[Editor's Note: In Body of Work, the House explores the efforts of an exciting, established talent, whose recent choices have yielded a fruitful career surge.]
There's plenty more to Lake Bell than the casual viewer—or gawker—might think. On the big screen (It's Complicated), the small screen (How to Make It in America), and even online (Children's Hospital), the 34-year-old has shown her great gift for angsty comedy, and with things like this 2011 Maxim cover story, she's broadcasted her embrace of being a slinky sex symbol. She's merged both attributes in recent flicks like A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, and in New Girl, on which she briefly guest-starred. But Bell has tackled her share of straight-up drama, too, in projects like the short-lived series Surface, her recurring role on The Practice and Boston Legal, and, now, the girls-gone-primal survivor thriller Black Rock, which co-stars Kate Bosworth and the film's director, Katie Aselton. Highly rugged and often quite brutal, Black Rock sees its trio of female leads do all their own stunts, and suffer a great deal of bumps, cuts and bruises in the process. Was it a thrill for Bell to ditch the giggling and vamping and dive into no-frills combat?
“I mean, hell yes,” the actress says, calling in from L.A., “especially because I don't get this opportunity, ever. Well, in Surface I got to do it a little bit, but it's been many years since I've had the opportunity to let out my inner badass. Katie Aselton specifically did not want us to workout, train, or choreograph anything. She really wanted it to be messy, and real, so it felt very real and therefore a little more uncomfortable. In these movies, it takes you out of it sometimes when you see normal civilians all of the sudden rising to the occasion and doing a jiu-jitsu roundhouse kick or something. In order to sell this, we really kinda had to just go for it.”
That Bell can so offhandedly toss out a phrase like “jiu-jitsu roundhouse kick” says something about the type of performer, and the type of woman, she is. In Black Rock, a movie about a girls' weekend that becomes a grisly battle of the sexes, the girls often talk like boys, a probable result of Aselton's husband, Mark Duplass, penning the script. But Bell insists that some of that is just part of her natural vocabulary, which is easy to believe, since endearingly crude humor—the pretty girl with the wicked tongue—has been kind of a hallmark of Bell's career. It makes her appearance in this gender-issue-laden film that much more interesting—whatever the cause, Bell seems like she's a straight guy's dream, the knockout who'll yell louder than you at the screen in a sports bar, not to mention drink you under the table.
“I think we're all just not particularly girly girls,” Bell says of the Black Rock trio. “A lot of the stuff between me and Kate Bosworth is improvised, so that's just us bullshitting, and hitting certain beats to just show that [the characters] have a background. And on set, you know, we had a group of people, we're out there, we're all hustling, we're all game to kind of go there with each other, and there's no bathrooms, let alone trailers, let alone anything else. So everything was super lean, and you just don't have the opportunity to bitch about anything. And we had the elements working against us. At one point we did a water scene where I nearly died because I had an asthma attack in the middle of it. So, we were already in survival mode, quite literally.”
Born in New York, Bell is the daughter of Robin Bell, who owns a Gotham-based design firm, and Harvey Siegel, a real estate hotshot who made headlines when he bought the Virginia International Raceway and turned it into a racetrack country club. Siegel's affinity for cars was inherited by his daughter, so much so that the actress—who, if not already enough of a guy's gal—maintains an automotive column, “Test Drive,” in The Hollywood Reporter, while serving as the mag's automotive contributing editor. Additionally, before she began to break out in films like 2002's Speakeasy and 2003's I Love Your Work, Bell came to Hollywood with dreams of being a voiceover star (which might explain her narration of Children's Hospital and her vocal contribution to Shrek Forever After). The art of voiceover is, in fact the subject of In a World…, Bell's forthcoming directorial debut, which also sees her act, write, and produce. It goes to show that Bell not only matches comedy with drama, but pairs on-screen allure with off-screen ambitions.
“I love comedy that has drama in it, and I love drama that has a little comedy in it,” Bell says. “I think life is inherently funny sometimes, so if that can be incorporated in myriad genres, that's always really inspiring and exciting to me. I personally like doing comedy for things that I write and direct, because I think, at least right now, that we all evolve in the same way many artists evolve. I don't want to be pretentious about it, but I'm just saying—I was writing all kinds of stuff and then all of the sudden I found an affection for writing about cars, because I grew up with it. And then I'm writing a column about cars! I like the turns, and twists, and freedom of being an artist, director, whatever. It's cool! I like being a part of this community and this class of filmmakers because you can challenge yourself in many different ways.”