Lake Bell: ‘I’m great for article writers. So many puns’
Her name is manna for copy writers but cool New York actor Lake Bell turns out to be cheerfully straightforward
You couldn’t make it up. The receptionist at the hotel where writer-actor-director Lake Bell is staying is having a Manuel moment. “This is a hotel, madam,” she suggests helpfully when I ask for the showbusiness polymath.
Lake Bell, having been in possession of a very fine, conversation-starting name for some 30 years, is used to such confusion. “No, this is not a recognised location or set of coordinates,” she laughs. “But I’m great for article writers. So many puns. And when I was a kid, I was always able to translate my name in different languages. So that became a thing.”
Bell’s keen interest in language was at the heart of her much-admired 2013 directorial debut, In a World . . . , which saw a struggling voice coach (Bell) become a rival for her father, a legendary veteran of the voice-over industry.
“Since I was a little girl I’ve dabbled in mimicry,” Bell explains. Does she remember how she got started?
“Well, I remember my parents had French friends over. And I was fascinated with their accent in English and really interested to know what they said when they were speaking in French. They looked cool. They sounded cool. They were a little bit theatrical. So I started playing with my own voice. And that made people laugh. So I kept doing it.”
Ephron meets Inbetweeners
Bell is back in front of the camera as the jaded, wise-cracking heroine of Man Up, a new romantic comedy that sees her knocking back shots and bowling with Simon Pegg around various London hot-spots. The film is directed by Ben Palmer, who previously helmed The Inbetweeners Movie, yet the material feels very classical, very Nora Ephron.
“A lot of the more current romantic comedies aren’t landing because they’re not romantic comedies,” says Bell. “They’re like, ‘We’re going to be cool. We’re going to be the anti-romantic comedy’. It has to be snarky or naughty in some way. Whereas Ben gives it a very contemporary feel, but the film is right on it. It’s not ashamed of its genre.”
Bell not only nails the English accent – naturally – but the sensibility as well. “The main difference between dating over here and dating in America is drinking,” she says. “You have to work a lot harder at that here.”
Was it odd going back to taking orders on set, having previously set her career as a writer-director in motion?
“You know what? I have to give every ounce of credit to the experiences I have as an actor. Because I’ve been on the inside looking out and it’s a great vantage. Every time I do a job it’s like going back to film school. I get to sponge more information. You can take five in your trailer or you can study.”
Bell grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side: her mother is the designer Robin Bell; her father is real estate developer Harvey Siegel, the owner of New Jersey Motorsports Park. It’s a passion he has passed on to his daughter, who has been the Hollywood Reporter’s automotive contributing editor since 2011.
“I’ve always been around race tracks and car shows and beautiful cars and automotive lectures,” she says. “My dad was always explaining what was cool and what wasn’t cool. When I write about cars, I can only write what I know. It’s anecdotal. It’s about feeling. But if your car breaks down, don’t call me.”
Bell spent time in a New England boarding school and a French exchange programme before she transferred to London to the Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance. Away from home, she mastered a skill that would serve her well.
“I was in boarding school at 14,” she says. “So letters became so pivotal in my life. And my mom is a beautiful writer, so I’d have to work really hard to keep up and communicate what was going on with me. That was a great training ground. I just didn’t think I could do it as an occupation.”
Bell began her screen career in 2002 with two episodes of ER. She has worked steadily since: she was Alec Baldwin’s wife in It’s Complicated, John Hamm’s love interest in Million Dollar Arm, and a series regular on The Practice and Boston Legal.
While working on the second season of How to Make It in America, she met tattoo artist Scott Campbell. The couple married in 2013. She has subsequently graced the cover of New York Magazine, clothed in a full-body floral tattoo transfer designed by her husband. But she has yet to be inked.
“I keep trying to get him drunk, but no,” she says. “It’s weird. I’m married to one of the most famous tattoo artists in the world and I’ve got nothing. But what could I get? He has everything. I just have to live vicariously.”