She’s blonde, skinny, delicately pretty, and has a hot stage, TV and movie career. That’s a lot to get in life. Any woman would be insanely envious of Kristen Bell if she didn’t have the makings for the perfect BFF. Perfect in that she’s not only an amusing hang with her snarky humor, but also that she’s thoughtful, reflective and there to relate. She’s the kind of girl you support and cheer on. Just as you would with any friend. Only she’s a star.
An anomaly harking back to the golden age, Bell is a triple threat: vocalist, dancer and actress. Majoring in musical theatre at NYU, she landed two Broadway shows while still in school and then won the title role in the TV cult-fave Veronica Mars less than a year after moving to L.A. With a string of hit films like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “When in Rome,” Bell returned to the small screen earlier this year with Showtime’s smash hit “House of Lies” where she brilliantly played off Don Cheadle as the emotionally vacant ladder climbing business consultant Jeannie. This August she’ll be acting alongside fiance (whom she refers to as her husband) Dax Shepard in the comedy “Hit and Run” which they produced together. With her Hollywood status escalating and her imdb page expanding at a rapid rate, Bell has stayed true to herself: effortlessly witty and sincerely heartfelt.
Riding her green and white “You & Me” bicycle to set would have been enough to show off her ease, but when Bell criss-cross apple-sauced her forest green denim covered legs atop a bar stool in the breakfast nook of a Los Feliz home, I knew I was in for a good old-fashioned session of girl talk. Relaxed and eager to chat, I immediately I brought up her name change at four years old from Kristen to Smurfette and then to Annie [her middle name that she went by until high school], and how I had similarly done the same thing at four when I refused to be called anything but Annie [not because it was my middle name but because it was the name of that famed red headed orphan]. Both being children that “made strong choices for ourselves,” as Bell deemed us, and sharing commonalities such as our vegetarian diets beginning at such a young age, the loss of a childhood best friend to car accidents, and a mutual admiration for Denise Huxtable’s fashion sense on The Cosby Show, we quickly entered bonding territory. “We were literally separated at birth,” Bell kept insisting. Hmmm…not my new bestie but my long lost sister? I’ll take that. Let’s be honest. Could there be a cooler sister than Kristen Bell?
You actually do have two older sisters…who you were not separated from.
Growing up, did you look up to them?
Absolutely. I don’t know why this is so significant but on this one Saturday night when I was 13 and my oldest sister was 18, I didn’t have anything to do, and she was going to iHop with her friends and said, “Hey Annie do you want to come?” I was floored! Do I want to hang out with a bunch of 18-year-olds at the iHop? Of course I do. I was just so excited to be invited out socially by my cool older sister that I thought, “I hope every single one of my friends sees me tonight.”
Did your older sisters teach you style or help dress you?
My sisters did make me a whole Madonna costume for Halloween when I was 11. That was monumental for me. They worked on it for four or five days–took a pair of my jeans, cut them, put patches on them, drew pinstripes on them. They made me a shirt, and I wore the dog’s collar around my neck and crimped my hair.
You’ve admitted to having a potty mouth. Did that also come from having older sisters?
I grew up such a goodie goodie. I didn’t even say “shut-up” until 2nd grade. I thought shut up was like fuck. I would hear 5-year-olds saying “shut up” and it was such a shock to me. My best friend growing up had a horrible potty mouth. She was such a rebel. She even got acrylic nails when we were 10. Such a rule breaker [shakes her head in mock disapproval]. She would try to egg me on to say shut up and I wouldn’t do it. Then it slipped out on the playground one day and I got that first wave of goodbye childhood.
When did boy crushes begin?
I was a late bloomer. I did have a giant poster of Antonio Banderas on my wall, but I never particularly loved Antonio. It was around the time that all my girlfriends were putting up pictures of boys and I just did it because I wanted to fit in. Pulled the first poster I could find of a cute guy and put it up. Then I was like, “Yeah, [in her cool voice] I have posters.”
I assume there’s no pretending when it comes to liking your fiance. What made you fall for funnyman Dax Shepard?
