Her first credited big screen role was in POOTIE TANG, and I don't know why you need to know anything else about Kristen Bell, who has the titular role in the upcoming limited release THE LIFEGUARD (already on VOD, I believe), about a woman who quits her New York reporter job and moves back to her childhood home and takes a lifeguard job at the local swimming pool. There, she meets a high school boy (and son of the pool's caretaker), whom she starts a lusty relationship that features Bell in simulated sex scenes that, for once, aren't played for laughs (as she famously did in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL).
Bell continues to stay on the good side of geek fans everywhere in roles in such films and series as "Deadwood," "Heroes," REFER MADNESS: THE MOVIE MUSICAL, PULSE, FANBOYS, HIT AND RUN, SCREAM 4, "House of Lies," and a familiar voice on "Gossip Girl." But it's her return to her signature role as Veronica Mars that has gotten her the most attention lately, since the film used Kickstarter to get a feature version of the cult series made (to be released next year). A recent packed appearance at Comic-Con seems to indicate fans of the long-cancelled show are still very much interested in where the character has landed.
When I spoke to Bell recently, we discussed the VERONICA MARS film, as well as THE LIFEGUARD, her lead vocal role in Disney's FROZEN, and a great deal more. The interview was slightly bizarre, since Bell was driving around as we were speaking, and at one point, someone actually tapped her back bumper (not a euphemism) when she was at a red light or stop sign, which led to an interesting break in the conversation. But Bell maintained her cool and lively demeanor and gave a great interview. Please enjoy my chat with Kristen Bell…
Kristen Bell: Hi, it’s Kristen.
KB: How are you?
Capone: Good. How are you?
KB: I’m good. Sorry I’m running late.
Capone: No problem. Well first of all, belated congratulations on the new addition to the family [Bell and her longtime partner Dax Shepard had a baby girl named Lincoln].
KB: Hey, thank you.
Capone: We had like a Q&A screening with Dax in Chicago last year for HIT AND RUN and had a total blast, so please pass on the congratulations to him, too.
KB: Oh my gosh, I will tell him. He’s killer at Q&As and he loves them, so it doesn’t surprise me that you guys had fun.
Capone: It was great. I’m curious about the subject matter of THE LIFEGUARD. I remember there was a film I saw last year called HELLO, I MUST BE GOING that had similar in theme--a woman that got divorced and then started up an affair with a much younger guy. Is the presumption that any adult woman that would enter into this kind of relationship is damaged in some way? Would you classify Leigh in that way?
KB: I don’t think that was [writer-director] Liz Garcia’s perspective at all. I haven’t seen the other two, but I have heard that there were two other older-women-sleeping-with-a-younger-man--perhaps a minor-- films at Sundance this past year. I think that has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that there are more female writers than ever before, and perhaps three of them this year decided to be provocative and rebellious and write a story that we’ve typically not seen before.
With any type of art, you struggle for something new, something undefined or redefining a dynamic or write about something that’s never happened before or been written about before. I know specifically for Liz Garcia, she wrote a relationship where the female wasn’t defined by her gender. Humans are attracted to younger, more attractive specimens. That’s not an inherently male quality.
Capone: So besides that aspect, what was it about Liz’s approach to this material that you liked and thought was different?
KB: I’ve never done anything this graphic before or this unsafe, and I think that being in the hands of a female director is what made me feel comfortable to challenge myself with material like this. I got a sense right off the bat of who Liz Garcia was and how she was not exploiting anyone, so I was able to feel completely comfortable and get extremely vulnerable in these scenes because I had that safety.
I was also really lucky that David Lambert was my scene partner, because he, despite being only 19, is a consummate professional. He is a real actor’s actor and he didn’t make anything uncomfortable.
And funnily enough when I read this material, I really wanted to do it because I was looking for something at that time where my character wasn’t always smiling. I still gravitate towards projects that are really bubbly or perky, or that’s the kind of stuff I get offered, and I wanted a project where my character didn’t really have a reason to smile. This came along, it fit the bill, and I said to Dax, “I want to be a part of this project. It’s way more intimate than anything I’ve ever done, and it’s graphic. Are you comfortable with this?” Because I also have a reality to exist in, despite just being an actor. I can’t make a bunch of crazy decisions without consulting my significant other, and he said, “Totally. Go for it. I think it will be wonderful, just don’t come back pregnant. That's all.”
