Photo: David Oldham
Lake Bell has been acting for more than a decade. Yet, like any career, hers has evolved beyond just playing the leading lady’s sarcastic sidekick in romantic comedies. That’s not to say she didn’t excel in that role, but it’s obvious the 37-year-old is capable of so much more. Recently, she’s taken on a few new “life-changing” projects: Bell made her feature-film writing and directing debut with In a World…, which followed the lives of voice-over artists, and will herself be giving the craft a go in The Secret Life of Pets, which hits theaters nationwide on July 8. “I sometimes think of [In a World…] as a 93-minute audition to the voice-over industry to say, ‘Hey, consider me!’ she tells Yahoo Style. And becoming Chloe, a sassy, overweight, and highly food-motivated cat, not only helped Bell fulfill a dream, it also gave her a chance to add something to her IMDb page that was worthy of her young daughter seeing.
Motherhood hasn’t just influenced what jobs Bell takes; becoming a parent has heavily affected her personal style too. The New York native, who has posed topless for Esquire and partially nude, sans an array of temporary tattoos designed by her artist husband, Scott Campbell, for New York magazine, is now reveling in her more conservative side. She has traded short skirts for “age-appropriate” ensembles and is happiest wearing comfy shoes and a leather fanny pack while working behind the camera. This shift has come with maturity and harnessing the power of caring less. “You care a little bit less about what everybody thinks, and you’re more true to yourself,” she says about being in her fourth decade. “And you’re not afraid to not judge yourself. I think that’s kind of empowering.”
Ahead of The Secret Life of Pets, Bell discusses her love of animals, fondness for croissants, and her new fulfilling adventure of becoming one of Hollywood’s newest female directors.
Yahoo Style: In your wildest acting dreams, did you ever think you’d be playing the part of an obese tabby cat?
Lake Bell: We like to say she is voluptuous and huggable. But, yeah, I was thrilled to be a part of the movie. I don’t have cats, so I feel honored to be able to get in the brain of one.
Do you have a fascination with voice work? You’ve done accents for In a World... and now this?
I’m super and very openly obsessed with voice-over. In a World… was my love letter to the industry of voice-over. And in a way, I sometimes think of it as a 93-minute audition to the voice-over industry to say, “Hey. Consider me!” So doing this movie is definitely on my career bucket list to voice a fully realized character in an animated feature. It’s really super cool and the best kind of acting work in a way because you are not judged by what you exude physically but more what you can do with your voice. And that’s kind of liberating.
So we’ll see you doing more of this stuff down the road?
Oh, hell yeah! Do you know of any gigs?
Do you love getting cozy in the vocal booth in sweatpants as opposed to sitting in the makeup chairs for hours on typical sets?
Yeah, that’s also a huge bonus, that there is no hair and makeup bland time. You get to roll up in whatever your heart desires, whether it’s your pajamas or an American-flag onesie. Whatever floats your boat. You get to be comfy and make crazy faces and gesticulate like a maniac, do whatever you want in a free and nonjudgment zone. You can just kind of create a character. That is hugely liberating. You are alone awkwardly in a booth with no one else. You don’t really crack up because it’s just you. But it’s just more awkward. Sometimes in the script, you’ll see “efforted grunt.” So you have to interpret that. They’ll give you a visual of what’s happening: “You’re falling down a tube and you’re deposited at the end of the tube and you’ll flop over a wall.” It’s up to your interpretation of what that would sound like from a cat’s point of view. And that’s sort of fun.
To say that your character is obsessed with food is an understatement. In real life, what’s your food guilty pleasure?
I like to eat, so I am with Chloe on that. I am somebody who is constantly hungry to nibble on something. She, I think, is a more robust eater and maybe doesn’t move around quite as much. I don’t have a sweet tooth or anything, and Chloe is super sweet-tooth city, which is funny. I didn’t even know cats were into that, but that’s part of her character. She’s into cupcakes. I’d much rather have a croissant and french fries.
