Right now Lake Bell is known as a comedic actress. She is and she isn’t. She’s done plenty of drama, and not just before she broke through into the mainstream with the voiceover comedy “In a World…”, which she wrote, directed and starred in. And she’s done plenty of it since. She even stars in a traumatizing thriller, the new “No Escape,” in which she and Owen Wilson play parents who arrive in an Asian country (they filmed in Thailand) right as a violent coup turns the city into a bloodbath, forcing them to turn into action stars. But Bell likes that she was cast because she wasn’t your typical action star, or an action star at all.
First off: Thai street food is legendary. Did you get much of a chance to eat?
The food is phenomenal. When I first got there I was like, “I’m not going to eat the street food because it’s going to be dangerous and my body won’t be able to digest it.” By the end of it I was like, “Can I get one of those guys from that truck?” I got less squeamish as the longer I was there. And there are fruits that are like Dr. Seuss characters — as if from the brain of a small child. “Let’s make a fruit that looks like a hairy animal that pops open and then there’s a mushy bit inside.” It makes no sense.
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You did the indie “Black Rock,” which is partly an action film too. How is it changing gears into action? Did you do your own stunts, like jumping across buildings?
Yeah, we totally did that stuff. Obviously we had doubles if necessary, but they wanted to show us doing everything. Part of what I think is unique about this movie is they’re real people. The way we attack these stunts and how we navigate each event is not clean. It’s very messy, it’s very realistic. We’re not all of a sudden superheroes, where we know how to jump. We don’t know kung fu out of nowhere. It’s almost an emotional action picture, where you’re invested in these people and their lives. They’re not perfect. They have interpersonal problems. Annie and Jack have some things in their marriage they’re figuring out. It’s all very real.
It’s interesting to have a very serious, harrowing movie starring two people mostly, though not exclusively, known for comedy. Did that make it easier, that you’re both funny people?
Well, there weren’t a lot of laughs. We didn’t joke around at all on the movie, which is funny because if you think I did a movie with Owen Wilson it would be a laugh riot. But I feel like I know him in a serious way. [Laughs] We’re cried together and yelled at each other. But we didn’t joke around a lot. All of a sudden we’re on this junket and it’s like, “Oh, you’re kind of funny!” [Laughs]
This was one of your first big roles after “In a World…” It’s strange that someone saw that and thought, “Put her in a serious action movie!”
I know, I know! [Laughs] That’s why it’s so badass, because they were like, “We’re doing things our own way.” I’m super-thankful they had the vision to say, “You know what, this person, because she’s unexpected in this action picture, becomes an interesting choice, as opposed to what we’ve seen before.” Sometimes you have to be bold in your casting.
You’ve done plenty of drama in the pat. Do you feel you have to fight for these roles?
You know, I feel lucky that I don’t feel too pigeonholed. I do jump around a bit, whether it’s “Black Rock” or “Wet Hot American Summer” or a British romantic comedy [“Man Up”] or directing my own picture. I’m getting away with that. And now I’m a mom. I’m into lots of hats.
And having done “In a World…” tells people that you’re in control of your own work.
I don’t get super freaked-out waiting for the phone to ring. I never got into that scary syndrome. I’m like, “The phone doesn’t have to ring, I’m working on s— anyway.” It’s like, “Don’t call me.” [Laughs] If you’re an actor you can sit on the sidelines and make yourself crazy. I have such a love for writing. It’s such a happy place for me. I can’t wait to get into a room alone and just be able to do that. It’s such a privilege. And now I’m a new mom, so time management is my biggest challenge right now — in order to be a really good mom and a present mom and also be a present creator and director and actor and wife. That’s a lot to juggle.
How do you find the time to do that stuff? Do you write at night?
I used to have a different system. Now that I have a baby it’s different. The terms always change. I’m still figuring it out. I can’t write from home because I’m way too obsessed with hanging out with my kid. I have to leave the premises in order to plug into a different brain. Writing for me is like taking care of myself. It’s indulging in myself and allowing myself to create character and luxuriate in the fun of writing. I feel badly working sometimes — “Oh, I should be parenting right now.” [Laughs] But then I realize that to be a good parent I have to take care of myself and accept that I need help. That’s all part of growing up and figuring out how to juggle it all. So it’s a work in progress!
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge