Ever since breaking out as the sharp teen sleuth on Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell has cultivated a cult following with films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the upcoming Fanboys that have played off her considerable geek appeal. But soon enough, Bell's name will become common in less esoteric households: She's prepping for a slew of movies that should thrust her into the mainstream. She has a supporting role opposite Meg Ryan in Cheryl Hines' directorial debut Serious Moonlight (based on the final script from the late Adrienne Shelly), and she's starring in Disney's romantic comedy When In Rome. In the meantime, she also keeps up a hectic work schedule by splitting time between two of TV's most talked-about shows (Heroes and Gossip Girl) and doing voiceover work for the forthcoming animated films Sheepish and Astro Boy. Bell recently spoke with The A.V. Club about dealing with her many ongoing and upcoming projects, her thoughts on being at the center of "geek culture," why everyone should cut Heroes some slack, and what she thinks a Veronica Mars movie might look like.
The A.V. Club: Considering all the projects you have going on right now, it seems like you're trying to figure out what kind of parts you want to play. Have you learned to say no to things yet?
Kristen Bell: Yeah, definitely, though I think I'll always be figuring out what parts I want to play, because I want to play all parts. I'm a very hungry actress. Someone once told me it's more important what you turn down than what you take, and I think that rings true, especially when you're trying to make decisions about how you want to be viewed. It's hard, because I also want to have fun, and if there's a project that's super-small or low-budget or silly but it happens to have friends involved, I'll always take it, because my number-one priority is that I want to have fun with my career.
AVC: Are there any kind of roles you consciously avoid?
KB: The only thing I consciously avoid is playing the victim. I think women are portrayed as the victim in so many things, and I really like women with strength—although I feel now I may have gone overboard by playing so many strong, sassy women. [Laughs.] I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I just don't ever want to play the girlfriend. You know, the supporting character in the background who just sort of comes in and goes, "Oh, shucks." It's just a boring character. I find that more recently in the last five or six years, writers are starting to lean on women, with the help of things like Buffy [The Vampire Slayer] and Alias, and the inception from TV and into film where there's a little more depth than just a girl who's looking for love in a romantic comedy.
AVC: You just played a young woman looking for love in a romantic comedy—for Disney, no less. Was that an awkward adjustment?
KB: No, because I liked the role a lot, and it had a lot more depth. I mean clearly, it's a romantic comedy, so yeah, she's looking for love, but I felt it was real. I felt like that girl was very similar to my own personality. You have to show a woman that's real. You can't keep showing a woman who just keeps playing the victim or who's way too hard. I mean, Heroes is a little different, because there they're fighting for the sake of the world, so they can be as mean as they want. But there has to be this balance of reality for a woman. I don't want to play women who just serve a purpose for the script.
AVC: You've described yourself as a cynic in the past. How would you sell When In Rome to a cynic like yourself?
KB: [Laughs.] Well, first I'd probably say, "Don't see it if you don't want to, because I don't really care." But I would say that it made me laugh being on set every day. There are a ton of great comedians in it. Part of the reason I took it is because there's such a stigma about romantic comedies—and it's there because it's true, usually. I was talking to someone about this just last night: Why are there no movies that both guys and girls enjoy going to see? You're either going to see Bride Wars or you're going to see Righteous Kill. There's no in-between anymore. Why can't it be marketed to both people? Human beings are in this movie, they're of both male and female gender, and they're funny. This movie has a whole bunch of funny male comedians, and that balances out the fact that it's a romantic comedy and makes it more just a comedy.
AVC: One of your co-producers on Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Rodney Rothman, once said you'd "cornered the market on losers."
KB: I've cornered the market on losers?! Wait, does that mean I'm a loser? I'll punch Rodney's face out!
AVC: He presumably meant your fan base, like you're the go-to girl for loser guys. You're at the center of the kind of "geek universe" seen in Fanboys.
KB: Oh… You know, whenever I hear that, I take it as such a compliment. The bottom line is, everyone's a loser in their own right. Here's why I like geek culture: People like what they like because they like it. They're not trying to fit into any mainstream likes or dislikes. You want to dress up like a Star Wars character and go to Comic-Con? Do it, if that's what makes you happy. People might look at you as super-weird, but if that's your obsession, go for it. I do like a lot of mainstream stuff, and sometimes I also like different stuff. I take what Rodney said as a compliment, because I tend to always root for the underdog. And if the underdog is rooting for me, then we're going to take over the world. So watch out.
AVC: Is there a particular actor's career that you'd like to emulate?
KB: Wow, there's so many. I really respect what Anne Hathaway is doing right now, because I think she's so genuinely funny, but I also think that there's a backbone to her acting that we're just starting to see. I saw Rachel Getting Married, and I think she's just fantastic in it. I think Claire Danes sort of had a sense of that in the movies she started doing in her early 20s. I've always idolized Amy Poehler, because I think she's the best of the best as far as female comedy, and Kristen Wiig. Probably though, if I had to look at an example of an entire career, I'd say Catherine O'Hara.
