Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954) is westernized as The Magnificent Seven. Yul Brynner plays Chris, a mercenary hired to protect a Mexican farming village from its annual invasion by bandit Calvera (Eli Wallach). As Elmer Bernstein’s unforgettable theme music (later immortalized as the Marlboro Man leitmotif) blasts away in the background, Chris rounds up six fellow soldiers of fortune to help him form a united front against the bandits. The remaining magnificent six are played by Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and (the one that everybody forgets) Brad Dexter. Though jam-packed with action, William Roberts’s screenplay pauses long enough to flesh out each of its characters, allowing the audience to pick their own favorites. The Magnificent Seven was followed by three sequels, not to mention dozens of imitations.~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Kristen Bell graduated from New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied musical theatre. She made her Broadway debut in 2001, originating the role of Becky Thatcher in the short-lived The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In 2002, she was in the revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on Broadway, starring Laura Linney and Liam Neeson. In film, she broke out with David Mamet’s Spartan and after starring roles in hit TV shows Deadwood, Veronica Mars and Heroes, she appears next in Judd Apatow-produced comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where she breaks the heart of leading man Jason Segel…
Q. Sarah Marshall is not really a bad person, right?
A: Absolutely, and that was one of the things that stood out about this script for me. Typically in a romantic comedy, you tell the audience very early on who they should root for and who the villain is. But Jason wrote some very three-dimensional characters that are allowed to explain themselves. They’re unapologetic but also vulnerable, and the reason I liked Sarah so much is that while initially you might view her as the villain, Jason gave her quite a few scenes where she’s able to explain herself so you have sympathy for her.
Q. Have you found yourself in a similar situation to Sarah in real life?
A: Not really, although I have been on both ends of a break-up, and no matter which end you’re on, it’s miserable. It sucks. And the only thing that can get you through that is realizing that it’s important to choose a person who brings out the best in you. But it’s hard to apply. In the film, Sarah does not bring out the best Peter, and Peter does not bring out the best Sarah. Aldous doesn’t bring out the best in Sarah either; you have to look for someone who makes you like yourself. Peter’s miserable, and that should be telltale sign. Jason did a great thing in writing a script that shows how broken Sarah was. If you look a little deeper, she’s not making the right choices; she’s with a man [Aldous Snow, played by Russell Brand] who’s completely self obsessed and who doesn’t treat her very well, and she’s not listened to.
Q. And if, like Sarah, your professional life takes a bad turn, that makes things much harder…
A: Absolutely. Especially because as actors it shows that it’s such a vanity-driven profession. Your work is your validity, and if you have a couple of shit projects come out, you think that you’re not worth anything right now.
Q. Was the improvisation in the film very nerve-racking?
A: Sh*t, yes! It was very intimidating. I had two auditions and when they cast me I thought, ‘Oh, they’ve made a terrible mistake. I don’t know how I fooled them. I can’t do this.’ Basically all my insecurities came out, but then during rehearsals I realized that it’s a very collaborative group, and I say that with the utmost honesty. You can’t have good improv if you’re not with a supportive group. I got stunted sometimes, and I’d look at Jason or Nick [Stoller, the Director] and say, ‘I don’t know where to go with this’, and they’d throw out ideas. That was extremely encouraging.
Q. So how does the process work?
A: The one rule I’ve heard from Judd [Apatow]’s writers is that everything has to be reality-based. Like in real life Jason had a naked break-up. And if it’s based in reality it’s less broad and more organic. So we got together during a two-week rehearsal period where we did all the script on camera, and a bunch of unscripted scenes, and then Jason went back and made changes.
Q. Do you and Jason practice lots of arguing?
A: Jason and I fought on camera for hours, just making stuff up off the top of our heads about what could have gone wrong. We tried to make that as organic as possible so that when he went back to the script it was seamless for each character, because you were allowed to bring out a little of your own personality. And I hesitate when I say that because my character is so annoying, and I’m not sure that is me! But I do think with the actress part of her, I didn’t base that on anyone, but I did a serious inventory and thought, ‘What if my deepest insecurities were amplified? And what if I was unaware?’
Q. Tell us about working with Russell Brand; he’s very popular here in Ireland…
A: I know, he tells me all the time! He was dumbfounded that he wasn’t recognized in Hawaii. He said he felt like Tom Cruise, who’d gone to another planet. He said he felt like he was becoming unglued! I had heard a great deal about Russell, his reputation and his appetites and I would love what I’m about to say to unravel his reputation, but I think it’ll only add to his appeal. When we did all our sex scenes, he was extremely protective of me. I was just wearing pasties [transparent breast protectors], and because there were so many crew around, he was always very kind. He’d make sure the sheet was always way up, and that I was tucked up like a burrito. He was very careful, although he knew that I’d probably rip his nuts off if he stepped the wrong way.
Q. Does he have a big future in America? He’s great in this film, but he is playing ‘Russell Brand’…
A: Oh, I think he does have a big future, and I think a lot of American actors have succeeded in that way. If you think of the Judd Apatow troupe, they’ve broken the mold of the everyman. Think of Jonah Hill or Jason Segel; you wouldn’t class them off as movie stars, but because of their talent they rise to the top. I think that he might alarm some Americans, because he wears pants tighter than most actresses and has more jewellery, and looks like Edward Scissorhands, but I think America will be entertained.
Q. Tell us about your next projects: you’ve completed Fanboys, right?
A: I have, although I have no information on when the film might come out. The release has been pushed and pushed and I heard that they’re planning on doing two DVDs released together. But I’m not sure when they’re planning the theatrical release.
Q. And after that? Back to Heroes?
A: I’ll go back to Heroes for a bit, and I’m talking to Matt Lucas and David Walliams about doing something for Little Britain. I’m a huge fan. It’s genius. I know Little Britain is getting an HBO show, so that’s cool. With Little Britain, I really pitched myself to Matt and David – they had no idea who I was!
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is in Irish cinemas Friday, April 25th.