How much time do you have? He’s extraordinarily communicative. He always says what’s on his mind and normally that can be interpreted as someone that’s bossy or a know-it-all, but I mean it as such a compliment. He tells me when he’s vulnerable and feeling insecure. He manages to be completely masculine and vulnerable at the same time. It’s so attractive. For me it was like…yeah, I’m in!
You have two corgi mutts with Dax.
Lola and Shaky. Dax constantly comes up with new names for our dogs though. Recently he’s been calling one of them the carpet roll. When he walks in our room, he’ll say, “Unroll that carpet and get it off the bed…it stinks.” Hysterical.
Do you dress your dogs up for Halloween like your sisters did with you?
I often do. This year I really want to dress up the dogs as the two mean characters from “Downton Abbey.” O’Brien and Thomas.
Nice! My dog was a chia pet last year. I sewed his entire costume and after he had won the doggie costume contest, I realized that I had just turned into one of those fanatical dog owners.
You’re talking to someone that used to eat her food out of a dog bowl as a kid. I literally thought I was a dog.
It’s that kind of character dedication that probably got you into NYU.
[laughs] Actually…Audra MacDonald was starring in Ragtime just as I was applying for college. She played a slave who had buried her dead slave baby in the backyard, and I was so moved that I chose to sing that song. That African American lament for my audition piece for NYU. Nothing could have been more inappropriate than a tiny white girl coming in singing about her dead slave baby. They were probably thinking, “Geez! The balls on this girl!”
Were you ever told you wouldn’t make it as an actress?
Not often, but you literally just triggered this memory of a teacher. I was singing “Surrey with a Fringe on Top” [from Oklahoma!] and apparently I wasn’t connected and she let me know. She said, “If this is how you perform I just don’t ever see you working” in front of my entire class. Devastated me…and I didn’t know how to make it better. 20 minutes after class ended, I got a call that I had booked my first Broadway show [Becky in Tom Sawyer]. It was the sweetest irony I’ve ever had in my life.
And you haven’t stopped since. “House of Lies” got picked up for a second season. What is it like working with such a talented cast?
Don Cheadle keeps you on your toes and Josh has access to my funny bone that is almost inappropriate. I don’t know why, but everything he does sends me into a fit of giggles. I’ve been into Billy Joel since he was on American Idol, and whenever I start singing to myself, Josh will come up behind me and whisper, “I’m sorry. I’m going to need you to pipe that down. I’ve got a headache.” He’s so dorky which I really love.
With Showtime seasons being so short, you’re able to still do films. Tell me about “Hit and Run.”
Best experience of my life. Being a couple, there were a lot of very real moments captured on screen that we triggered by fighting and saying awful things to each other off camera. We wanted to make it as raw as possible and for it to be like some of the fights we had at the beginning of our relationship before you figure out who you are in relation to that other person. When you’re still hanging onto your individuality and independence. I’m so proud of this film.
What was it like co-producing with Dax?
Having watched it from its conception, it holds a bigger place in my heart. It was a family affair and very personal. Dax’s Mom and stepdad flew in to do craft service and make fruit cups. All our friends were involved, we used two of our cars in the movie, and I brought in a bunch of things that were my grandfather’s like his war medals and the afghan my grandmother knitted. Personal artifacts only added to the significance of the experience for me.
Yes. My most treasured possession is my grandmother’s wedding band…and I watch Christmas Vacation a lot. I watch it in the middle of the year. That’s pretty sentimental.
[laughs] I’m all about balance. I read someone’s Twitter bio the other day, and it blew me away. “I think everything deserves to be loved, and everything deserves to be made fun of.” I thought, “Wow. You’re speaking to my soul.”
Interviewed by Lecia Doss
Photographed by Derek Wood
Styled by Lyndzi Trang
Hair by Christina Symonds
Makeup by Coleen Campbell
Manicures by Naja
Production Assistants: Alex Levine, Daria Kobayashi Ritch, Ashley Symone Lee, and Tiffany Ma
Location: Gretchen Bonaduce’s house
Special thanks to: Veggie Grill and Babycakes