Kristen Bell may be petite in person, but she packs a mighty wallop on screen, both as an acerbic comedic actress whose words can sweetly cut you, and as just a smart gal a lot of girls, and women, can look up to.
In The Lifeguard, premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category, Bell takes a darker turn, playing a woman who quits her reporter job in New York and returns to where she grew up in Connecticut, taking a job as a lifeguard and falling into a dangerous relationship with a teenager. Check out this exclusive image of Bell, above, from the film. If her sullen expression is any indication, she’s settled into the doldrums, a purgatory stage of life with hints of The Graduate.
The star of TV’s Veronica Mars and now Showtime’s House of Lies chatted with EW about her great chemistry with The Lifeguard’s first-time feature film director Liz W. Garcia, what it’s like filming House of Lies while pregnant (she’s due in the spring), and her reign as Gossip Girl’s saucy narrator coming to an end with the conclusion of the six-season series. R.I.P!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Describe your role in The Lifeguard and working with Liz Garcia. The premise seems to have certain similarities to The Graduate, in terms of someone trying to find themselves, albeit with darker consequences.
KRISTEN BELL: I had been looking for something that I felt spoke to me of someone going through a metamorphosis. I find change so interesting. I love Liz’s writing. She wrote this phenomenal script, One Percent More Human, that was set up numerous times, and she had plans for that to be her directorial debut with Kristen Stewart and Evan Rachel Wood, and then she got pregnant. She ended up pushing it, so The Lifeguard was her first movie. She doesn’t steer away from sexuality, which most female writers do. There’s a tenderness, which makes it clear she’s a female writer. The idea of what do you do when you get stuck somewhere in your life is what appealed to me.
You’re known for your comedies, but even Veronica Mars had a great mix of wit and some drama. Is The Lifeguard mostly dramatic?
It’s primarily a drama. There are funny moments. Much like life, there’s more drama than comedy. Liz is surprisingly witty and funny, despite the darkness of her writing. When she reached out, she said, “I want someone who has a voice that is similar to mine that is sharp and funny.” This is a girl that should have it together. Everyone has that time in their life where they look back and say, “That was when everything was perfect.” But there’s no such thing. Transitions are happening in everyone’s life in the movie. I go back and I’m living with my mother, and she’s a 55, 60 year old woman who’s retiring.
Your character also seems to make questionable decisions, becoming involved with a teenager. By the way, it’s great Martin Starr – who is always hilarious – co-stars with you.
The movie centers around a girl who is at a tipping point when it comes to decisions, and you see her make quite a few bad ones before she comes to a good one. People around her are on a little less dangerous level. Martin plays her gay best friend from growing up and is yet to fully acknowledge it. Like, “Here are these cupcakes I like, but I’m not going to eat them.” There’s a certain point in your life where the people in your life around you say, “Come on and have a f–king cupcake, bro?” These characters are all jumping off this cliff and hope they don’t break too many bones.
On a separate personal note, you’re pregnant, and that’s a huge shift in life. When are you due?
I’m due end of spring. I’m not not pregnant. When you see me [at Sundance], it will be obvious. This is without question the biggest transition I’ll make in my life to date.
So how is going to Sundance for you? You must be a festival vet by now.
I have been quite a few times. It’s a bit feeling like Universal Studios these past few years and less like a film festival. … I’m not there for longer than 48 hours because I’m working on House of Lies. It’s going to be cold as balls! I think I’m going to a dinner on the night of the 20th called I Am That Girl [a community-building organization to inspire girls and women]. By the way, you kind of go brain dead when you’re pregnant. You’re kind of in a Dopamine phase. I’m kind of happy all the time, and dumb.
You regularly play interesting, smart female characters. Aligning yourself with organizations such as I Am That Girl, you also come across as someone just invested in women having a better future.
Our culture is headed in a direction that’s balanced and appropriate. Let’s start looking at the things that make us empowered as women. Women are less likely to push the red button and go to war. I also love the idea that we’re concerned with balancing out our careers as females.
What else is on your plate work-wise?
I’ve just been doing House of Lies. The season has been so much fun. They are always trying to hide my pregnancy. I’m always hiding behind a box, or a purse. I love working on that show more than I can possibly explain. Don Cheadle is a better human being than he is an actor. He’s the captain of the ship, with these two funny jesters. They love the fact that I’m pregnant. That’s the show I wish would go on for 10 years. This year the scripts are phenomenal and funny. We’ll stop filming around Feb. 12, around Valentine’s Day, so I’ll have a little bit of pregnancy time after. Also, Gossip Girl ended a couple of months ago. I loved that job, was sad to see it go.
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