The film industry has its fair share of “renaissance artists” – stars who have mastered multiple skills, whether that’s acting, writing, or directing. Among the talented artists in the business, there’s one particulary notable name who starred in a cult horror film and co-wrote one of the most harrowing and controversial crime films of the 90s.
Zoë Lund died on April 16th, 1999. She was only 37 years old.
Yet, in this short lifespan, she left behind a body of work that still makes an impact to this day. She’s amassed a cult throughout her career and her work deserves attention from a wider audience.
But how did she get started in show business? And what were her major contributions that more cinema lovers should know about?
Let’s look at the incredible life and career of Zoë Lund…
Zoë Lund was born as Zoë Tamerlis on February 9, 1962, in New York City. Her father, Victor, was a writer and bookseller of Romanian descent. Her mother, Barbara, was a prominent sculptor of Swedish descent. This Balkan-Scandinavian mix of heritage has cited as one of the reasons for Zoë’s enchanting beauty.
Perhaps her father’s fascination for books and her mother’s artistic prowess also contributed to Zoë’s exceptional and versatile talents. Her mother would recall that Zoë loved playing music as a child and was eager to master musical instruments as fast as possible. She often felt impatient that it took so long to learn an instrument.
Zoë Lund would later compose music and even sang a few songs for the independent film Exquisite Corpses (1989) directed by Temístocles López. She also had a supporting role in the film.
Zoë also became interested in writing at a young age, and this talent would take her far in her cinema career.
Oddly enough, Zoë didn’t initially consider becoming an actress. But it wouldn’t be too long until she became a star among cult film fans. Soon enough, she’d be a face that no one could ever forget…
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In 1981, director Abel Ferrara released a new feature film called Ms. 45. Abel Ferrara had become popular among cult film fans for his slasher film The Driller Killer – which released in 1979.
This next “rape revenge” film that inspired by similar films that had become popular throughout the 1970s. It heavily influenced by the Swedish film Thriller – A Cruel Picture and the American films Death Wish and Taxi Driver.
The film followed a young, mute seamstress who gets sexually assaulted twice in the same day. She fights back after the second assault and kills her rapist. This event traumatizes her, and she doesn’t let anyone know about the murder. Upon murdering her second rapist, she decides to always keep his gun with her – a Colt .45 pistol.
What follows is a thrilling story of a girl willing to go on a killing spree whenever she comes across a man who mistreats women.
While Zoë Tamerlis didn’t have any dialogue in the film, she managed to make an impact solely from her expressions. The film’s script written by Nicholas St. John, however, Zoë was very much involved in the film’s story as she appeared in the majority of the scenes.
The film has since become a cult film, and it’s what brought Zoë to wider attention. With this film, she also realized that she could express her thoughts better through acting and writing.
While Ms. 45 might be the film that she’s best known for, she didn’t rest on her laurels. One of her other significant contributions to cinema would be her next collaboration with Abel Ferrara…
In 1992, Abel Ferrara’s crime film Bad Lieutenant hit the screens and shocked audiences. The film, starring Harvey Keitel, followed a corrupt and drug-addicted police lieutenant tasked with investing the horrific rape of a nun.
The film written by Abel Ferrara and Zoë – now known as Zoë Lund, following her marriage to Robert Lund. Zoë also had a small role in the film and there are scenes where she and Harvey Keitel take heroin together.
The film shocked audiences with its graphic violence, strong language, and gritty depiction of rape, drug addiction, and general depravity. But, if you look deeper, the film has strong religious undertones and deals with the subject of forgiveness.
Zoë had very strong political and social views and often considered herself to be a political activist. She felt that the cinema was the best medium to express her views. With Ms. 45 she able to depict a strong woman unwilling to allow herself to get pushed around any longer!
With Bad Lieutenant, she was able to express her thoughts on forgiveness and redemption through the character played by Harvey Keitel. Much of the film’s success should credited to her writing.
The film is one of Abel Ferrara’s masterpieces and is often considered to be one of the best American crime films of the 90s. Next to Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant is arguably one of Zoë’s best accomplishments.
ZOË’S OTHER WORKS
While Zoë is best known for Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant, she continued to work regularly until her untimely death in 1999.
Following her role in Ms. 45, she appeared in the dual-role of Andrea Wilcox and Elaine Bernstein in Larry Cohen’s 1984 film Special Effects. In the film, she plays an aspiring actress who gets murdered by a sadistic director played by Eric Bogossian.
