Lake Bell On Acting And Directing After ‘In A World…’: BUST Interview

by Erika W. Smith

Lake Bell in Man Up

After slowly creeping into our hearts with ensemble comedy TV series like How To Make It In America and Children’s Hospital, Lake Bell blew us away with her 2013 film In A World… which she wrote, directed, produced and starred in.

The film earned rave reviews and a Sundance Film Festival award – not to mention a 5-boob review in BUST – and catapulted Lake, 36, to another level of fame and success. Two years later, she’s impossibly busy: after joining the ensemble cast of Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp this summer, she’s currently starring in two movies. She falls in love with Simon Pegg in the British romantic comedy Man Up – in theaters now – and tries to escape a military coup with Owen Wilson in the American action thriller No Escape – recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Plus, she’s preparing to direct two films: an adaptation of the Claire Messud novel The Emperor’s Children and her own ensemble comedy, What’s The Point? All that, and she’s a newlywed with a baby girl who just turned one.

Lake took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with BUST about her love for romantic comedies, her faux British accent and “the game of independent features.”

You have a British accent in Man Up, and it’s so good! How did you prepare?

I cheated a little bit because I went to drama school in England, so those were my formative college years. With In A World…, I was obviously pretty open about my obsession with dialects: I had to write a whole movie about it to address that! I would do Skype sessions every other night with my dialect coach in London while I was shooting No Escape, and then when I landed in London to shoot Man Up, from that point on I just assumed the dialect for the entire time I was there. Half the crew knew who I was, and the other half didn’t – they just accepted the premise that I was British and never really questioned it. It was quite funny at the end when I revealed my true American colors.

What was it like working with Simon Pegg? 

I loved it. We first met in LA where I was brought in for a screen test. I was going in thinking, “I’ve got to really impress these dudes,” but Nira [Park], the producer, had seen In A World… and just had a hunch that it would work. She assumed since I was obsessed with accents and dialects, the accent would be no problem. And sure enough, working with Simon, the second I met him, the musicality of how we relate to each other and our ability to feed off each other and bounce off each other and improvise together was just there. 

You recently tweeted that “rom com is not a four letter word,” and Man Up is such a pure rom com. Do you feel like people overlook the genre?

I think there’s this trend where people are apologizing for the romantic comedy genre. There are these movies that come out and they’re like, “We’re the anti romantic comedy,” and they’re lewd or R-rated or dark. This movie is sort of refreshingly regressing back to something that is ostensibly a classic genre, and it leans into the tropes of a classic romantic comedy and yet infuses something quite contemporary and relevant to the way the story is told. I quite like romantic comedies. I don’t think it’s a bad word, and this movie is almost more provocative because it is sweet and kind-spirited.

You also have No Escape out on DVD now, which is so much about a family trying to survive. What was it like filming this in a time of your life when you’re starting your own family? 

We filmed it before I was pregnant – I had just gotten married when I shot No Escape, and it wasn’t hard to imagine being in this sort of extraordinary situation because we were out in the middle of this fantastic and mysterious country, Thailand. I did feel like I was a fish out of water and I was working with these two young actresses who were so lovely and sweet and young, so it was very easy to imagine circumstances when I would be very protective over them.

Was this the first time you’d worked with Owen Wilson?

Yeah, this was my first time working with Owen. I’d known him for years but I had never gotten the chance to work with him. It’s ironic, but funny that the first time I’m working with Owen Wilson, there’s not a laugh in sight. There was no joking on set or anything, it was very serious and somber and a very focused set.

I think it was inspired casting because it sets the audience up for a false sense of comfort – “Things can’t get that bad,” and then they get worse. It puts the audience in this place of, “Oh that could be me: they don’t look like or feel like action stars, they don’t look like they know how to do kung fu or use a machine gun.” We are just people who have no business being in a situation like that. If you had cast, like, Tom Cruise, you would have immediately assumed he would know how to do something. But with Owen and I, you’re kind of nervous, like, “I don’t know if these guys are going to get through it!”

After In A World… is it strange to go back to a position of being an actress without being the writer/director/producer?

You know, not really. I was first and foremost an actor, so I have a respect for that role. If anything, because I’ve directed now, it only enforces my understanding of what my job is as an actor. Every set that I’m on, I learn something new and after all, that’s where I learned to direct: being in the trenches of a myriad of different kinds of sets, and seeing how people run their ship. I think every acting job as another opportunity, sort of like an elective class in filmmaking school.

You’re directing another movie, The Emperor’s Children – can you tell us about that?

The Emperor’s Children was meant to film this year but it got pushed back, as many independent films do. So perhaps next year, but this is the game of independent features: things move and ebb and flow in different states of development. I have another project that I wrote that’s an original work that I hope to make. You put a lot of irons on the fire and see which ones burn brightest. 

Can you tell me more about the film you wrote?

I wrote a feature called What’s the Point? and I’m shooting that in February. It’s premature to talk about it now, but it’s an ensemble comedy about marriage and I will co-star in that, among other people.

Photo via Facebook/Man Up

More from BUST

Movie Review: In A World….

18 Movies Starring Women To Watch On Netflix

Chatting With Diablo Cody About Film, Feminism And The Right To Be Mediocre


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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