Ever since her star-making performance in “Veronica Mars”, beautiful Kristen Bell has made a name for herself as one of the smartest and funniest young women gracing the big screen.
Bell has two movies coming out close to one another: the Vince Vaughn-led “Couples Retreat”, written by Vaughan and Jon Favreau, in which she plays it straight as a young woman trying to save her marriage, and the voice of Cora in the upcoming “Astro Boy”.
Bell talked to Paul Fischer about both projects in this exclusive interview.
Question: Now, when you read “Couples Retreat”, how surprised were you that they wanted you to be kind of – really, the straight girl in this movie?
Bell: Well, I was surprised that they wanted me to be in it at all. I had heard about this project before they released the script, as I’m sure every other woman in Los Angeles did. And – you know, the girls’ roles were highly sought-after, simply based on the resumes of the people attached. You know – obviously, Vince Vaughn is a genius at what he does. When you add Jon Favreau, it only gets better and Jason Bateman, and being supported by a studio like Universal. And I honestly thought it was a shot in the dark. And then – well, I’m just saying – then I had a meeting with Peter Billingsley, and I thought it went very well. But I was still shocked to know that I booked the part.
Question: Now you’re becoming increasingly bus with at least two other movies that are coming out imminently. Is that kind of success also a surprise to you, given that you began in a TV show that ended somewhat abruptly?
Bell: Yeah. I mean, you know, I have the New York actor syndrome of, ” Never going to work again” thoughts constantly swirling throughout my head. And I don’t think that ever really goes away. I’m very grateful for my career, and I’m very – I’m also very ambitious, very determined, and – you know, I fight for a lot of parts. And some I don’t book, and some I book. And I’m really happy with as busy as I’ve been, because I’ve had a great ride these last couple years.
Question: So to what extent is it easy to identify with the situation that this particular character in Couples Retreat goes through?
Bell: Well although it’s not happening to me at this particular moment, I certainly have girlfriends, and I can certainly understand what a young woman – I mean, Cynthia’s my age, and she’s a little bit younger, which seems like she would be very fertile. And when you find out you can’t have children – I mean, that’s life-altering. That changes your perspective on everything. And I think she – right before the movie starts is when she finds out that she can’t have kids. And I can imagine how difficult that could be, when you are in your prime, and that’s the thing you’re supposed to do. The thing you’d planned on doing. I can see how everything else in your life would start to crumble if that one element was taken away from you as a young woman.
Question: Given the fact that Vince and Jon, obviously, love to improv and you don’t play a comedic character in this, how frustrating is it in some ways to be the dramatic arm in a comedy?
Bell: It wasn’t frustrating at all. if anything, you know, I knew what my job was. I knew why Cynthia’s in the movie. And if anything, I got to sit back a little bit more and just watch them work, which was kind of amazing. I tried to learn as much as I possibly could. Because – you know, watching Vince work – I mean, he is a comedy powerhouse. And there’s really no one better at what he can do. I mean, he has – he’s just cornered the market. And obviously, Jon is unbelievably talented. The two of them together make up a team that is unstoppable. And then you add Jason Bateman. It really – I didn’t feel like I was fighting for screen time. I didn’t feel like I was fighting for jokes. I was really just happy to be involved, and happy to watch these guys work.
Question: Obviously geography plays a huge role in this movie. How does filming in such an exotic location inform how you work on a movie like this?
Bell: Well, I think that depending and where you shoot, you have to work with what you’ve been given. I mean, we were lucky to be secluded, so we had nothing else to focus on. We had no distractions. I mean, I’d love to tell you that it was difficult, and that there was drama, but there wasn’t. And we were actually very spoiled. I mean, we got to go on a vacation with a bunch of very good friends, and very funny people. And we happened to shoot a movie while we were there.
Question: Did you do anything exciting on your down time while you were there?
Bell: Yeah, we did. We swam with the sharks. We went scuba diving. We swam with the sting rays, swam with the turtles. Did a lot of relaxing, and just laughed a lot.
Question: It’s interesting, because you apparently are no stranger to exotic locations. You’ve gone from an exotic island to working in Rome. It must be exciting for you to be able to experience the world as an actress.
Bell: Yeah. hate to say I’m getting used to it, but unfortunately I am. I’ve been very spoiled. Because – I mean, I grew up in Detroit. I didn’t know where Bora Bora was on the map before I got this job. And I certainly never expected to be able to see the corners of the earth that I’ve seen over this past two years. I feel very, very lucky. And – you know, if I wasn’t an actor, I probably never would have seen these places.
Question: Is there a funny girl inside of you? I mean, do you have an affinity with comedy? Because even though you’re not funny in this, you certainly are, I’m sure, in When in Rome.
Bell: I definitely feel like my main goal in life is to laugh. I love laughing. I love making people laugh. It’s just – I think it’s the best thing in life. And I think that I’m lucky to have – you know, be considered, or semi-considered a female comedian. I think that’s a real – that’s a real honor, because I think laughter is just the best thing.
