In a World... director Lake Bell shows off her vocal talents

After a decade paying her dues, writer, director, actor Lake Bell’s has made a big splash with her first feature about Hollywood’s voice-over community

 

Why did nobody think of it before? The average person is, on the average day, bombarded with voice-overs. They appear over commercials, within continuity segments and – most enormously – as part of movie trailers. The doings of specialist in that field cry out for a sitcom or a movie.

Lake Bell, a busy actor, director and, yes, voice-over artist, thought the same and has now given us a very amusing comedy entitled In a World…. The late Don LaFontaine, dean of voice-over artists, made those three words famous in a series of trailers beginning in the early 1960s. Or is that a myth? We think we remember him saying “In a world where monkeys rule the planet” and so forth, but maybe we’re just remembering the Simpsons parodies.

“No, no,” Lake says. “He actually wrote those words. He was a copywriter and legend has it that he once stood in for a voice-over artist who was missing and the movie trailer was changed forever. But, I can assure you that he said those words. You can find YouTube montages. It maybe came to be regarded as a bit of a cliché.”

Bell’s feature debut imagines that a major studio has decided to return to the LaFontaine style for its latest science-fiction movie. There is some kerfuffle in this male-dominated environment when Lake’s character, daughter to a very prominent voice-over master, becomes the favourite for the gig.

So when did it finally strike her that the “voice-over community” (they really do call themselves that) could inspire a decent romantic comedy?

“All that happened sort of organically,” she says. “I was always attuned to my own voice. I guess I first learned how to manipulate it as a dinner-party trick for my family. It seemed like the ultimate sort of acting. You are not tied by race, class – or even gender. You can be anything. So, when I came to Hollywood, I tried to manoeuvre my way in and discovered it wasn’t so easy. But I found an industry full of the most amazingly colourful characters.”

That comes across. Featuring a number of prominent voice-over actors – including the sonorous Fred Melamed from the Coens’ A Serious Man – the film takes place in an environment characterised by gossip, paranoia and backbiting.

“A multitude of industry cronies came up and said: ‘You really nailed it.’ It really is a cut-throat world,” she says. “The reception from the voice-over community has been very warm. Nobody has ever talked about them before. That is important to them. There is a great sense of humour there.”

Lake Bell springs from a well-off New York family. Daughter of an interior
designer and a real -estate developer, she studied at a prestigious liberal-arts
college before making her way to the Rose Bruford Theatre School in south London. She maintains that she never really had a back-up plan. To allow the possibility of defeat would be to invite its calling at your door. After her return from England, she secured a few supporting parts and eventually grabbed a recurring role in Boston Legal.

“My upbringing was typical in the sense that it had all the dysfunction you expect from any divorced family,” she laughs. “There are certain tropes that are universal. There are four divorces in my family. All that provided me with humour and the material for therapy.”

The two things do overlap, of course.

“Oh yeah. I always think that therapy is the prime writing tool that we have. Writing informs my therapy and therapy informs my writing.”

With all this in mind, it’s hard to avoid viewing In a World… as autobiography. In the picture, Bell plays a struggling actor in a very plausible version of thespian Los Angeles. The character’s problems must surely have been Bell’s problems.

“It’s not exactly autobiographical,” she says. “I don’t have the same unfettered neuroses. Needless to say, I am embarrassed about how harmonious the thematics are. That’s to say she finds her voice literally just as I was finding my voice as a film-maker. That may be a bit cutesy. I admit that. But there is some truth there.”

Bell has, indeed, found her voice. After achieving modest success as an actor, she is now properly celebrated as a writer and director. Financed independently, In a World… won best screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival and was subsequently picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Worldwide. This is good going for a first feature on an eccentric subject that was made for under $2 million.

“That was all unbelievable,” she says. “Sundance is like the Olympics of independent film. As a kid, you want to make people proud. And they were like the final people that I still wanted to make proud in my life. I got emotional just thinking that we were accepted. Then, at the end, we were just drinking beer at the back. We never thought we could win anything. When do comedies win these things?”

Bell continues to slave. She will shortly appear alongside Jon Hamm in Craig Gillespie’s Million-Dollar Arm. And what’s this? It says here that she is the motoring correspondent of the Hollywood Reporter. What is an entertainment trade paper doing with a motoring correspondent and why is she doing the job?

“Here’s the skinny on that,” she says. “I was, indeed, a contributing automotive columnist for the Hollywood Reporter. My dad was involved in motor racing and it was a way of connecting with him. I get crazy cars to test drive. So, that’s great.”

She’s a good sport, this Lake Bell. But then you can tell that from looking at her film. At one point, her character’s sister identifies Jason O’Mara’s Irish accent as the sexiest around. Please expand.

“I am an accent lover and it is an accent I find alluring,” she laughs. “Needless to say, I thought Jason annihilated it. I was in the UK for four years and I never made it over. That was bad. But it always seemed so exotic.”

Fishing a little, I suggest that Colin Farrell – whom she is reported to have “dated” – might like to invite her over sometime. Lake, who married last year, refuses to rise to the bait.

“I’ll make an excuse to come over some time. I really will.”

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