Are you a cat person or more of a dog person?
I like all animals. Not to be so politically correct about it, but I’m a grown adult where if I’m walking down the street and there is a dog or an animal of some sort, I can be having a full adult run of conversation and be like, “Excuse me for just a second and be like,” (says in a baby voice) “Hello! Look at you!” I have a daughter now, so I use her as an excuse to go and pet every doggy and kitty cat that is around. Growing up, I was the kid that stuck my hands in the face of all kinds of animals and got bitten, but I kept going back for more.
You recently bleached your hair. Was that for a role?
Yes. I dyed my hair blond because the director of the last movie that I did insisted that I did it. But the funny part about it is I am the director of the movie that insisted. So I basically just wanted to go blond, so I made my hair blond. I’m also the writer of the movie. The writer and the director made me dye my hair blond. But for In a World…, I dyed my hair fire red for no reason. So why not?
Do blondes have more fun, and does your daughter still recognize you?
I don’t know if they really have more fun. I think it seems like my fun level is on the same track. I’m still doing what I’m doing. I’m doing a lot of editing right now, which is really just a dark lonely room with another person staring at a screen. I’m not running around having fun in the city.
In a World… is your directorial debut and you’re now onto What’s the Point? What do you like about being behind the camera versus acting.
I love it. It’s a huge passion of mine. It satiates, and I feel really appreciative to get to do it. This movie What’s the Point? is seven years in the making. I feel super moved and excited that I’m in the position to be editing it and that it’s actually in the can and that it’s finally coming to fruition. It’s not just something I like; it’s literally life-changing and fulfilling on every cellular level of my body and brain.
What do you like most about being in your 30s versus your 20s?
When I turned 30, I was like, “Yeah I know” because I felt very comfortable. I always felt older. When I was in my 20s, I felt like I was in my 30s anyway, so it didn’t really matter. I think there is a power in that you care a little bit less about what everybody thinks and you’re more true to yourself. And you’re not afraid to not judge yourself. I think that’s kind of empowering.
How has your personal style changed with marriage and having a daughter?
I think in general, I’m probably more covered. I’m less keen to wear a super-short skirt because I have to bend down like 500 times a day to get my daughter to do something and I never want to feel self-conscious about what I’m wearing in those moments. I just want to be 100 percent ready to run after a toddler or pick her up or take care of her. I guess comfort does play into it. As well as I want to dress slightly more appropriately to represent that I’m not looking for action. I’m married and I’m happy. I have my daughter. I sort of enjoy dressing age-appropriate I guess.
Is it a lot different dressing for behind the camera than in front of it?
Behind the camera there is no pressure. My responsibility is to be comfortable and to be very mobile. I have a comfortable shoe policy, and I wear always a fanny pack. I always have one at my disposal. I wear a lot of pockets too.
Bringing back the fanny pack!
Oh, it’s the best. I love it! Mine is from Marlow Goods. My friend makes them. They are impeccable. She just opened a store in the city.
You’ve joked in the past that you’re not traditionally pretty. As an unconventional beauty, how do you find your self-confidence?
I think there is almost more pressure on people who are flawless because you have to maintain flawlessness. I don’t feel that pressure and I never have.
Your daughter is coming up on her second birthday. Are you going to take her to see the film?
We’re not doing screen time yet, but this will be the first movie of Mommy’s that she will see eventually down the road. But we’re not there yet. I’m super thankful that I have this movie in my filmography. This will be the first movie that my kids will see of mine for sure. Also I’m just glad that my whole family will enjoy it. It’s definitely a movie that appeals to adults as well as children. I’m bringing my parents and some other family members to the premiere because I feel like they genuinely will enjoy it. There’s no “hide your eyes here” or “I’m sort of embarrassed of this.” It’s a safe zone.
Are there any films of yours that you’ll never let your daughter see?
No Escape. I will never let her see that. Too scary!