Lake Bell is singularly funny, smart, weird but not too weird, beautiful, vocal about her ambitiousness, and actually named “Lake Bell.” That’s why it’s strange that her rise to lead-actress status been something of a slow burn. After getting her start on shows like E.R. and The Practice, Bell popped up as the other love interest in a series of mediocre rom-coms: Alec Baldwin’s haughty wife in It’s Complicated, Ashton Kutcher’s spastic date in No Strings Attached, an amorous psychic being harassed by a dead Eva Longoria in Over Her Dead Body. Things steadily improved from there — Bell went on to star in HBO’s short-lived cult hit How to Make It in America; land a regular role on Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital; and write, direct, and star in the critically acclaimed indie comedy In a World.
But it’s only now, after years of charming the hell out of niche audiences with her infectious, offbeat wit, that Bell’s finally headlining high-profile films that didn’t spring from her own fevered imagination. Her two latest projects couldn’t be more different, but she’s equally engaging in both (which is yet another thing we can tack onto the list of reasons why it’s bizarre she’s not yet a massive star). In the action-thriller No Escape — a.k.a. “that movie where Owen Wilson throws his kids off a roof” — Bell plays Annie Dwyer, an American woman who’s just moved to a nondescript Southeastern Asian country to support her husband’s (Wilson) career, only to realize her family is the target of a violent uprising. In Man Up, Lake adopts a frighteningly convincing British accent to play Nancy, a kooky thirtysomething who hijacks another woman’s blind date with Simon Pegg and ends up falling for him.
We caught up with Bell as No Escape hit Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming services and Man Up went into a wider U.S. release to talk about subverting genre stereotypes, how her new husband dramatically changed her cynical views on marriage, and why studio heads are stupid not to hire female directors.
So, we’re talking about two of your movies today — Man Up and No Escape — and I tried to find the common thread to sort of get us started, but they really couldn’t be more different.
[Laughs.] That in itself is sort of the interesting point.
Are you having a hard time at all today switching gears back and forth between Southeastern-Asian uprisings and British blind dates?
It’s refreshing, because I think when I do a lot of comedy, it’s nice to have a respite, to flex different type of muscles with a drama. After doing a heavy, hardcore movie like No Escape, it’s great to bounce back to something that’s lighter, to crack up on set. There were no real jokes going on on the No Escape set. It was funny to me to, you know, finally star in a movie with Owen Wilson, and yet there’s not one laugh.
I was about to ask — you and Owen are both known for being primarily comedic actors. Was it ever hard to find the gravity in a particular scene? Did you find yourselves accidentally making each other laugh?