The thought of Lake Bell hoping that a group of London girls — who were making fun of Bell practicing her British accent — would mistake her for Amanda Peet is terribly amusing. In her new comedy, Man Up (which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival), Bell plays a London woman named Nancy, and, in an attempt to perfect a British accent that she’d need to use for the duration of the movie, Bell spoke in that British accent for the duration of her stay in London. Which is fine, until you get recognized. (Of course, if any of those particular London girls read this, they will now know for sure that it definitely wasn’t Amanda Peet.)
In Man Up, Bell plays Nancy, a woman in her mid-30s who hasn’t yet met the right man. Simon Pegg plays Jack, a man who is looking for a blind date and, due to a mix-up, mistakes his blind date for Nancy, and, of course, Nancy goes along with it all just to see what happens. Hijinks — and a lot of surprisingly earnest comedy and emotion — ensues.
Bell, for her part, doesn’t like mean-spirited or “gross out” comedy, going as far to call it a “pet peeve.” And looking at her filmography, this does seem to shape her choices. (She admits she’s turned down a lot of roles that she had no business turning down.) But here, in a time when the romantic comedy is close to extinct, Lake Bell and Simon Pegg are starring in what feels like a old fashioned romantic comedy and it’s surprisingly refreshing.
Bell is in New York City promoting the film appearance at Tribeca and, ahead, discusses her annoyance with “mean” comedy, the intricacies of dancing to “The Reflex” by Duran Duran, and, yes, what’s it’s like to be teased by strangers while trying to practice an accent for a movie.
Part of me wants to say this is my favorite thing I’ve seen you in, but then I’m afraid you might say, “Well, what about In a World…?” So, before you do, I like that movie, too.
I think we just like each other.
But, at the end of the day, I think what I love about this movie is that it’s very earnest and it’s sweet. While, still, a lot of romantic comedies that come out these days are sort of judgmental of the genre. So, they’re the anti-romantic comedy. Or they have to be a little mean-spirited in order to be edgy, or winky winky. They’re apologizing, like, “We’re not really a romantic comedy because of this, this and that.”
Because no one makes true romantic comedies anymore.
And that’s part of the appeal.
I know. It’s like, even with In a World…, I wanted to make a movie that made you feel good at the end of the day. I’m not interested in comedy that is mean in spirit. In general, that’s sort of a thing for me and a pet peeve. And especially when it comes to relationships and boy meets girl kind of stuff, I’m okay with being kind of nice, in general… and I feel that in this day and age, not to be overly sappy about the whole thing, it’s like shit is so hard out there. There are so many sad and destructive things that you can watch, or subject yourselves to on a daily basis. Certainly in the entertainment world, it’s a breath of fresh air to have something that just makes you feel good.
You mentioned mean comedy is a pet peeve. What’s an example of that?
Well, first of all, by principal, I’m not going to be a hater and call people out. But, I think we know what it is and I think people try to reinvent the wheel a little bit. Romantic comedies of a certain age worked at a certain time. When Harry Met Sally or the Annie Hall, those kinds of movies are very sort of sweet and all together kind of generous in their kind of spirit. But people started to reinvent the wheel a little bit and get a little shock factor, a little blue, a little bit gross. You know? Finding comedy in sort of raunchiness. I even think about this movie that I did a million years ago, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy…
I have seen that movie. It premiered at Tribeca five years ago.
Yes! And it didn’t even have any nude sex shit in it. But you still got the point. And at the end of the day, it’s just a sweet movie. I think, in general, I tend to be interested in those kind of comedies. I’ve totally turned things down where it’s just a bummer, where I have no business turning that down. It’s just, you know, the female character is just a bitch. Or the relationship that’s the crux of the story is just such a bummer. You know, funny, but just mean. And that is just a huge turn-off.
Looking at your filmography, what you’re saying makes sense with the parts you play. Even your studio films, like Million Dollar Arm, your character is nice.
Totally. Even in No Strings Attached, a character that, at the end of the day, means so well, and I love characterizations that have that at their core.
After watching Man Up, I’ve made a decision. All movies should feature “The Reflex” by Duran Duran.
Correct. That is correct.
You and Simon Pegg do a choreographed dance to “The Reflex” while in the middle of a serious conversation. Have you seen Top Secret!?
Yes. [Laughs] What a reference.
It reminded me of the ballroom dance in “Top Secret!”
Yes! Oh my God, you’re reminding me that I need to watch Top Secret! just for fun. Yes, I totally remember that scene and that’s funny. I’m fine with that reference.
A choreographed dance mixed with a serious conversation is apparently something I find funny.
We did have a choreographer to do that dance and we wanted to make it feel like, oh, it’s so strange that we are inadvertently doing a synchronized dance. At one point, we got too synchronized and they were like, “Actually, you have to bring it down a notch.”
If anyone is looking at this movie and thinking, “I’m not sure I like British comedies,” there’s a Whitesnake song playing over the dramatic ending.
Yeah! Just tell them “Whatesnake’s in it.” Just relax.
Your character is British. I interviewed you at Sundance a few years ago and I had to think, “Wait, is she actually British? Did she trick me then?”
[Laughs] That would be amazing.
But you went to school in London, is that how you know how to do the accent?
I went to college there, so I’m cheating a little bit. But also, to be fair and give credit to the work I did on that movie, I trained like you would train for a marathon or something… upon landing in London, that point at which I put my foot on the ground, I spoke in a British accent the entire time.
Did you ever think, “Why am I doing this?”
Oh, totally. I was like, “What the f*ck am I doing?”
Did anyone recognize you and ask why you’re talking like that?
Only once. I had one time I remember going to an art opening with my husband who was over for a while. And when we were out and about, I took on the accent. Not when I spoke to my husband on the phone or anything, but when we were out and about, I’d keep it on. I remember some kind of like mean girls kind of recognized me and were like, “Why is she talking like that?” And I was like, “Oh, God, why did I wear this accent tonight?”
Did you explain yourself?
You know what, I just moved on, because then it sounded even more pretentious, “Oh, I’m doing a movie here.” There’s no way out.
Or they will think you’re mocking them.
Exactly. So maybe they’ll just mistake me for some chick that looks like Amanda Peet, but is British.
I mean this as a compliment, I’d watch this movie as a television series. The characters were so much fun to be around.
Maybe you’ll just like my next movie. Maybe you just like me? I think we’re just on to each other.
There you go. You figured it out.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.