Well, it’s got to be difficult when you’re a gifted comedienne who keeps ending up in insipid romcoms like When In Rome. Paul Byrne offers the blonde beauty a shoulder to cry on.
Okay, she’s a little too cute for her own good – blonde hair, pocket-sized, button nose, gold-star-on-her-copy smile – but Kristen Bell is more than just your average Hollywood babe.
As anyone who saw her breakthrough TV series, Veronica Mars, will testify. Or her fine turn as the titular hottie in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Or (deep breath), Couples Retreat, Heroes, Deadwood and Fanboys.
So, why is it that Kristen Bell so often ends up in bad movies? Incredibly bad movies. Such as the Vince Vaughn-spearheaded Couples Retreat. And now, Bell has got another romcom dud to add to her CV, with this week’s When In Rome. Who’s reading Ms. Bell’s scripts for her, Stevie Wonder?
In When In Rome, Bell plays New York museum curator Beth, getting ready for her first big show and heading out to her sister’s wedding in Italy first. Spotting that hunky best man Nick (Josh Duhamel) is already with someone, Beth, naturally, gets hammered and ends up picking up coins out of the Fountain Of Love. As luck, and magic, would have it, the five men who threw the coins are now madly, deeply in love with Beth. Luckily, Nick is one of them. But the other four (Danny DeVito’s sausage salesman and Jon Heder quarterwit amongst them) are now acting like Pepe Le Pew in heat, making it very difficult for true love to find a path. Or for Beth to keep her job at the Guggenheim.
PAUL BYRNE: So, how does one prepare for a movie like this? Watch Roman Holiday every day? Spend a few months living La Dolce Vita?
KRISTEN BELL: Well, it’s always good to watch a few Italian classics, no matter what kind of movie you’re making. In this case, it was more about the comedy than the romance, and so that meant we were looking to the screwball classics, the romantic farces, those wonderful old movies where reality was allowed to take a back seat and the fun just took hold of the steering wheel. You can’t approach a movie like this all that seriously…
This is true. So, what was it that attracted you to When In Rome? The city? The travel? The leading man?
All of the above. Plus the script, the director, Mark Steven Johnson, having people like Danny DeVito running around after me. There was a lot to like here, but, most of all, it was Josh. How could any woman resist having Josh Duhamel fall in love with them?
Well, not Black Eye Pea Fergie, that’s for sure, the two of them being happily married for a year and a half now. And let’s not forget that the legendary Don Johnson pops by, uncredited, as your dad. And you’ve also got a comic genius like Will Arnett alongside a true Hollywood icon such as Angelica Huston. How the hell did you guys attract such a star-studded cast?
I think all of them knew it was just a fun, sunny movie, and that’s attractive to everyone, from the comic genius to the true Hollywood icon. Actually, it was a bit intimidating, supposedly leading a movie when you’ve got people like that on the cast list. I just had to pretend that I was dreaming, to be honest, because these are people who I happily admit to being far greater talents than me. It wasn’t difficult looking kinda shocked and stunned throughout most of this movie because, throughout most of this movie, as I looked around at the people I was working with, I was shocked and stunned.
You’ve come a long way, baby, since playing Teenage Girl in 1998’s Polish Wedding. Does it feel like an overnight sensation, or has it been a long, hard slog to this point?
I don’t think I’ve proven myself to be any kind of sensation just yet, but, yeah, on the one hand, everything seems to have happened incredibly fast, and on the other, I can feel every single step forward weigh heavily on my bones. It’s definitely been a lot of fun, and a lot of learning, and a lot of luck, mixed up with some really hard work. I’m always aware of the fact that I’m very, very lucky to have gotten as far as I have, but I’m also determined to keep on looking for that perfect script, to give that perfect performance. I’m really happy with a lot of the work I’ve done, and not so happy with some of it.
Can you give me some examples of the latter?
Oh, I think it should be pretty obvious. The stuff that didn’t quite work, that I didn’t quite get right, or the whole thing just went off-kilter. For example, I’m sure I could have done a better job of Teenage Girl in Polish Wedding if I was as experienced at this acting lark as I am now. I would have stolen the show; ad-libbed a few objections at the wedding, started a fight in the background, that kind of thing. It’s all about making the most of your moment…
One of your finest moments was playing the title role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and you pop up again as Brit rocker Aldous Snow’s beloved ex- in the spin-off offering Get Him To The Greek. Do you have a preference between the mildly subversive-verging-on-juvenile Judd Apatow offerings, or do you lean more towards such mainstream fare as When In Rome?
Naturally, I’m attracted to both, when they’re done well. I wouldn’t be a snob about it, and say, oh, the subversive stuff is all that matters, as I think the mainstream can offer up just as many wonderful films as any other genre. You look at those movies that have defined a generation, and they tend to be mainstream. I think that’s the most subversive act, getting a dark movie into the mainstream, and Judd Apatow and the gang have managed to do that, with Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up and the rest.
Ultimately though, it’s just down to a comedy being a funny, the romance being romantic, the thriller being thrilling – if you connect to the audience, that’s all that really matters.
Not that the customer is always right. The great Veronica Mars would still be on the air otherwise…
That’s the tricky thing about television – if the pay-off isn’t fairly immediate, the funding stops. With a movie, once you get to make it, it can always find an audience later on. It’s been made, it’s out there, and it will have to stand or fall on its own merits. A great TV show mightn’t get to establish a big enough audience before it gets pulled. That’s always been the way, and certainly Veronica Mars had that battle on its hands…
Upcoming, you’re the uncredited voice of Gossip Girl; there’s You Again, alongside rising young star Betty White; playing Supergirl for co-directors Elizabeth Banks and Griffin Dunne’s untitled comedy; co-starring with Chistina Aguilera in Burlesque, and lending your voice again, this time to the animated comedy Sheepish. So, another mixture of the subversive and the mainstream there?
Oh, absolutely. The trick is blurring the line between the two enough so that you’re never quite sure which is which…
Words – Paul Byrne
When In Rome hits Irish cinemas this Friday Get Him To The Greek opens on Wednesday