AVC: How do you feel about the way your character is developing this season on Heroes?
KB: I'm really, really pleased with what they wrote this year. Last year it seemed like I came on so fierce that there wasn't a ton of emotional depth, and this year they really nailed that, and they wrote a lot of flashbacks, so I interact with characters in years past. You realize how integral she is to the events happening now, and I get to work with a whole bunch of different people on the show, which is so interesting and lucky for me, because a lot of times you only have scenes with one or two people for a whole season, even though there's about 15 season regulars. A lot of times, you don't even see the other actors.
AVC: The show has been pretty ambiguous about whether the characters can trust Elle. How do you see her?
KB: I personally wouldn't trust her. But there's a part of her I would trust. She's damaged. Seriously damaged. I want to trust her, but I don't think that I do.
AVC: You were a fan of Heroes before you came on. How do you feel about the recent criticisms that the show has lost its way?
KB: I think everybody deserves a get-out-of-jail-free card for last year, with the writers' strike and the nerves. No good comes out of concentrating on the bad. But I think people might be saying that because they haven't seen all of this season yet. This season is really good. It's comparable to season one—which, start to finish, I think is up there with Lost and 24 as one of the best first seasons I've ever seen. That's what hooked me onto the show, which was why I wanted to be a part of it. Season one was just amazing. And season two may have had its bumps, but they're bringing it back now.
AVC: You're also pulling double-duty on Gossip Girl. Do you see your role as the narrator on that show as a fully realized character?
KB: Not really. I see her as the entity that is the Internet. It's like she's reading your diary—or your Sweet Valley High Slam Book, like when I was in school. These websites, there's so much catty interaction. She's the voice of evil.
AVC: Websites are evil?
KB: [Laughs.] Not all of them. But when they involve talking about your friends and being really catty, I don't think they're not evil.
AVC: Would you be willing to fully take on that character if the creators ever decided that the "Gossip Girl" should be exposed?
KB: Absolutely! I'd do anything Josh Schwartz wanted me to. But I don't see it ever going that way. I think it's not meant to be interpreted like that. People can interpret it however they want, but I think it's really just supposed to be the opposite of the voice of reason. Like how usually the narrator is the voice of reason, or the conscience. She's the opposite of that.
AVC: Gossip Girl's main characters are almost exclusively the sort of spoiled rich kids that made life so hard for Veronica Mars. Do you see Gossip Girl as promoting unhealthy ideals about wealth and privilege—the sort of stuff that the Veronica Mars types of the world have to deal with?
KB: Probably. [Laughs.] But you can argue anything into the ground about videogames and violence and all these things, and the bottom line is, you have to be a smart individual. Is Gossip Girl really promoting good values and honesty and sincerity? Probably not. But it is a really fun show to watch. People dream about being the upper crust and having money at their disposal and being those kids, and that's why it's interesting. Just don't let your impressionable 7-year-old watch it.
AVC: Do you feel like you've finally escaped the shadow of Veronica Mars?
KB: Well, I never really felt there was a need to escape. I loved that show, and I don't mind if people reference me with it for the rest of my life. I really don't. I've definitely grown, and I think I've done enough stuff that people might look at me only as Veronica Mars. But honestly, I really don't mind if they do.
AVC: So if Rob Thomas turned in a Veronica Mars movie script—as he's been hinting he might—it's safe to assume you'd do it.
KB: Shit, yes! Rob works on the same lot where Heroes is filmed, and I actually went to his office just the other day. Honestly, I was just planning to rearrange his desk and freak him out. [Laughs.] But he was in there, so we talked a lot about it. I'm totally down to do it.
AVC: What do you think it would look like?
KB: The desk or the script?
AVC: Uh… Whichever is funnier.
KB: [Laughs.] Well, I think since I'm old now—though I always have been old—it would definitely be her in a college setting. But I don't know, really. I leave it up to the experts. I don't really challenge anything Rob has to say, because he's always right. I learned that very early on. He's just a brilliant writer, and people love whatever he puts out. It may not be the most popular thing, but it's definitely got an obsessive following. No one's a casual fan of Veronica Mars. Everybody's wildly obsessed with it, because Rob can hook people. Anyway… I think it'll probably be Veronica in some sort of FBI setting. We originally made that pilot, or what was really just a very short, 10-minute presentation of Veronica in the FBI. When [The CW] said they weren't going to pick up the show, they said, "Well, you can have this amount of money to make us a presentation on what you might do with it if you could change it a little bit." So even though we probably would have ended up calling it something different, we put Veronica in the FBI. I think the movie would be something along those lines.
AVC: If you never landed a role as iconic as Veronica again, would you be okay with that?
KB: I think I'm lucky to have had it when I did. By iconic, you mean with that many people loving it? Because we really didn't have that huge of an audience, but we had the best audience. I guess I'd say no, because I want to do stuff like that my whole life. I'd much rather be involved with a show or a film that everyone loved because they were crazy for it, as opposed to something that everybody just, you know, went to see.