HOLLYWOOD — Remember high school? Kristen Bell does. In the late 1990s, she attended a small Catholic high school in Royal Oak, Michigan, just outside Detroit, before becoming a TV and movie star (Veronica Mars, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).
“I was a very normal kid,” the blond, brown-eyed actress, recalls. “I wasn’t really picked on. I was very outgoing and pretty balanced, but I certainly had insecurities.”
Petite and afflicted with a minor lazy eye condition, she could have been the target of mean girls, but she was focused on drama and music, so she didn’t have time to allow people to intimidate her. Plus, she had a friend who was bigger and could defend her from those who dared pick on her.
“There certainly was the hierarchy that exists everywhere,” she recalls of her close-knit school. “There wasn’t the stereotypical bully or mean girl though, because the consequences were too great. You couldn’t push someone in the hallway and not expect to see them again.”
Still, she knows how people’s high school experience — whether they were the bully, the victim, the popular kid or the nerd — can affect them well into adulthood. So when she read Moe Jelline’s script for the comedy You Again, a comedy about a young woman who discovers the girl who bullied her throughout high school is engaged to marry her brother, she could completely relate, and believed audiences would relate too.
“It’s a story that translates to everybody,” Bell says. “Everybody’s known a mean girl. What this movie points out is that sometimes even mean girls have mean girls.”
As Marni, Bell starts to revert back to her nerdy teenaged self when Joanna, the pretty, popular high school classmate shows up on the arm of her brother years later, and the couple announces their engagement. As told in flashbacks, Joanna (Odette Yustman) was merciless toward bespectacled, acne-scarred Marni back in the day, teasing and humiliating her endlessly. Years later, Joanna appears to have completely forgotten her past transgressions — or has she?
Bell also liked that You Again offered an opportunity to work again with Andy Fickman, who convinced her to move to Hollywood after he directed her in the offbeat musical satire, Reefer Madness. (He later directed her in the Emmy winning Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical, which aired on Showtime in 2005.)
“I usually won’t question anything if Andy is involved because I know how much fun I’ll have on the set,” she says in her perky way. “I don’t care if he’s directing PSAs for a theme park in the Midwest, I would be involved in it.”
She describes Fickman as a “ball of positive energy” whose directing style is “actor-friendly” and collaborative.
“Even if he thinks it’s not going to work, he’ll still let you try something,” she says.
One suggestion he nixed was Bell’s idea to give her character, Marni, even more pimples as a high schooler than she ended up having in the film.
“I wanted white on the end of the pimples,” she says, almost conspiratorially. “I had some killer whiteheads in high school so I wanted Marni to look even worse than she does, but he said ‘no.’”
You Again also afforded Bell an opportunity to work with a couple of Hollywood legends: Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and octogenarian “It” girl Betty White.
Curtis plays Bell’s mom, who as it turns out was intimidated by Joanna’s aunt (played by Weaver) when they were in high school, and their old rivalry heats up as the wedding plans get under way. White plays Bell’s sweet but goofy grandmother, Bunny. Getting to work with multiple generations of female actresses with well-honed comedic chops was a welcome reward for Bell.
“It’s so few and far between that you read a really good female-driven comedy that has so many feisty and sassy women,” she says. “When I heard that Sigourney and Jamie Lee were going to be in this, I didn’t know what to do. I was off my rocker. I was like, ‘I can’t believe this.’
They’re awesome women and it was just really interesting to work with them as peers. And what can I say about Betty? She’s just always the funniest person in the room.”
Bell has been on a streak of headlining successful feature comedies since her popular TV series, Veronica Mars, ended in 2007 after three seasons, first on UPN and then the WB. In addition to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, she also starred in Couples Retreat and most recently, When in Rome. (She reprised her Sarah Marshall character for a cameo in Get Him to the Greek.) Though it may seem she’s been working nonstop, she says she feels she has sufficient down time.
“I’ve had spans of two or three months where I didn’t have any work and I thought no one’s going to ever hire me again. Start digging my grave,” she says. “There’s that weird insecurity that swirls around in your mind that never goes away.”
Bell isn’t sitting around with nothing to do now. She wrapped Burlesque, in which she co-stars with Cher and Christina Aguilera. The music-filled drama hits theaters Nov. 24.
Bell, who stays fit by running daily, says learning to dance for Burlesque was a challenge.
“Dancers work harder than anyone — fact,” she says. “I can look at a script, read a scene two or three times and memorize it because that muscle is trained. Dancing is a muscle of not just using the tools in your body but memorizing the choreography. But they were really supportive and I had a lot of rehearsal time. And the women I worked with — I keep working with really good groups of women.”
She also has a supporting role in Wes Craven’s upcoming Scream 4, and she has resumed her recurring role as the unseen narrator on the hit series, Gossip Girl.
She next stars opposite Drew Barrymore in the adventure drama Everybody Loves Whales, which is shooting in Alaska.
She also is engaged to actor Dax Shepard, who stars on the hit TV series Parenthood. Though they co-starred in When in Rome, Bell says she doesn’t expect to work with him anytime soon. They haven’t yet set a wedding date.
“We’re just enjoying being engaged,” she says, smiling. — Nielsen Entertainment News Wire