Capone: But you went in pregnant though.
KB: But I didn’t know that. [laughs] He said “You can do anything you want. I trust you, just don’t come home pregnant,” and our ongoing joke is that I actually came home pregnant.
Capone: There you go. Did it scare you to take on this role, in a motivating way?
KB: Yes, and every step of the way was a reminder to stay vulnerable, because my mask is perkiness. My mask is looking like I have it together, and being nice and energetic, and this character was the opposite. So there were times on set where I would have to remind myself to just feel uncomfortable and sit in that.
Capone: In addition to not smiling in this movie, you also looked like you had scenes where you weren’t wearing any makeup--even your hair and makeup were really stripping it down.
KB: Yeah, I wasn’t wearing any makeup. Liz and I talked about that going in, and she really wanted that to be the case, and I was all for it. I think there’s a different energy about a person who may remember throughout the day that she’s not even wearing any concealer. There are little lies in that you present the right version of you to the people around you, and there were even days where my hair, because I maybe showered the night before, would look pretty decent, and Liz would say, “We’ve got to add a little oil to your roots,” and I would be secretly heartbroken, because I thought I was having a really good hair day, and she ruined it.
Capone: She wouldn’t even allow you to wake up and be natural?
KB: No. She said, “It’s got to look effortless but it can’t really be good. It’s got to look a little bit like you're unraveling, a little less than.”
Capone: You mentioned the more graphic elements in the film. Was it nice doing a sex scene for something other than comic effect? It's actually meant to be sexy.
[At this point, there's a pause and I can hear Bell talking to someone other than me.]
KB: Can you hold on one second, because I’m driving, and the person behind me just hit my bumper. It's okay, I don’t think it was a big deal, but I just want to check it real quick.
[She gets out and checks.]
KB: Totally fine. You know what? I have kissed many a bumper in my day, and if I can be a part of saving some of that uncomfortable stomach, I'm going to do it. Nothing’s wrong with the car, but who cares? We're continuing. My girlfriend in the car just told me to put on my seatbelt. So listen up: it’s safety first and it's karma second. You just asked me a good question, what was that?
Capone: It was about doing a sex scene that wasn’t for comic effect.
KB: Yeah, I mean it was way more uncomfortable than doing a comedic sex scene. They’re two different arenas. When you’re doing a sex scene that’s supposed to appear more real, it’s nerve-racking, man, because if you look goofy in a sex scene in a comedy, you can pretend it was on purpose. And you don’t have that luxury if you’re in a drama. If you look like an idiot or if you look goofy, which is the worst thing to be paired up in a sex scene and to look goofy, it’s terrifying to be that vulnerable.
Capone: The two of you managed to make it look very real, and still make me feel kind of awkward watching it, because it felt so intimate and raw and not in any way polished or fabricated.
KB: Wonderful. The set contributed to how raw we wanted it to feel, because I was sitting on a wet sink in a smelly bathroom. It helped set the scene.
Capone: I want to talk a little bit about the themes of the temptation of going home again. High school is the place where a lot of people peak. What do you think Leigh was trying to do by going home, or was it more of a cowardly act?
KB: I think it was the first proactive decision she’s made in a while, even though she didn’t realize what the outcome would be. She was disgruntled in her daily life and she decided to recreate the circumstances of the time she was last fulfilled, and that was in high school when she was a lifeguard. Without even consciously deciding, she longed for the moments where life made sense, and the last time that life made sense was when she was in high school. So she subconsciously recreated the situation for her. She put all of these balls into motion and discovered the tiny tornado that you can become when you're forcing yourself into a situation you’ve grown out of.
Capone: That has to be easier to do when she's surrounded by people that didn’t leave. That makes it even worse in a lot of ways.
Capone: I did want to ask you about a couple of other things really quick. I’m a huge follower of "House of Lies." That is coming back, correct?
KB: Oh, hell yeah.
Capone: When do you guys get back into shooting that?
KB: We start shooting again in mid-September.
Capone: Then of course you made a big splash at Comic-Con last month. Was that kind of scary, showing that VERONICA MARS footage to the masses for the first time?
KB: No, it was so exciting. Nothing was scary about it. I’m really, really proud of it. I think the movie is going to be really good. I have the utmost confidence in Rob [Thomas, series creator and film director and co-writer], and looking at that sizzle reel over his shoulder on our set and we were all crowded around, because he said, “I got the email that our sizzle reel is cut.” We all crowded around him. It was so exciting.
