From TV star to movie star and back again, Kristen Bell is keeping busy. After breaking out as the beloved TV heroine Veronica Mars, Bell has tackled film roles like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “When In Rome” while continuing to dabble on the small screen now and again. In the past, most actors shifted from TV to features and never looked back, but the landscape is changing and Bell is happy to take advantage. Her new Showtime series opposite Don Cheadle, “House Of Lies,” debuted earlier this month to very positive reviews and her latest film role, as reporter Jill Gerard in Ken Kwapis’ political comedy, “Big Miracle,” is hitting theaters this Friday. She also just finished up Dax Shepherd’s second directorial effort “Outrun,” which she describes as “in the vein of the Burt Reynolds movies of the ‘70s” and plays Supergirl opposite Justin Long’s Robin in one of the comedy shorts from the upcoming “Movie 43.”
Bell was on hand in Santa Monica, California this month to speak with The Playlist about her role in “Big Miracle” and everything else she has on the horizon, including the possibility of a “Veronica Mars” feature. Here are some highlights from our interview.
Stepping into the shoes of a reporter
In “Big Miracle, Bell plays Jill Jerard, a reporter on the rise who views the story of three grey whales trapped in an ice patch in the Arctic Circle as a possible chance to fast track her career. “Miracle” is based on true events, but Bell’s character is an amalgam of the countless press that descended upon Barrow, Alaska in 1988 to cover the international story.
The daughter of a TV news director, Bell has been around press most of her life. She’s also had plenty of press encounters in recent years she could draw from. “I’ve had enough encounters with reporters who I either did or did not want to converse with,” Bell tells us. “I feel like I had a good enough idea of how they are to act when they want to get the story. Sometimes it’s manipulative, sometimes it’s completely genuine. I kind of had Jill ride that line. I wanted her to have a fierce dedication to her work. It wasn’t that she was meant as the villain, it was just that the whales weren’t on her priority list. Getting a news anchor job and getting noticed at work was her one and only priority.”
Director Ken Kwapis also prepped the actress for the part by showing her footage from the actual coverage. “Ken was an unbelievable database. He would send us news clips of journalists reporting on the whales. There were also some circulated videos on the internet, like when Dan Rather got a hold of it and it caught fire,” Bell said.
Braving the Alaskan cold
Some actors might be intimidated by the idea of months on location in temperatures often dipping below zero. Not so for Bell who explained, “It was cold but I feel very capable in that weather because I’m from Detroit and I’m used to it being zero to 20 degrees. It keeps you awake too.”
The shoot also offered the actress a chance to escape the hustle of city life for a bit. “The biggest surprise was how majestic the whole environment is and how infectious it is as far as its ability to calm you. It’s cliché to say that the big city is stressful and the country is not, but there’s a truth behind that,” she says.
Bell was also fascinated by the fashion article of choice in Alaska, camouflage. “It’s a style choice. New York has black. Alaska has camo. L.A. has cleavage. Miami has more butt-cheeks,” she said adding that considered bringing some home, but wasn’t sure how. “I didn’t know how I’d find it, you know what I mean? I don’t know how people find their clothes.”
Why actors love Ken Kwapis
It’s been said more than once that Ken Kwapis (“The Office“) is an actor’s director, his past collaborators (including co-star John Krasinski) always eager to sing his praises. We asked Bell what it is that draws actors to work with Kwapis. “Ken is one of the most loving directors I’ve ever met and that’s not a quality I come across very often,” says Bell. “He’s so desperately sincere on top of being creative and smart. There’s a safety with Ken that you know he’s being honest with you. He’s like this ever-loving sort of yogee. He’s calm, cool, collected and compassionate, so there really was no one better to tell this story.”
Will Veronica ever appear on the big screen?
Ever since Bell’s beloved “Veronica Mars” was cancelled after 64 episodes, rumors of a feature film have popped up now and again. While Bell admits she has nothing new to report, she’s still hopeful: “It’s still just something that gets brought up now and again, but it’s not something that any of us are less interested in. We’re still fighting to let it see the light of day and hopefully it will one day.”
Working with Dax Shepherd on his sophomore directorial effort “Outrun”
Bell was particularly enthusiastic about her recently wrapped role in Dax Shepherd’s directorial debut, “Outrun,” opposite Bradley Cooper. “It’s a mix of both action and comedy,” Bell explains. “It’s in the vein of the Burt Reynolds movies of the ‘70s. He loves Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields and that’s where the inception for the idea came. It’s got a lot of bizarre humor in it which Dax is sort of known for. I play a girl named Annie who is dating a guy in the witness protection program. I get a job out of town teaching at a university and he gives up witness protection figuring it’s been so many years he’ll be fine. They go on a road trip together and obviously car chases ensue because the bad guys find out that he is no longer in protection.”
Bell says Shepherd — who is also her fiancé — rose to the occasion as a director. “He’s the cutest director I’ve ever seen,” Bell laughs. “I value his opinion intellectually and I’ve always asked him for advice on scripts and projects because I think he’s very smart. He knew what he wanted on set and was able to make a lot of moving parts work. Dax knows comedy better than a lot of people out there. He was at [L.A. comedy troupe] Groundlings for seven or eight years, so he can write a joke. There’s a wonderful weird voyeuristic aspect to ‘Outrun’ where you actually feel like you’re there with the people. It’s not as broad as most comedies. It’s hilariously funny. I’ve seen it now and I’m so proud of it.”
As Supergirl, Bell speed dates a cock-blocked Robin in “Movie 43”
In one of the most intriguing segments to make up the upcoming comedy shorts collection, “Movie 43,” Bell goes super speed dating. “I did the short with Justin Long and Jason Sudeikis that James Duffy directed,” Bell tells The Playlist. “It’s all the characters from Gotham City. I play Supergirl and it’s about Batman and Robin and Lois Lane and it’s Gotham City speed dating. Uma Thurman plays Lois Lane and Justin Long plays Robin and Sudeikis plays Batman.”
Just when Supergirl starts to connect with Robin, Batman steps in to spoil it all. “He cannot get a date because Batman is always intervening. Supergirl tries to connect with Robin, but Batman ruins it. This came out of the skits Justin’s been doing for a while where the whole point of the sketch is that Batman is constantly cockblocking Robin. It was really fun.”
“Big Miracle” hits screens on February 3rd. “Movie 43” and “Outrun” are currently slated for release on April 13th and August 24th, respectively.