Lake Bell, the tall and lanky comedienne best known for her work on Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital” and HBO’s now-defunct “How To Make It In America,” proved herself to be a quadruple threat at Sundance when “In a World…,” her feature writing-directing debut (which she also co-produced and stars in), world premiered to a rave response from the packed house at the Library Theater. It opens this Friday in select theaters.
[Editor’s Note: This interview was originally published during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.]
The comedy, which stars “Children’s Hospital” castmates Ken Marino and Rob Corddry, centers on Carol (Bell), an aspiring voiceover artist struggling to make a name for herself in a male-dominated industry where her father, a voiceover vet, rules the roost.
The day following the raucous premiere, a giddy Bell sat down with Indiewire to discuss her personal ties to the project (she tried to make it as a voiceover artist before landing on-screen acting roles), how to change the way our society speaks and the challenge of defining herself in Hollywood.
I want to get your sense of how last night went. Going into it you were visibly nervous, sweaty palms and all.
Yeah (laughs). I was definitely nervous, mainly because public speaking isn’t under my job description. I also didn’t want there to be any technical problems.
Which there were.
Which there were! And my heart sunk. But I promised myself that I would handle it with grace. Grace, grace, grace, grace… that was my mantra. But by the end of it, by the time we got around to the Q&A, I was so emotional, so filled with joy, because wisely I put all of my favorite people in the world in this movie. These are people who I’m friends with, who I work with on a daily basis, either on “Children’s Hospital” or on other things. Just to have them and my family there – it’s a nice thing. There are so many things in Hollywood where you’re insecure, trash-talking, and this was a night that was filled with earnest pride and love.
Now, you grew up as an aspiring voiceover artist. How autobiographical is the film?
When I first wrote draft one of “In a World…,” it was really different in the sense that I was going through some really profound conversations with my own dad and trying to figure things out and looking at the relationship between my father and my brother – observing. I’m interested in the human interaction there. You compile and collect all of these different experiences there and inject them into a different story with different kinds of characters. They then blossom and derail into different storylines.
Twenty drafts later, it is not autobiographical. But I did think I was going to be one of the great voiceover stars. Since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with accents, languages and sounds. It’s something you can’t get away from. Someone can look amazing and beautiful and open their mouth – and if it’s an atrocity, it really throws you.
I’m also interested in that idea of blind voice, where in voiceover you can be anyone, you can be any race, any age, any weight. You can put all these building blocks onto your natural voice. When you start to study the voice you hear all the history of a person. That’s why I’m a radio listener. I always listen to plain old radio; I don’t plug in my iPod.
When I was 13, I was coercing the stewardesses to let me do the in-flight announcements. I did things like that. I used to have my little Dictaphone that I would bring around.
The best advice I ever got about writing was, “What do you want to see next? What do you want to talk about?” The conversation to me in the film that I like to look back to is the cultural conversation of this vocal virus that I think is infecting female generations: sexy baby talk.
Given that you live in L.A., you probably hear that sort of talk a lot.
Yeah, and it’s everywhere. I have friends in L.A., New York and even Kentucky who have it. It can go anywhere! I think Bravo culture for sure has helped inject that as a normal thing. But yeah, I think it’s really interesting that aspect of it, because not that people are uneducated, they’re just unaware of it. Or they’re taking it on to be part of a community or to be sexually submissive. Perhaps it makes them feel younger or sexier. I think it’s kind of a feminist issue!
So you’re out to make a difference with this movie.
I kind of am (laughs), with a gentle prod. I never wanted to make a movie that felt mean or tough. It’s sweet. All of these people do these things because they’ve been misdirected.
Did you generate your own material because casting directors don’t quite know what to do with you? You have this unique combo of great looks paired with a singular, off-kilter comedic sensibility.
I think all actors will struggle to find their place until either a break happens or they start generating their own content. So I started generating my own content. I’ve been working consistently, and I like that. I don’t ever think, ‘Oh, why didn’t I get a break?’ I feel like I’ve had a lot of little breaks, which is nice. I can still go to the grocery store without getting mobbed. I like that.
When I first came out here I was just doing drama… whatever I auditioned for. I couldn’t land an audition for comedy. I kind of had to pry my way in there. “What Happens In Vegas” was the pinnacle for me. Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher and Rob Corddry… when I met Rob, he then asked me to do “Children’s Hospital.” That troupe of people, the “Children’s Hospital” troupe, has been very sacred to me for over five years. It went from a web series to Adult Swim and an Emmy; it’s just insane! That team has given me great strength.
I just have been very picky about what I want to take and be in, even when I’m advised not to be so picky. But I am because I’ve been writing for so many years now.
This has happened honestly a few times, where I will screen test for a big studio and they will be so jazzed. I improvise and I do a bunch of fun stuff. Then I get down the line and it’s always like, ‘It doesn’t look right.’ My face is a little different. I don’t look like a supermodel but I’m not a dog. It’s like, ‘She’s hilarious, so she’ll bring funny and she’s almost hot enough to be the leading lady, but not quite. It’s too improvised to be a leading lady.’ Then they always end up going with the name. That can be discouraging. It does add fuel to the flame to make your own projects.
When I made this movie, I was like, ‘I don’t know what the big deal is? Will people not get it?’ But that’s also specifically my tone; I’m controlling that whole experience. I wouldn’t have put myself in the movie though if I wasn’t right for it. I just happened to be very right for the part. But I only want myself to succeed. If I wasn’t quite right I would just direct it. I might do that in the future.