Capone: In order to be something of a success, the film would have to appeal to an audience beyond its fan base. Do you think that has been achieved, that Rob has done that with what he wrote, striking that balance? Is there enough there for new people to latch onto?
KB: Yes. As much as there can be, yes. The device that was used to get everybody in the movie was our 10-year reunion, and it felt perfectly in line with how old we are now as actors. Rob is very, very good at writing things that make the audience salivate immediately. He writes for the audience. He’s not a selfish writer and he decided that the best route for Veronica would be to be out of the game for nine or ten years. She left Neptune, she hasn’t touched it, she doesn’t want to be a part of that world anymore, and the moment the movie opens, you desperately want her to be drawn back in.
So with the first scene, there are stakes, and that’s part of why I love Rob so much. He has those kinds of ideas. You want something for Veronica the moment you see her and, there’s a little bit of exposition in some scenes to explain who she used to be and that she was a PI in high school, but really for people who haven’t seen the show, you open up on a pretty normal snarky late-20-something girl living in New York who has to travel back to her hometown.
Capone: I saw that video that of everyone hovering around their computers when the Kickstarter campaign started.Was there an actual genuine fear that no money was going to come in?
Capone: That’s incredible. You guys kind of started off that trend off of major motion pictures looking for fan help. So you wouldn’t have known how eager some people were to contribute.
KB: Rob and I have discussed it ad nauseum before, but the night before we launched, Rob did say something to me with the affect of “What if we’ve been listening to the same 20 people who are die-hard super fans, and they're the only ones that donate?” That could have been the case very easily, but every interview I've done in the last seven or eight years has ended with the journalist saying, “Do you ever think we’ll get a VERONICA MARS movie?” So I for one couldn’t accept that there wasn’t enthusiasm out there, because you guys as journalists are supposed to be writing for the masses about what they want to read, and you wouldn’t ask that question if no one wanted the answer to it.
Capone: I think you share that with every cast member from "Arrested Development."
KB: [laughs] Yeah, I can’t explain the phenomenon of why we raised so much. I think people got really, really excited to be a part of it, and when you can create some sort of exclusive club, it’s fun for people--there’s inclusion. I think that Veronica was written as this queen of the disenfranchised, and she speaks to people who are disenfranchised and who feel left out.
Capone: The trailer came out for FROZEN, and you've got kind of a big part in that…
KB: Yeah, I play the heroine in a Disney Animation film, which has always been a dream of mine. Since I was four years old, I’ve been really, really excited to be in a Disney movie, and I sang the music as well. The music was written by the Lopez's [Robert and Billy], who wrote THE BOOK OF MORMON, and it's quality people all around. It’s really funny, and I really pitched hard that she be goofy and awkward and more realistic. And I never wanted you to think she had good posture, because all Disney princesses have great posture and their hands are just so. I wanted her to be a girl with mud under her fingernails and who was constantly saying the wrong thing, and every step of the way they let me contribute all this goofiness to her.
Capone: That’s cool. Did you find yourself getting really active in the booth, moving and getting breathless?
KB: Absolutely, and you know they videotape you the whole time you’re there, so she has a lot of pretty wild facial expressions.
Capone: There was actually one more thing I wanted to ask you about THE LIFEGUARD. The character of Mel [played by Mamie Gummer], who is trying to have the baby, but is trying to have this one last moment of freedom before she gets pregnant. Was there a moment like that for you, when you realized you were pregnant and though, “Okay, I have to do this before the baby comes”?
KB: Not really. If anything, all I thought was, “Oh fuck, I’ve smoked like two packs of cigarettes in this movie, and I was pregnant the whole time.” If anything I was like, “Oh shit, I hope I haven’t messed anything up.” [laughs] Luckily, then I just faked it from that point on and did not inhale. I actually didn’t. I feel like I lived out a fair amount of my dreams prior to getting pregnant, so I didn’t have that nervous energy of trying to accomplish something in a short period of time.
Capone: Kristen, it was great to talk to you and, again, congratulations, and thanks for driving around with me in your ear.
Capone: I hope that’s not the reason you got hit.
KB: Not at all. He just bumped into me because his water bottle fell, but you know what? Who cares?
Capone: Did he recognize you when you got out of the car?
KB: I don’t think so.
Capone: That would have been funny as hell. Alright, Kristen thank you so much.