Following the murder, the director, Neville, decides to make a film about the murder. He hires a doppelganger, also played by Zoë for this film. This was another popular B-movie by Larry Cohen who had experience working in grindhouse and exploitation films. This brought Zoë to even wider attention.
In 1985, Zoë appeared in an episode of the hit TV series Miami Vice called “The Prodigal Son.” This episode kicked off the second season of the series and co-starred Pam Grier. She had a small role playing the character “Miranda.”
Her next foray into television was in a short-lived 1988 series called Hothouse. This show dealt with the lives of the staff at a mental hospital. She played “Chickie” in 7 episodes.
In 1989, she had a supporting role in the comedy-thriller Exquisite Corpses. She also composed and performed some of the songs for the film. She also starred in a short film called The Houseguest which released in the same year though it shot in 1987.
In 1993, she made a short film called Hot Ticket which documented her visit to the Amsterdam Film Festival. Sadly, we never got to see Zoë direct longer films, but it was clear that she had a keen interest in being a filmmaker as well.
The short film, Hot Ticket, is available on YouTube.
Her final roles were in the films Hand Gun – released in 1994 and Dreamland – released in 1997.
In Hand Gun, she played the supporting role of “Zelda.” The film dealt with an injured thief who attempts to hide a large sum of cash that he stole. Sadly, her scenes taken out of the final cut and her name doesn’t appear in the credits! In Dreamland, she had a lead role as “Caroline.” Sadly, it’s hard to find a copy of her final film. She also set to appear in a film called Bull directed by Julius Ziz though this film never completed.
There were many other projects that Zoë worked on that sadly, never came to fruition. She fascinated with the model Gia Carangi and wrote a biographical screenplay about her life. While the screenplay never produced, Zoë appeared posthumously in a documentary about the model’s life called The Self-Destruction of Gia.
Zoë also wrote the first draft of New Rose Hotel which directed by Abel Ferrara. She also set to collaborate with Abel Ferrara on his film about the director Pier Paolo Pasolini. Sadly, this project postponed and never completed during Zoë’s lifetime. Abel Ferrara finally made the film in 2014 and has often talked about how he imagined Zoë acting as Pasolini. This certainly would have been an interesting experiment, with an actress playing a male film director!
Zoë also appeared in the 1987 music video “Heaven” by Bryan Adams! She also appeared in the documentary Heavy Petting – in which different entertainers discussed their first sexual experiences. Sadly, for Zoë her first sexual experience involved her being sexually assaulted. This harrowing incident happened before her role in Ms. 45 which makes her performance deserving of even greater admiration! It certainly took courage to act in such a role after going through such a traumatic incident.
A brief mention should be made about her political beliefs. She often participated in protests to fight for her causes. Among her protests included protesting against nuclear weapons. Her husband Robert has recalled in an interview that she tried to convince a group to destroy a nuclear reactor at Colombia University – though this never came to fruition. During her final years in Paris, she often hung out and assisted Algerian migrants living in the seedier parts of the city.
While her career may have been short-lived, and she didn’t have a large body of work, there’s a keen interest in her other writings. She wrote several poems, essays, short stories, and screenplays. She also wrote an unpublished novel trilogy entitled “490.”
Many of her unpublished works have sparked an interest among fans and we can hope to see them published soon. Some of her writings are available to read on her website.
Zoë Lund passed away in Paris on April 16, 1999, due to cocaine-induced heart failure. Sadly, drug use was very much a part of her life, and she made no bones about it. She took heroin and often felt that this aided her creativity. She would even spend part of her life advocating for the legalization of heroin.
While she may not have received the stardom of an A-list celebrity, it’s clear that she made an incredible impact throughout her career.
Her husband, Robert Lund, has often given interviews where he discusses Zoë’s life, career, and her views.
He also manages her website, where fans can learn more about her life and even read her unpublished works. Filmmaker Paul Rachman has made short documentaries about Zoë’s life.
Many film writers have written articles and essays on Zoë’s films and her impact on independent cinema.
In 2021, Ms. 45 celebrated it’s fortieth anniversary, and we can expect to see a rekindled interest in Zoë’s works. We can also expect a new generation of fans to discover her work for the first time…
Zoë was a talented actress, writer, composer, and director who managed to express her thoughts through the medium of cinema. Like her character in Ms. 45, she may not have had the opportunity to say much during her life, but her work was enough to make an unforgettable impact…
Are you a fan of Zoë Lund?
Do you think that her best talents were reflected in her acting? Or does there need to be more attention to her writing contributions for Bad Lieutenant?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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