was an American spy during World War II, and she was with the resistance in France and she climbed the Alps and she only had one leg. She had a prosthetic leg. But her whole team is what made D-Day work. Because they blew up the bridges to keep the German reinforcements from getting to Normandy Beach. And I am just amazed at how many strong women there are out there in history. I just love them.
Catherine Bell: So great. I love that. You have to send me some of those.
Toby Dorr: I will. I just came across a couple of other ones, like, um, there was a woman, I can’t remember the story now, but she was the one whose work led to the cure for polio. So not the vaccine but the cure for polio. And I just read about her this week in some kind of a newsfeed I came across and I noted it so I can go research her. There are so many powerful, strong women out there and I just think they don’t get the credit that they deserve, or they’re just obscure. I’m hoping that I can have a part in maybe making some of those people more of a household name.
Catherine Bell: I love that you should send me some of their stories and maybe we’ll partner up and make a project.
Toby Dorr: I’d love that.. So, tell us about the EVR journey.
Catherine Bell: Ooh, look at that. You got one.
Toby Dorr: Yes, I got one right here.
Catherine Bell: That’s amazing. I’m so excited about this. That’s our first product. We’re actually launching the next one in a week or two. It’s a firming neck cream.
Toby Dorr: Oh, that’d be nice.
Catherine Bell: And now you’re the first to know.
Catherine Bell: My focus was most of the products out there are toxic, they’re full of chemicals, hormone-disrupting chemicals or, you know, endocrine disrupting, cancer-causing… It’s really shocking that our FDA allows most of what goes in their fragrance, which is so toxic people don’t realize. So it’s non-toxic. It’s safe, it’s mostly organic. I can’t say it’s a hundred percent cuz that’s a whole nother purification, but it’s a lot of organic. It’s something that you could put on a baby and your kids and feel good about. It works great. We’re getting incredible feedback. For so many people, the reviews are just like loving it, lightening their skin, and getting rid of dark spots.
Toby Dorr: That’s good. You know, I’m 65 this year and, I’m hoping to have some help with that getting rid of dark spots. But when I went to prison, I had a whole regime. I followed I did, you know, all these things at night and in the morning, and I wore makeup. And when you go to prison, there’s nothing on the commissary, you can buy a jar of Vaseline, but \ you just don’t have a lot of products that you can purchase. I got out of the habit of taking care of my skin, and since I’ve been outta prison, I have not gotten back into a regime at all. So, I ordered this when I was doing some research on you, and I’ve started using it. I keep it on my desk so I can use it a couple of times a day, and I’ll let you know how I end up.
Catherine Bell: Lemme send you an early jar of my neck cream. My whole point too is to keep it simple because not everyone has time to do a 25 step routine. I don’t like to do that. I wash my makeup off at night and I take my eye makeup off, and then I put on a moisturizer and that’s it.
Toby Dorr: I would love to try out your neck cream. I would love that.
Catherine Bell: Yeah, I’ll send you some.
Toby Dorr: So what’s one life lesson that’s carried you through the hard times?
Catherine Bell: The first thing that popped into my mind was just the, you know, good old saying this too shall pass. It’s just whatever you’re going through, however bad it might be, we all have those moments or years or months or whatever it might be. You will get through it, just keep one foot in front of the other and, just do your best.
Toby Dorr: There always is a path out and, I found when I was in prison, I could let myself sit there and think about how terrible it was. Here I was in prison, and I couldn’t have French fries or salt or things that I had grown accustomed to, or I could look at it and say, I have this huge gift of time that I never had before. All this time that I can spend on myself and try to get inside my head and figure out the things I’d done in my life I wasn’t proud of, or the the wounds in my life that I hadn’t let heal and I could go back and start working through all those. I do think that there’s always a way out, and if you focus on that instead of the negative part of where you are, it just works out so much better.
Catherine Bell: That is beautiful, Toby. It’s so true. It’s nice to hear that.
Toby Dorr: I wondered if I could get you to say, listen to fierce conversations with Toby in Persian.
Catherine Bell: Oh boy, you’re gonna put me on the spot. My Farsi is so conversational. I don’t have a big vocabulary, but let me, I don’t know how to say the word fierce.
Toby Dorr: You don’t know the word for fierce. Okay.
Catherine Bell: (Farsi word) means to listen.
Toby Dorr: Yeah, I like that. You know what, I think Persian is such a beautiful language. I had a friend I used to work with who was Iranian and her father worked with the Shah, and they came to America when the Shah was overthrown and she would always tell us what we were talking about in Persian and we all just loved to hear it. It is just beautiful. So, thank you for that. What’s one question you wish I’d asked you and didn’t – is there something else you’d like to share with us?
Catherine Bell: I can’t think of anything.
Toby Dorr: Oh, good. Okay.
Catherine Bell: It was great.
Toby Dorr: Good. Well, I have so delighted in having you on, and I know you’re so busy. I really appreciate you taking the time and, and I am gonna send you some of these wonderful, strong, fierce women that I found and, and see if you can figure out a story with them.
Catherine Bell: I’m always looking for that and unknown historical women are really, really interesting to me.
Toby Dorr: I’ll definitely send that to you. Well, thank you so much Catherine for being on with us today in Fierce Conversations with Toby. Remember, none of us is our worst mistake. We all have so much more to offer the world, and those so-called mistakes are blessed opportunities to learn and grow. Next week, we’ll continue to bring you inspiring stories by people who’ve identified a need for change and are working to make a difference in the world. Subscribe to our Patreon channel, Fierce Conversations for special access and behind-the-scenes info, go to patreon.com/fierceconversations, or click on the link in the show notes. Ten percent of the Patreon proceeds are dedicated to providing workbooks to women in prison. The show notes will also provide a link to Catherine’s EVR Cream so that you can purchase it yourself. And a link to purchase my memoir, Living with Conviction. As I talk about in-depth in my memoir, I had a conversation while in prison where my friend Lisa told me “In here we can talk about all the hard things. In fact, I think we must.” And so we shall. This is Fierce Conversations with Toby, where we talk about the hard things. Until next time.