Question: Is When in Rome a traditional, classic romantic comedy? It’s got all sorts of really amazing people in it.
Bell: Yeah. I think it’s definitely a classic romantic comedy. I think it has a little bit more than just your standard romantic comedy. Although it fits the bill, you do get a lot more male energy, which balances it out a little bit. Because there’s – you know, there’s so many great boys in it. And it’s – you know, it’s very quirky. There’s a slight enchantment to it, with the magic of the coins. So, I would say it fits the bill of romantic comedy, but it’s a tiny bit off the beaten path.
Question: Is it hard to keep a straight face working with people like Danny DeVito and all those guys?
Bell: Oh, absolutely. I mean, pretty much consistently in my career, if I’m not on camera, I’m probably laughing.
Question: What challenges did you have doing a voice in Astro Boy that began as an iconic Japanese TV series?
Bell: Well, you know, it was slightly nerve-wracking to be establishing a new character, because you’re going in making a movie for people that have expectations, that, this character has meant something to them throughout their entire childhood. But – you know, our director, David, is extremely capable, and has a huge heart for Astro Boy, and loves everything about him, so it felt — we were in good hands. I did like the fact that David chose to use Cora, and add a girl to the mix, to balance the energy a little bit, and give a little bit of a female character that little girls could identify with, as well. And also, I liked that Cora and Astro form this really nice friendship that is sort of an example for kids. What I loved about Astro Boy, after finding out how iconic he is overseas, I just actually really liked the script, on its own. I liked that it dealt with a lot of themes, yet none of them were pushy or preachy. They were just there. You know, they deal with environmentalism, they deal with not judging a book by its cover. They deal with feeling like an outcast. Of second class citizens, of love, of respect. They really – there’s tiny little lessons throughout all of it, and little resolutions, that really make you feel good. But with – at the same time, without ever being preachy.
Question: Does it have an environment theme as well?
Bell: Yes, there is. The movie opens with – Astro and his father live in Metro City which floats above the surface of the earth. Because the surface of the earth has been so destroyed by years and years and years and years of pollution, that no one really lives on the surface of the earth any more. It’s kind of like a junk yard.
Question: Now you were at Comic Con with the film. Is that a daunting experience, dealing with that kind of level of fan-dom?
Bell: It can be slightly overwhelming, but it can also be immensely flattering.
Question: You seem to have handled your celebrity status very, very groundedl, so where does that sense of groundness come from?
Bell: I think my parents. I had a very good upbringing, and I think that – you know, I’m still very close with my friends and family that know the real me, and that have been around forever. And I just – I’m never willing to lose myself to this business, I think. As much as I love it, that’s sort of priority number one.
Question: Now, are you still doing the narrations, the voice-over work for Gossip Girl?
Bell: Uh-huh [AFFIRM].
Question: There’s a rumor that we’re going to see this character at some point. Do you think that’ll ever happen? Are you in discussions about it?
Bell: I mean, I’m not currently. I think there’s always a rumor, because people love to ask that question. I don’t know how much validity it has. But I think it – I mean, look. I would do anything Josh Schwartz asks me to. I think that — we’ve had discussions about it, where it would be – it would be very difficult, because of the tenor of my voice, and hearing either me playing someone else, or my playing Gossip Girl. I think Gossip Girl’s going to keep her mystery for quite some time.
Question: And what about that other long-gestating rumor, about the possible movie version of Veronica Mars that launched your career?
Bell: Well, you know, Rob Thomas wrote a spec script – I mean, a synopsis at the end. He had a bunch of ideas. And we had talked about it beforehand, and we had all agreed that we would be a part of it. And – you know, to work for nothing just for the love of Veronica Mars. So he took it into Warner Brothers, and Joel Silver and Warner Brothers told them that there was no enthusiasm at Warner Brothers to make the film. I get fans on a daily basis that ask me – you know, via Twitter or fan mail, you know, ” When is it going to happen? What can we do? What can we do?” And the dedication is inspiring. But the only thing I can say is that we have to convince Warner Brothers that people will go see this movie, because they think it’s dead in the water. They think that there are no more fans, and that no one cares.
Question: You do like to Tweet. Are you surprised at how that technology has helped actors almost subliminally promote what they’re doing?
Bell: Absolutely. I mean, I think for actors to be able to talk about what they’re doing, and get a little bit of promotion. But I think also, it allows you to really connect with people, and with your fans. I had never been exposed to that kind of internet communication. I never had a MySpace, never had a Facebook, never desired to. And my father strongly suggested that I get a Twitter. And I actually really like it, because I’m able to answer people that – you know, that type really cute questions, or start conversations. And it’s kind of a great way to have a little more hands-on time with fans that you normally wouldn’t be able to, and give a little bit back.
Question: Any idea what you’re going to be doing next?
Bell: What am I going to be doing next? I don’t know yet. I think there will be an announcement shortly, but I’m not positive.