Pulse of a New Generation
By Kirk Miller
If you’re a fan of the show Veronica Mars, you’re likely a passionate fan of the show’s star, Kristen Bell. Actually, forget passionate: You might be obsessive. But if you’ve never seen the mystery-drama (it is, after all, on lowly UPN), the lovely 25-year-old Michigan native will probably be less familiar to you. Her work on stage and in movies has leaned toward the quirkier side, with no room for the usual twentysomething romantic-comedy or summer blockbuster.
You see, despite her all-American good looks, Kristen likes edge. She can play sexy and damaged in a David Mamet movie, then do a musical comedy about pot, and, finally, go to Romania and shoot a remake of one of the most puzzling Asian horror films ever made (see sidebar). And, today, the former Tisch student is going to relive her college days, if only for a few hours out of her hectic Hollywood life.
CO-ED: You had an audition today; how’d that go?
KRISTEN BELL: It went really well. I get so few days off in Los Angeles that I get really excited when I get to try out for something cool. You really have to book your hiatus in advance. It’s usually April to July.
You’re coming from an audition this morning, you’re here and then you’re on Jimmy Kimmel tonight. Is this a normal day for you?
Actually, this is my day off.
I’m really sorry.
Actually, I’m not sorry.
Yeah, it’s a hard life, right? (Laughs) It’s pretty normal. The thing is, while it’s about acting, it’s also about the business, you know? That’s why you do shoots like this: You keep getting yourself out there, you go to meetings ... even though you have a show, it doesn’t mean anything. My show, knock on wood, is excellent and looks like it’ll be around for awhile, but if it gets cancelled ... there’s a million other girls in my category, who are talented and fit my physical description. You have to stay on top of it. So that’s why, on my off-days, I try to meet with as many people as I can, show interest in other projects, read scripts and all that. It’s a business of selling yourself.
You ever have fun?
A lot of this is fun. I like working with my friends. I actually had a housewarming and party for my friend’s 30th b-day party ... but my second year of this series has been a lot easier; I’ve been able to relax a lot more. Everybody says the first year of a one-hour series is the most hellish thing you’ll ever experience. Especially with my being the title character, it was the worst thing ever. You’re demanded in every scene, and you’re demanded in every bit of publicity they’re doing for the show. It’s really draining, but the second year you get into a flow, you learn how to work together and you get in a groove. And we’re working with some awesome people this year....
Which reminds me, what’s [new Veronica Mars co-star] Steve Guttenberg really like?
“Gute” is hysterical. The first day I met him, we were talking all things Napoleon Dynamite. He quotes that movie like no one I’ve ever heard.
That’s … kind of scary. Your show, Veronica Mars, has a rabid fan base, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer has called it simply the “best show ever.” But is it hard being on a show that doesn’t have the same cultural impact of, say, Lost or Desperate Housewives?
I actually prefer it because, as an actor, you always want work. When you get into TV, you do a pilot you hope it goes for five years. There are two types of viewers ... wow, I’m making no sense here.
I’m an editor. I’ll make you make sense.
[Laughs] Okay. There are two types of viewers — the ones who are like “oh, what’s that show?” and the others who are obsessed. If you’ve seen it, you’re violent about it; our fans are crazy and awesome. I’d rather be on a show with a small audience that loves us than be on a huge network and just be a show that everybody watches because everybody else does. I know our fans LOVE us. That’s really cool. There’s something special about being a cult thing.
Does it ever get scary?
When we go to signings, we’ll have 65-year-olds come up to us as much as 8-year-olds do. Our creator, Rob Thomas, has a disturbingly good way of telling a 17-year-old narrative. He does it perfectly.
You’re 25. Is it harder to play someone who’s still in high school?
There’s so much that happens in a teenager’s life, when you’re between 17 and 18. You fall in love; you explore, sexually; you figure out who you are, your opinions; you rebel against your parents; and then decide whether that was the right decision. You’re creating who you are, and that’s always more interesting to play a character going through that.
At this point, I’d love to expand and play an older character, but why would I jinx myself? There aren’t a lot of people who are 25 who can still honestly look 18. And while I can, I’m going to do it (laughs). If I wake up one day and I’ve got a ton of wrinkles on my face, I’ll reconsider.
GOING TO COLLEGE
Why did you attend NYU/Tisch, an acting school?
I’d done a lot of community theater as a kid. Actually, I started out as a singer. I was trained operatically as a soprano and then I discovered musical theater. I spent my first few years at NYU studying in the musical-theater program. I still have such a place in my heart for cheesy musicals; I jam to Guys and Dolls in my car, you know? I’m not ashamed of that.
How far are you from graduating?
Eight credits, I think. NYU demands a Monday, Wednesday and Friday studio credit, and you have to be there. I’ve done everything else; I just need attendance! It’s a little frustrating. But I started getting work and ... actually, my dad, who is a news director, would like it if I finished. He always told me how important he thought an education was; I want it very badly. But I wasn’t going to turn down a Broadway show to finish school.
What’s the dumbest thing you did as a freshman?
I split my pants the first day of school. I had tried to dress up, and I wore my dress pants into music class and split my pants and totally mooned everyone and had to go home.
What was going to Catholic school like for high school?
It was fun. The church created a sense of community, which made me more involved in school than I maybe would have been. And there was a musical done at school that everyone did, even football players. So, everyone was involved, which was really cool.
You must tell me a bit about your debut in the movie Pooty Tang.
(Sighs) My first film. My most memorable film. I played Andy Richter’s daughter. I think most of my stuff was cut.
You also starred in the marijuana comedy Reefer Madness, both on stage and on film.
That was the best time of my life. The play in New York was unlike anything I’ve ever done on stage. It’s a very smart show and a thrill to be involved with the movie. Those people are my family. They’re the reason I moved to Los Angeles. Reefer is responsible for my career. Spartan, the David Mamet film from last year, was different. You play a kidnapped daughter of the vice-president, and things looked … rough.
It was sort of surreal getting to work with David Mamet, especially so early in my career. My character was very damaged. I actually knew a lot about Mamet from studying him in school that I was able to pick up on the way he writes, his language. It’s odd, but he knows how to write on a whole. When you read the whole page and see the scene as a whole, he has an amazing style.
How was singing at the Emmys?
It was great. I wore red leg-warmers. It was a little funny, just a goofy competition singing a theme song. I came in second place.
Your new film Pulse is based off of a Japanese horror film, much like The Grudge and The Ring were. Have you seen the original?
Yes, it’s scary. The Japanese horror films aren’t like American movies. They don’t go for gore; they really go for thrill and mystery part of it. For our version, they did change it quite a bit. Basically, they had to condense the characters. They Americanized it a little bit. But, the story and point are still there.
I heard the filming was a little difficult.
Yeah, we filmed it in Romania, and I was allergic to the mosquitoes. The Romanian mosquitoes are, like, on steroids, and they would bite you and it would turn into this huge welt and eventually puss up. As you can see, I still have scars on my leg.
Besides Veronica Mars, do you have a favorite TV show?
I love Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I watch it every Sunday night and I bawl my face off. It makes me feel very grateful for where I am and, despite how dirty L.A. ends up making you feel, it lets you know that there are still good people in the world.